Surfing in Kent is an exhilarating and challenging water sport that requires the right conditions to enjoy. Picking the best swell to surf can make all the difference in your surfing experience, and although Kent has two coastlines north and south, it has a range of conditions for surfing and several local micro-climates too.
A surf forecast can provide valuable information to help you make informed decisions about when and where to surf, but it can not beat actual local knowledge too. This article will explore how to pick the best swell to surf from a surf forecast in Kent and what to avoid.
Understanding Surf Forecasting
Before we dive into how to pick the best swell to surf in Kent, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of surf forecasting. Surf forecasting involves using various tools and data to predict wave conditions at a particular beach or surf spot; it is a science and a tool of experience between surfers. These tools include wind speed and direction, wave height and period, and the currents on the North Sea and the English Channel.
In Kent, between the years 1994 to 2012 (18 years), Wesley Baker provided a surf forecast and surf report every Saturday and Sunday at 8 AM for BBC Radio Kent. Wesley was taught surf forecasting by the late Sean Collins of Surfline in the 1980s in California. He has also been surfing for over 40 years in Kent, so he knows the conditions better than most.
We asked Wesley about Kent Surf forecasting and why it is so difficult compared to southwest England. “When looking at a surf forecast for Kent, it’s essential to understand that it is not a guarantee of what conditions will be like at the beach; all you can do is try and get all the variables correct. Surf forecasts are simply predictions based on available data, local knowledge, and expectations. Actual conditions can vary due to many factors, including local weather conditions and the shape of the sea bed. In Kent, we have many of these variables at play, also including micro-climates that can affect the waves from hour to hour, changes in tide depth, and fast-moving tidal zone, and moving sand bars all play a part“.
Picking the Best Swell to Surf
Now that we have a basic understanding of surf forecasting, let’s look at how to pick the best swell to surf in Kent.
Check the Wave Height and Period
The first thing you should look at when checking a surf forecast is the wave height and period, and you do this by checking wave-buoys; Kent is lucky in that it has several, but also others further up the North Sea and along the English Channel, allowing a clear picture.
Wave height refers to the vertical distance between the crest and trough of a wave. The wave period is the time it takes two successive wave crests to pass a fixed point.
Generally, surfers prefer waves with a height between 2-6 feet and a period of 10-15 seconds, but in Kent, this is not the case; we look for wave height of 1.6 to 6 feet and a wave period of 7 to +8 seconds. Waves with a longer period tend to be more powerful and have a longer ride, while waves with a shorter period are choppier and harder to ride. Kent will often see a windswell of 5 to 6 seconds, which is the best way to identify the difference. Kent has a different wave period to regular Atlantic swells because of the groundswell catchment and its organisation down the north sea (i.e. it does not have enough time to space out). So for Kent, if you see a wave period of between 7 to 8 seconds, that is a solid groundswell and often means regular sets.
Look at the Wind Direction and Speed
The wind can have a significant impact on wave conditions in Kent but you have the beauty of a coastline that can see swell wrap around and become offshore. If the wind is blowing against the direction of the swell, it can create clean and well-organised waves, but the wind must not be too strong in Kent; otherwise, it will flatten the swell (this is called Offshore). If the wind blows in the same direction as the swell, it can create messy, disorganised waves (called onshore). When looking at a surf forecast, pay attention to the wind speed and direction when surfing in Kent.
North East wind will provide onshore conditions to the majority of Thanet beaches but not all. North West will give onshore conditions at a few of Thanet beaches but will also create offshore at others. Easterly is a nightmare wind and could be better for Kent. Westerly wind creates some swell along the south-facing beaches of Kent and can be offshore. Southerly winds will generate surf along the south-facing Kent beaches and also a couple in Thanet. South Westerly winds will generate surf all along the south-facing and several north-facing Kent beaches.
Consider the Swell Direction
The direction of the swell is also an important factor to consider when picking the best swell to surf. Waves that are coming in perpendicular to the beach tend to be the best for surfing, as they create a more even and predictable break. In Kent in particular swell direction is always up for debate between local surfers, but in reality, rules do exist. We will cover these in other articles for each beach.
Look at the Tide
The tide can also have a significant impact on wave conditions. At some surf spots in Kent, the best waves may occur during a particular stage of the tide, between mid to low and low to mid; one spot that is famed for this is Viking Bay in Broadstairs but others are too. When looking at a surf forecast, pay attention to the predicted tide conditions. You can also check local tide charts to get a more accurate picture of what the tide will be like.
A shallow tide in Kent is a nightmare for providing good surf, it does not allow groundswell to pass the sandbanks out in the North Sea. A good flowing high tidal water can help stimulate the Kent beaches with groundswell and often catches many surfers out. It is an error if you believe a high tide is bad for Kent surfing; this is not the case; it can provide a swell if something is available in the north sea. The best is naturally a mid-tidal range that allows enough swell and also lets all the chalk reefs break well.
Picking the best swell to surf is an integral part of having a successful and safe surfing experience for Kent. When looking at a surf forecast, it’s important to consider factors such as wave height and period, wind direction and speed, swell direction, and tide conditions. By analysing the surf forecast, you can increase your chances of finding the best waves for your skill level and preferences.