Corky Carroll

Tides of all sizes make for a swell surfing season

I'm continuing along with my little series on the best tides for local surf spots in Orange County.

I would like to restate before I go on, though, that tides do not greatly affect the size of the surf. Swells come from storms and disturbances far away. But the tide has a direct effect on the quality of the surf at hand. Each spot has its own tidal circumstance that works best.

So far I have covered Seal Beach south to the "Wedge," at the end of the Balboa Peninsula. As there are too many out-of-the-way and semi-secret surf spots to mention here I am going to stick to the main breaks only for this column. This is also in respect to the locals who hang out at those lesser-known spots and wanna keep it that way.

The main surf spot in Laguna Beach is Brooks Street. Brooks works best on a large south swell, the bigger the better. A medium to high tide works best at this spot as the inside reef is very gnarly and becomes a mess of boils and rocks sticking out of the water when the tide gets too low. This is a very difficult spot to ride and I would not suggest it for beginners or even many intermediates. Leave Brooks for the experts.

Heading down the road southward we come to a great break known as "Salt Creek." Salt Creek is right below the Ritz Carlton Hotel just north of Dana Point. The "Creek" has many personalities depending on the time of year, swell direction and sand bars. It can work on all tides. If it's really big I prefer a higher tide as it makes it a bit easier to get out.

In the old days I would have talked about "Killer Dana." But they killed Killer Dana when they put in the boat harbor back in the 1960's. What's left is infrequent surf at Doheny State Park. "Doho," as locals lovingly call it, still can get good on a sizeable south swell. But the harbor more or less blocks off most of the surf that used to get in there.

Medium to high tide works best. When the tide is too low you have to do the rock dance and I personally don't enjoy that. The cool thing about Doheny is that the normal afternoon westerly winds tend to blow offshore there and keep the surf clean all day. This used to be one of my favorite afternoon spots before the harbor went in.

I am not sure that "Poche" can be called a "main" surf spot, but I am putting it in this story anyway - if for no other reason than its historical significance. This was where Walter Hoffman, the "Godfather," always lived and this is where Hobie, Phil Edwards, Mickey Munoz and an all-star "South County" list of upper uppity ups kept their catamarans and hung out in the afternoons.

Just the fact that Phil Edwards used to surf this spot probably more than any other one in his later years of surfing merits me mentioning it. High tide makes the little inside wedge work on a south swell. Low tide makes the outside reef work.

San Clemente Pier works best on a high tide while "T Street" and most of the other beach breaks to the south are better on medium to low.

Cotton's point is one of my favorite spots on the planet. Low tide is by far the best. Going around the point to Upper Trestles and then Lower Trestles pretty much all tides are good. If it's small, a high tide can make it a bit mushy though. At the south end of the "Trestles" area is "Church." Church is best in the winter on a North Swell and again will work well on all tides.

Lastly we come to San Onofre Surf Beach. "Sano" works best in the summertime on south swells. When it's small, a high tide can make it close to the beach and ultra mushy, so lower is better. But with any size in the swell at all it's good on all tides.

The bummer here is that there is a limit to the amount of cars that can be in there at one time and most of the time you have to wait in line to get in.

That's the end of my little High Tide, Low Tide guide. I hope some of you found it useful.