Paddle boarding can be a very fun activity, especially for people who enjoy being around the water. However, the conditions of the water aren’t always under your control. It’s important to keep the tides, as well as other factors, in mind.
Slack tides are generally the best tides for paddle boarding, especially for beginners. These are the tides that are present in the two hours before and after the highest and lowest tides. During slack tides, the water is moving minimally, allowing for an easier and safer paddle boarding experience.
Learning a little bit about the conditions that can impact your paddle boarding experience can help you improve it quite a bit. Read on if you’re interested in learning more about the tides, as well as other important environmental factors.
Types of Tides
When you’re deciding on which tide is best for paddle boarding, what you want to know is whether you should paddle board on a high tide, a low tide, or somewhere in between.
High tides and low tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon (source). This generates the tidal force, which causes Earth and the water on it to peak on the side that is closest to the moon, as well as the side that is farthest from the moon. These peaks, or bulges, of water are high tides. When the peaks are absent, this is what is described as low tide.
Because there are two times a day when any given location is going to be closest or farthest to the moon, you can generally expect two high tides and two low tides every day. However, because there are other factors at play, this isn’t always going to happen predictably. These factors are as follows:
- Location with respect to land can affect tidal patterns. The Earth isn’t covered with only water. The land makes it so that the water doesn’t follow the pull of the moon in a perfectly predictable way.
- The sun also contributes to tidal forces. However, this contribution is smaller than that from the moon.
- Spring tides take place when the lunar and solar tides work together. This leads to larger high tides. It happens when the Earth lines up with both the moon and the sun, which happens when there is either a full moon or a new moon.
- Neap tides take place when the lunar and solar tides counteract one another. The effects cancel each other out, and this leads to smaller high tides.
- Wind and weather patterns also have an impact on the water level. High-pressure weather systems can lead to lower tides, while low-pressure systems can lead to very high tides.
What Is the Best Tide for Paddle Boarding?
The best tide for paddle boarding depends on the intended purpose of your outing. Typically, you should try to do your paddle boarding during slack tides when the water movements are minimal. This is particularly true for beginners (source).
Slack tides typically take place in the two hours before and after high and low tides. The water movement is so slow during these times because it is nearly done switching from high tide to low tide or vice versa. Moreover, the current is weakest during slack tides.
Although most people would see slack tides as the best tides for paddle boarding, some more experienced paddlers might enjoy low tides. Low tides can make waves very large, which can make for a very fun ride back to the shore, as long as you exercise the necessary safety precautions.
The reason for the large waves during low tides is that the tides are constantly changing, and at that point, they are going from low to high. If the tide is high when you are on your way back, it can carry you further up the beach than a low tide would.
Times and Places to Avoid the Water
The tides change roughly every six hours. The middle two hours of each tidal cycle, when the amount of water in that location is most intensely changing, is going to be the time when the water moves most powerfully. Most paddle boarders find it more pleasant to paddle on relatively still waters, so they would want to avoid these two-hour periods (source).
An exception would be when the shift in tides would assist you on the way back to shore. In order to maintain control of your board and paddle, you probably still don’t want too much movement in the water, but it can help to have waves gently assisting you as you paddle your way back to land.
If you are paddling through a channel that leads to the ocean, the water will generally move more quickly in the deeper regions (source). Typically, this is closer to the middle of the channel. It’ll move more slowly in the shallower ends. You should exercise caution when moving through fast water, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience.
How to Tell Between the Tides
There are a few things you can do to tell whether the tide is high or low at the time:
- Learn how to read a tide chart. This can help you figure out the conditions of the water at any time of the day in your location. There are also apps you can download for this.
- Look at the sand, rocks, and other structures that border the water. If you see that they are wet beyond the farthest point, the water will come ashore. It means that the tide is going from high to low, otherwise known as an ebbing tide. If nothing is wet, most likely, it is going from low to high, otherwise known as a flood tide.
- Look at any anchored buoys that might be floating in the water. They usually catch dead plants, such as kelp and seaweed. It flows in the direction of the current, so you can see what side of the buoys they are on.
- Keep your eye on either something you put in the ground or another stationary object. You can see where it is with respect to the water, and how far it is into the water over time. Keep in mind though that this is the weakest method of observation since the tide isn’t the only factor that influences drift.
For further information on how to discern tide direction, click over to How to Tell if the Tide is Coming In or Out (Helpful Guide).
Keeping the Wind in Mind
When you’re planning a paddle boarding trip, it’s not only the tides that you need to consider. The wind also has a significant effect on the movement of the water.
An onshore wind, meaning a wind blowing towards the shore, along with an incoming tide, means bigger waves towards the shore. An offshore wind, which blows away from the shore, coupled with an outgoing tide, means that you will likely be pulled away from the land. Wind and tide that are going in opposite directions can make the water very choppy.
You should avoid paddling in offshore winds because this can be very dangerous (source). If the offshore wind becomes too extreme, it could carry you away from the shore at a speed faster than you’ll be able to control.
The stronger the wind and the tide, the more they will impact the paddling experience. If you can, plan to paddle against the wind on your way out and with the wind on your back during your return trip. When you’re coming back, you’re more likely to be tired and have lower energy, so you’ll want to be able to exert less effort at this point.
If you know a little bit more about the tides, as well as other factors that influence your paddling experience, you can have the best experience possible.
Of course, exactly what you’re looking for might depend on the exact sensations you seek and your level of experience. Most paddle boarders, however, will have the best time on the stillest waters, which will be in the two hours before and after the highest and lowest tides.