Rule of thumb for Bali tides while waiting on official tide charts

In the 70s and 80s, a lot of surfers to Bali were perplexed by the Bali tides. No tide charts were available — I don’t believe even the Benoa harbormaster had them until later on, and then surfers in the know would do a stealth run to the harbormaster office and score a copy of the charts, which they weren’t about to share. Secret knowledge leads to uncrowded surf. Get your own, jack.

The fishermen knew the tides by heart (spring tides “air besar” and neap tides “air konda.” And if anyone reading this doesn’t know Bahasa, that “air” is not the stuff we breath (obviously) but pronounced “ayir.”)

Below is a rule of thumb for Bali tides. Most surfers know this by now, but as a public service for those who do not:

First, the moon phases are the same all over the world. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know this. They assume if it’s full moon in California, it must be half moon in Bali. Seriously. Over the years, I’ve had telexes and then faxes and then emails from overseas friends planning surf trips asking me about moon phases in Bali.

Second, full and new moons are marked on Balinese calendars. They are available pretty much everywhere. But if you’re online, moon phases are available at many sites, such as this one. The DATES of the new and full moon phases for each month can be found here.

Third, the biggest tides occur approximately one to two days *after* the new and full moons, and are fullest around midday. This means low tides, with exposed reefs, are early morning (with incoming tide) and late afternoon (on the outgoing). Unfortunately, this rule of thumb doesn’t give you the absolute height of a tide — a 2.1 tide is quite different than a 2.5, the latter often throwing up unmanageable currents, and on big swells washing away warungs and beach shacks.

Fourth, neap tides occur on mid-moons (first quarter and last quarter, with high-ish tides in the am and pm, and the lower tides mid-day, but these tide changes are minor, I believe most reefs are usually covered and paddle-out-able almost all day without the reef dance walk.

Some other informal moon information, gathered from countless nights on decks of boats:

Full moon rises around sunset and sets around dawn.

New moon (mostly invisible) rises around dawn and sets around sunset (which is when we commonly see the new moon sickle).

If you look up at the night sky at a partial moon, with the top portion illuminated, it is waxing toward full. If the bottom part is illuminated, it is waning toward new. (Oh boy, do I have that the right way around? I think so. I better get back on a boat deck soon…with surf).

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3 Responses to Rule of thumb for Bali tides while waiting on official tide charts

  1. Bukit Bear says:

    To imagine a time before the existence of the online surf report/guides. The one’s that let everyone know exactly where to go.. what day.. and how & when to paddle out… Nobody has to deserve it anymore. Everyone’s a local.. both in and out of the water…

    • stoked says:

      Totally agree with ya, so many places to surf and great to see everyone having fun.we all experienced it then and still experiencing it now. Nothing has changed., as charts are often wrong. I think the charts are great for those planning a trip overseas to a remote location. u want know if any swell happening

      for the love of surfing

  2. I’ve received an email from a reader which is apropos, below — reader “Stoked” points out that charts were available in mid-70s, which is true. Charts for 2012 should have been available before 2011 ended, but this is typical Indonesian bureaucracy. Time and tide wait for no man, but government officials just saunter along. In fact, they should be on-line from the maritime Ministry, but hey, even the international airport here can’t get their arrivals/departures web page up and working


    From Stoked

    Thanks, Good info .

    Being an older surfer that grew up without all this technology, I think its pretty much common sense on how to read the tides. The harbor master used to print em out in the early days in bali, I,m talking mid 70,s. Still It was easy enough to judge, as high tide full moon and new moon time. morning am, is high tide same time evening pm,(eg 9am 9pm.) although the height of the tide is a little different. USUALLY the highest tides occur about 2 days after the full or new moon, so it would be dead low around 5.30pm or 5am here in bali, or thailand. Or I guess most places come to think of it.
    Its a pity that most people are clueless and don,t know that the high tides are just after new and full moon, and full moon rises as the sunsets, pretty much anywhere in the temperate to tropical zones on the planet. and the weeks prior and after the full or new moons are mid tides without a great deal of variation or intensity. Do people look at the sky , or the moon?

    even the swell direction and intensity was easy enough to judge. Just drive to gado, and look west towards the points after cangu, U would see a lot of white water way out on the reefs,(swell pumping, looks south) and look south towards kuta reef, and see a lot of white water , (some west in da swell), or not much white water, ,( more south in da swell).
    Well then U would know , which place would be on in da morning, impossibles, , sanur, kuta reef, balangan, etc etc, (depending on the size of course).
    Those were the days, when u could sneak a good session in. NO internet, or H phones, Just an awareness of nature, the ocean.

    We don,t need tide charts, or swell charts. Just a surf ck in da morning and arvo, a flag on ya roof works wonders also.

    for the love of surfing

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