Having an understanding of the tides can help us turn a choppy and dangerous session into the ride of our dreams. We should all have a basic understanding of what tides are and how to read a tide table but there is a further understanding of tidal states that we should all strive for. What happens at high and low tide and what’s the push and pull of the tide and how does it affect the sea state? How can the wind effect the swell and what are spring and neap tides?
These different tidal states can differ from spot to spot so its important to be observant and if you are new to a spot, local knowledge is key. Don’t be afraid to ask a local rider. Although some may hide there secret spots knowledge, most are happy to share the stoke.
HIGH TIDE & LOW TIDE
For most spots, high tide can mean a choppy load of madness with deep waters and strong currents. This can make for a rough ride with the session being very short and tiresome. Few spots in the UK are great at high tide but there can be exceptions.
Some sheltered bays with large tidal ranges can be perfect at a high tide. The sea state can be a lot calmer in these areas as open ocean swell doesn’t affect them as much. Pegwell Bay is that kind of place. The shallow sea bed and big bay area stop large waves from entering and also slow down the currents that would normally affect other beaches. For instance, if you were to go to the neighbouring beach of Ramsgate main sands at the same time you would be met with large shore break and rough seas all around. This is due to a small tidal difference and deep water.
The wind direction is a major contributing factor when it comes to waves. Strong onshore winds will create a mass of white water out of the large waves and this will make it extremely hard to get into the water and go upwind due to the strong currents created by the waves. With a cross onshore wind direction it will at least make the white water walls slightly tameable and riding upwind much easier. In a sheltered location, the conditions will be ridable and even more so with a cross shore wind direction. This direction is your best bet at high tide but the sea state will still be rough and bumpy in most spots.
With light wind foiling, high tide is your go to tidal state as it will get deep quickly meaning you won’t have to walk as far out to do a board start and your wing will have less chance of touching down. In our experience, it is always best to wait for the tide to drop but we don’t always have that luxury.
For us here at Tide and our local Thanet beaches, low tide is where its at. When the tide is low here, our beaches come alive with better waves and longer periods between them, meaning flatter spots that are much better for riding.
Although low tide reveals certain dangers such as groins, rocks and other objects it can be the best time to head onto the water for people using a twin tip and a surfboard. Hydrofoil users can still get out at some spots with a long walk out, but in Thanet, it is mostly better to stick to a high tide for this discipline.
If you go to a bay with a large tidal range you will be faced with a long walk to the waters edge but can be met with super flat water that is great for learning. Although these areas may be tempting, some of these places such as the Bristol Channel have huge tidal ranges with fast moving waters that can become very dangerous on an incoming or dropping tide. It is always best to do your homework on a spot before riding. Again, local knowledge is key. Using an onshore wind is not the greatest idea at low tide, as the waves will mostly be white water and riding upwind against them will be tough, just like it is at high. Cross onshore is a great wind direction for low tide in most spots as the wind will be mostly clean and you will be able to ride upwind nicely between waves.
As in most situations though, side shore winds at low tide are where you will get the best out of a location. If you are going for big air, then this is for you. The waves will set up nicely for kickers and you will be hitting them head on to get the best boost from the wave, sending you sky high. If you are looking for flat water heaven for wakestyle or freestyle disciplines then most of the time your best bet is a lagoon or a sandbar at low tide such a “The Street” in Whitstable. With a sand bar revealed at low tide the downwind body of water is sheltered from the wind and open sea swell giving it a smooth a slick surface to practice your tricks but watch out, these places can get very crowded as people hug the sandbar for its mirror flat water.
“ It is always best to do your homework on a spot before riding. Again, local knowledge is always key to safety on the water.”
This is the state of the tide where there is no tidal movement and the currents slow down. Slack water lasts for one hour at either end of the tide. If you are learning, this is a great time to be heading into the water as the currents will not be affecting you as much. For most of us, this is a great time to be on the water, especially slack water at low tide. A lot of people time their sessions for an hour before slack water to an hour after. During these times, there is the least amount of current and this will make it a lot easier to stay upwind and even flatten off the water slightly.
For most riders that we know, this is the part of the tide that they want to ride. The flood of the tide or an incoming tide can create some amazing conditions because of the increased force of the current. The incoming tide pushes waves to make them faster and larger. This might not be great for the beginner kiteboarder looking to learn, but for the experienced or even intermediate rider, it can create some magical scenes. A cross shore and cross on shore wind on an incoming tide is going to create a beach full of ridable waves or beautiful kickers ready for boosting you into the sky. Swell direction can have a huge affect on the conditions during an incoming tide. For instance if you were to ride Ramsgate main sands on a south westerly wind, the swell from that direction never normally picks up well because of the sand banks and Channel. Then take the same beach on a north Westerly wind direction. The swell has a chance to build up from the north and waves will line up down the beach, making for an amazing session.
When the tide drains away from high you will notice the choppy state of the water clean up slightly. The more you wait the cleaner it will get. If the winds are very strong, the water will still be very choppy and this can differ from spot to spot. The ebbing tide affects the waves just like a flooding tide will. The dropping of the tide can increase the size of the waves and also clean top the face of the wave slightly. this can again be a great time to ride for the intermediate to advanced rider looking for good waves to ride or use as kickers.
SPRING & NEAP TIDE
Spring tides occur twice each lunar month and make a high tide even higher and a low tide even lower. This means that in the middle of each tide, there is going to be faster flowing currents making for a tricky time for learners to be in the water. Spring tides can also reveal sandbanks that would normally be concealed. Thanet’s coastline has many sandbanks that are revealed at a spring low tide but most are too far out to sea to get to. If you ask a local, they might be able to tell you where some closer ones are but they are a well guarded secret amongst the local kiteboarding community. Sandbanks are the buried treasure islands that we all seek. What awaits you in these spots will put a smile on your face for days…but finding them is difficult due to the shifting sands. Each storm that passes could bring or take away these sandy playgrounds. Local knowledge is key, be observant.
Neap tides occur twice a lunar month - just like spring tides - but have a different effect on our shores. Instead of a spring tide’s strong currents and larger tidal difference, the neap tide brings a smaller tidal difference with less current. This is a great time for learners to be on the water as they will have less dangers to think about, giving them more time to concentrate on learning the fundamental skills they need to become a kiteboarder.