Reading the ocean


A change in the tide can quickly effect surf conditions. Each surf spot is different, some break better on a high, some a mid, some are better on a low tide, some are better on an outgoing tide, others an incoming… you get the idea.

The best way to get to know a break is to be attentive. Watch when other surfers are out there and take note of their ability and what the tide is doing at that time. Without getting too technical, generally speaking a high tide is usually friendlier and low tide is hollower.


A change in the wind can effect the surf in a matter or seconds. Being aware of the wind forecast means you can time your surf for the better winds. Keep in mind that those perfectly still mornings usually do turn windy on any coast so making the most of the morning conditions is a good idea.

Onshore means the wind is blowing onto the shore. This makes waves lose their shape and they become more crumbly.

Offshore means the wind is blowing off the shore and heading out to sea. Off shore winds allow the wave to keep good shape as it breaks.

Then there is Cross shore which means the wind is blowing across the beach.

Winds, swell and tides don’t always co-operate which means that sometimes it’s a good idea just to enjoy what is on offer, head out there anyway and make the best of it. Surfing less than perfect conditions are often surprisingly fun!


Swell direction can change the way a surf spot breaks. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for the best swell directions because all breaks are different. Over time you will learn how areas of your local surf spots come to life – and which areas don’t, depending on which direction the swell is coming from.


Surf forecasting websites and apps give a detailed prediction on swell size, angle, period (which measures the seconds between the waves), winds and tides and the changes expected during the day, for any surf spot around the world. Most of them are free and worth their weight in gold. Some sights also give you access to their live surf cameras too.


When you’re checking the surf, notice how frequent (and big) the sets are and time your paddle out between them. Are waves breaking in the same spot? Are they breaking in a certain direction? Watch where other surfers are entering and exiting the water. Sometimes there are flat spots and channels that can make your paddle out simple. Go here to read more about surf etiquette and getting yourself into position to catch plenty of waves.