If you have been cruising around the Surf Thailand website, you have already discovered that Phuket is not a world-class surfing destination. That being said, the “Pearl of the Andaman” enjoys pretty consistent waves from April through November during the southwest monsoon season.
Easy enough, now you know what time of year you have the best chance of scoring some waves (although we do receive some waves here and there in the “off” months). But, of course, it’s not that simple. There are also several other factors that influence the character of the waves.
Image: Dr. Steven Martin Education Abroad Asia – Study in Phuket
Let’s check out some of these other factors so you can have a better idea of when exactly to get your board waxed up or book that surf lesson – at the very least, you can learn a little something and sound like you know what you’re talking about!
If you flip through surfing magazines or watch a surf movie, you’ll often see plenty of beautiful turquoise blue, glassy, hollow waves. If you are under the impression that those are average conditions, it’s time to wake up from your dream and join us in reality.
Not so clean windswell surf at Kata Beach
The reality is that many different variables need to fall into place to make those perfect waves and the magazines and movies are only showing us a little slice perfection. However, with some local insight, you can learn when you have a better chance of getting favorable conditions.
Although the winds in Phuket during monsoon season are quite variable, you are more likely find calmer conditions in the early morning and late evening. Of those two options, the morning is your best bet. In surfer lingo paddling out at sunrise is called going on dawn patrol. In addition to the calm winds, early mornings are a particularly magical time of day to be on the water and there are usually less people.
Early mornings (Dawn Patrol) and late evenings are usually less windy than daytime surf | Sunset Session, Phuket, Thailand
We are surfing waves, why worry about the wind? If the wind is blowing onshore (from the sea towards the beach) too strong, the tops of the waves are distorted and the surface of the water is textured or choppy which makes for a rougher ride. If the winds are blowing offshore (from the beach towards the sea) too strong, it is difficult to get onto the wave because the wind is pushing you backwards. The ideal wind conditions are light offshore winds.
Unless you are surfing on a lake (don’t laugh, it can be done), the tides affect most surf breaks and sometimes seriously.
At beach breaks (where the waves break over sand – most of the surf spots in Phuket are beach breaks), the tides mainly affect the character and shape of the wave. Often the wave becomes faster, more powerful, hollow, and dumpy (where the lip of the wave crashes down with more force). In certain conditions, this can be fun for more advanced surfers, but they are often less desirable conditions, especially for beginners.
Waves that ‘close out’ fast are generally more challenging for beginners to surf.
In general, beach breaks in Phuket, and elsewhere in Thailand, work best at medium to high tides. This doesn’t mean you can’t go take a lesson or practice your new skills at low tide though.
Learn your surf break’s ideal tide range to know when the best conditions will be
The other surf spots that are not beach breaks and instead have reef or rocky bottoms are also best to surf at medium to higher tides, but for different reasons. At these breaks, the waves break in more shallow water as the tide gets low which can be dangerous for your safety and that of your surfboard.
Surfing Nai Yang’s Coral Reef Break | Phuket, Thailand
In essence, a wave is a reflection of what is below it, which means that the character of the wave is greatly influenced by what it is breaking over.
Many of the best surf breaks are over reef. Since reefs are fairly permanent structures, the waves breaking on them can be very consistent. The direction the waves are coming from can affect the quality as well as what we’ve discussed above.
A coral reef or rocky bottom will affect the formation of a wave. | Nai Yang Reef, Phuket, Thailand
However, beginners usually start out at sandy beach breaks. The thing about sand is that it can move around…a lot. Waves of consistent direction and power will create patterns in the sand called sand bars, but storms, funky currents, and rivers mouths can move mind-blowing amounts of sand quickly. You might not recognize a beach break from one day to the next.
Riding the whitewater at a sandy beach break is a great way for beginners to practice standing and balancing.
For surfers in Phuket, sand bars are our friends. They act as features for the waves to break along and without them, the waves will just crash right onto the sand – what’s called a shorebreak. This can be fun for skimboarders, but can be a bit painful for surfers and can result in broken boards.
Hopefully instead of being thoroughly confused, you have a new appreciation of all the factors that need to align for you surfers to enjoy your sport.
So be sure to bookmark the surf forecast for your local Phuket surf break and check it often. Keep an eye on the winds and take advantage of those lucky moments when the winds are calm early in the morning, with a medium tide.
Sea you later!