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About swells and tides..


After a few amazing sessions in the last few days (now in early september!) I feel like posting some surf and wave theory again. Usually the North of the Canary Islands is known to be quite flat during summer. But these days it seems to have woken up from its summer beauty sleep and surprised us all with a northern swell that could have been seen as a fat winter swell. So I asked myself, where the heck do all these waves come from suddenly when yesterday the ocean still looked like a giant mirror. And how do the tides work again? Wasn’t there something about the moon and so on?


A quiet day in Nazaré

Well, let’s have a closer look on that topic. Summer and winter swells do not depend so much on gravities or system of forces between moon, earth and sun. It’s more about winds and weather. More precisely, in winter we have the following phenomenon: the so called westerlies, winds that you usually find above the Northern Atlantic Ocean, are moving down south. Now there is a lot of space for low-pressure areas or cyclones to generate powerful tempests which in the end bring big swells to western and northern European coasts such as Nazaré, Portugal or the north coast of the Spanish peninsula.


Nazaré’s big wave

Here in Tenerife the Atlantik Surf Team knows exactly what I’m talking about. Especially in the north of the island you notice a huge difference between summer and winter. As during summer there are way less tempests in the north of the Atlantic Ocean of course there are also less waves. In other parts of our oceans there are other types of wind and tempests but in the end it all pretty much works as I explained in the example.


tide table

Now when it comes to explaining the different tides we have to talk the moon and the sun, the gravity and the centrifugal forces. (Please always have in mind, that I’m not a physicist, but only a blogger!! 😉 So, I’m going to cut this short..) As you can see in the picture, high tides are forced by the pulling gravity of the moon and the sun. The question is: why does that affect us surfers? Well, when you’re checking the forecasts for your next surf session you should always have a look at the tides as well. Some spots do change considerably according to high or low tide. Generally websites for forecasts, such as also mark the tides. If you want to see a nice picture, check out It’s a Spanish website but it’s easy to understand the little chart (see picture below). In the msw spot guide you can have a look at what tide is best for your spot. So let’s get all set for the next session! 😀


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