May 12th, 2017

As the Summer comes closer, the weather is generally becoming nicer and the Sun is hanging above the horizon for longer and longer. Yes, it still rains almost daily but we’ve had more Sunny days this month, than pretty much all of the Winter combined. The warm weather brings tourists in by the droves and we love to help guests maximize their experience for having fun in the surf!

We at T’ashii wanted to come up with a little guide to helping check the surf while out on the West Coast. Please keep in mind this guide can be helpful but ultimately you should make your own decisions when heading out, based on your skill and comfort level.

There are a few basic factors that come into play when checking the surf:

  • Wind
  • Swell Angle
  • Swell height & period
  • Tides

WIND:

Sunny days come with high-pressure systems, high-pressure systems bring in North-West (NW) winds. When we talk about wind, we also refer to the direction from where it came. (ie. NW winds come from the North-West) On the other hand, rainy or overcast days usually bring a low-pressure system, low pressure systems come with South-East (SE) winds. This isn’t always the case but it’s a great rule-of-thumb to follow.

As paddle surfers and surfers, we ideally want light, offshore winds. (Winds coming from the shore, heading towards sea) Offshore winds hold up the peak of waves for longer and can groom the wave faces to perfection.

Forecasting References:

Forecasting is just a prediction of what will come, (predictions don’t always true) we always check what the wind and buoys are actually reporting the day of.

Wind forecasting models:

Storm Surf – Pacific Wind Model
Storm Surf – Vancouver Island/Washington Coast Model
windytv.com – Animated predictions of winds

Real Time Wind conditions:

Canada’s “Marine Forecast” for a snap shot in real-time of what is happening
(Tofino falls under ” West Vancouver Island South“) – Click the “Weather Conditions” tab, and select the “Tofino Airport” to see the readings. Winds are updated nearly every hour.

Beaches near Tofino with ideal winds for those spots:

North Chestermans Beach – SE
South Chestermans Beach – NW
Cox Bay- SE
Long Beach – NW
Wickaninnish Beach – SE
Florencia Bay – NW

SWELL ANGLE:

Swell angle is another factor, if you look at our West Coast Surf Beaches, you’ll see that not every beach faces the same aspect. If a swell angle is coming directly towards the beach likely that beach will get larger surf than if the swell has to wrap around a point of land to get into the beach.

In out winter, we usually get larger swell generated from the storms in the North Pacific Ocean. These swells can come from the North-West, West or even South.
Generally in our summer we’ll get storms specifically coming from the South Pacific, below the equator. These storms can bring in some nice sized South swells.

Swell angle isn’t usually displayed when looking at the Buoys, so looking at a forecasting site to predict angle is a good bet. We’ll show you these prediction sites in the next section.

SWELL HEIGHT & PERIOD:

Waves can be broken down into swell height and swell period.
An ocean buoy records overall height from the trough to peak of a wave. The larger the height, the larger the waves in general.

Period is the distance between one wave and another wave, trough to trough, represented in seconds. A rule-of-thumb is a wave of 1-8 seconds is short-period, 9-12 seconds is mid-period, 13+ seconds is long-period swell. Short period swell is generated from localized wind-storms and is quite a bit messier, peaks can appear and close out, seemingly out of nowhere. Longer Period swell on the other hand, is generated from storms in the open ocean, this gives the wind lots of time to form ground-swell and this ground swell builds nicer shaped, more powerful waves that can hold-up for longer and offer a better surfing experience.

La Perouse Bank is one of the Buoys we use on the West Coast Of Vancouver Island. You’ll see height is represented in meters and period in seconds. It updates nearly every hour as well.

Swell Forecasting:

Surfline.com – Vancouver Island – Click “Offshore Swells” Tab, half-way down page – This shows a color-coded visual of all of the predicted swells coming in, larger arrows represent longer-period swell.

Storm Surf – North Pacific Swell Height
Storm Surf – North Pacific Swell Period
Storm Surf – Vancouver Island Swell Height
Storm Surf – Vancouver Island Swell Period

TIDES:

Generally, waves will come in and break when they reach a water depth of 1.3 times the wave height. (Eg. 5′ Wave breaks in 6.5′ of water)

This doesn’t mean that you have to know exact tide height by any means, more so an understanding of what spots work best under with a certain tide. Having a tide guide handy, is an easy answer to this.
For example, some of my favorite waves in Tofino, need a pretty low-tide to expose the sand-bars for the right-amount of swell. On the other hand it’s said that an incoming tide helps give the waves an increased push towards shore.

There are a lot of factors that go into Surf Checkin’. Prediction can help out but it’s ultimately an educated guess. It’s always best to just go check the beaches out for yourself.

-Glen Pearson, T’ashii Paddle School