Corolla is part of the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina.
All of our breaks are sand bar breaks. Corolla on a long barrier island with the Atlantic on east side and the Currituck Sound on the West side. The thinnest part of Corolla is at the Dare/Currituck County line just north of the Sanderling Hotel. The distance between the sound & the ocean is only about 300 yards. This means that there are two bodies of water separated by a sand island. The variance in water temps will cause unpredictable weather changes, especially in wind speed and direction. Corolla’s coast line is 13 miles long, starting at the county Dare/Currituck line and ending at the Carova ramp road. The northern part of Corolla beaches face to the Southeast. This means that any swell that has formed in the south Atlantic will eventually make its way to our shores. The combination of developed sand bars and a southeast-facing shoreline helps to create as many surfing summer days as possible.
I’m always asked, “When is the best time to go surfing ?”
Great question with a complicated answer. The components for good surf are swell, a break, wind and tide. The 1st element of the equation is “swell”. Swell is the energy force that is transmitted through the water. A great analogy is electricity. Electricity travels through a wire. The wire doesn’t move but the electrical current does move through the wire. The electrical energy is released once it reaches a filament (as in a light bulb).
The same with swell.
Swell doesn’t become a wave until it reaches a sandbar (or coral reef, or rock jetty etc) . Once a 3’ swell reaches a 2’ sandbar, the energy is released in the form of a wave.
The next element is the wind.
The best scenario is a light off-shore wind (out of the West). An off-shore wind will hold the face (or sections) of the wave open, which gives the surfer more surface (the face) to work with. Too much wind out of the North, east and south will just cause rough ocean surfaces know as chop. Too strong of an off-shore wind will knock the top of the wave off, keeping the wave from breaking. There are 2 low tides and 2 high tides within a 24 hour period. High tide creates deeper water which deceases the swell from breaking, and low tide does the complete opposite. Of course the moon determines how far the low tide will go out and the reverse for high tide. If surf conditions are decent but the swell needs a little extra push from mother nature, then an incoming tide (from low to high) will help increase the size. (I know there are exceptions to tides rules, but I’m sticking to the basics.)
So the best time to go surfing is when we have:
swell ( about 3’) + wind ( off-shore blowing 7 to 9mph )+ tides (incoming tide) + break ( about 2’ deep) = waves.