26 September, 2014 26 September, 2014

Lunar Cycles and Other Oceanic Anecdotes – by John Carroll

Before the age of surf forecasts and tide tables being just a mouse click away, surfers had to rely on instinct and observation to score some cooking waves. ‘Lunar Cycles and Other Oceanic Anecdotes’ is John Carroll’s entry into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details).




I learned to surf in the mid 1960’s at Fish Hoek on a 10ft hollow, leaking wooden barge. So this gives you some idea of the age of this ballie writer.

Surfing in the wider sense includes some knowledge of the variable factors, like the tides and weather systems to try and avoid those expectant trips to the various spots in the Cape Peninsula, which often end as a frustrating and expensive outing.

What follows, amongst other sea related anecdotes, are my observations which may assist those who are not privileged with the media devices at their disposal, which are able to pinpoint the most favorable surf spot at a particular time. The days of phoning the Slangkop and Cape Point lighthouse keepers for swell size are probably over, never mind trying to communicate with the ‘babbelas’ barman at the Elands Bay Hotel.


At a relatively young age, I noticed that my dad always used to leave home early in the mornings on those weekends when he decided to go pick black mussels at Macasser or Strandfontein on the full or new moon. My subsequent perusal of the tide tables led to the finding that the times of low and high tide on the extremes of the phase of the moon are constant: High tide on the spring tide is always around 15h30 and accordingly low tide is around 09h30; having a swing time of ‘around’ 20 minutes.

Furthermore, the full moon in the Western Cape always rises around 19h00, obviously depending on the weather and other obstacles like mountain ranges. The tides move on about 45 minutes each day. The advantage of being aware of these statistics is that if, for example, a group of guys are camping at a spot up the west coast and don’t have access to the tidal range, then all they have to do is spot the moon, whether day or night time, and determine its phase. With the application of basic arithmetic they can then determine the time of the high and/or low tide.


This knowledge, other than advising whether the tide is rising or dropping for surfing purposes, indicates low tide and when it is thus the best time to pick black mussels from the rock pools. No forks and spades to be used: just grab a mussel, twist it around a couple of times, give it a pull and it will come loose. Fingers do get nicked in the process sometimes, but that’s just part of living off the sea respectfully.

Those assholes that strip the mussel beds with a spade, looking for the mussel worm for fishing purposes should be reported and refused a permit. People tend to over clean the mussels in preparation for cooking. They just have to be rinsed in seawater so as to get the sand off; the sea grass, baby limpets and other clingers on must be left on because they add natural flavours and thus the wine can be saved for drinking.

Mussels are best steamed and not boiled, so put a cup of seawater into the pot after adding the mussels, which release a lot of water as they open up anyway; then close with a lid so as to steam evenly. After cooking, the remaining water can be strained through a cloth and used as stock for a fish soup.


An accumulation of knowledge as to which breaks work better on what tide is important for the novice surfer. For example, Inner Kom only works on the high and Muizenberg Corner breaks better on the low. The general rule is that waves break harder on the low tide by virtue of the sand banks and/or reefs being more exposed. Accordingly, reef and point breaks are much less dangerous on the high tides, with the kelp beds also being a factor in that on low tides the kelp ‘koppe’ can be major sudden handbrakes.

Some surfers currently have girlfriends whilst most have ex-girlfriends and some are still aspiring to find a girlfriend. These relationships can often get strained with girlfriends not understanding why a bunch of guys want to spend weekends alone together in some sparse, windswept, cold and fresh water-free dump next to the sea – instead of wanting to wander around the local mall hand in hand.


Those with girlfriends should bear in mind that physiologically, like the phases of the moon and the tides, women operate strictly on a cycle of their own. So next time you plan a surf trip with the boys, show a little consideration for your better half and plan the trip around the weekend that coincides with the downswing of this cycle. It would be pretty selfish to drag her along to some desolate destination, lacking in the basic facilities of which our wonderful women are clearly in need of, with nothing but endless spitting tubes in sight.

See what happens when a surfer starts talking about tides!

* The views expressed in ‘Write to Surf’ entries are not necessarily those of Zigzag.
Click here to check out all the entries so far >>


Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.


1 Comment

  1. Rian
    17 November, 2014 at 4:32 pm · Reply

    So far the kiffest story – in my humble opinion. Shot uncle. I will definitely follow the advice on the cooking of muscles – i use to sommer gooi them on the braai and chow them like biltong, not very lekker.
    Here in the bay the tides work on an almost 6 to 6 bases, so spring tide is always low in the morning. Classic!
    Another Uncle here (R.I.P), he use to do the radio surf forecast, he told me in all his years of forecasting he still maintained; if you don’t go you won’t know.
    finally uncle, you mention ‘guys, girlfriends and phases of the moon’
    so uncle my question is; what do you think about girls who surf? should they be allowed on a surf with the boys? yes or no?

    thanks for the story.

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