The Coast News Group
Life is revealed at low tide. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: At low tide, see what you’ve been missing

The surf is small to nonexistent, and the tide is low enough to walk from Cardiff to Catalina like Moses fleeing Pharaoh’s army. Surfers pull up in droves, check it out, shake their heads, get back into their cars and drive home to something less enjoyable (that would be everything else) than surfing.

But maybe said surfers are missing something. Here is a rare chance to view the reefs they have been riding over for, sometimes, decades. That deep cavern is where the wave slows down, that extended rock shelf sets up a racecourse that narrowly avoids closing out.

Then there is a long strip of sand turned into a magic path by walkers, runners and cyclists. The tide pools are alive with mini universes in vicious harmony as tiny creatures with murderous eyes toward one another kill their roommates with impunity.

Childlike wonder can be revived at first glance as tiny fish, newborn lobster and sea anemone attempt to outsmart one another in the game of life.

Tide pools are some of the best classrooms you can offer child. That, said, we need to be cautious not to tramp down the stairs en masse, nets and buckets in hand. Please know that a tide pool is a creature’s home. You are entitled to view it as you would a Christmas display. You are not, however, invited to invade it and remove its residents.

Sadly, there is evidence that not everyone understands this as sea life is often found clinging to life, abandoned on the sand, drying out and dying in the midday sun. As uncomfortable as it is to do, I have often stopped families returning home with treasures stolen from the sea.

Of course none of this matters when low tide corresponds with a big north swell. Then, the beach disappears for surfers as they race over sealife that live within inches of sharp fins.  While these dead low tides are generally unfavorable for beach breaks, reefs and point waves come alive on them as formerly mushy sections peel off like a sheet metal roof in a Santa Ana. The dropping tide makes the waves steeper, faster and hollower, and beach inhabitants miss out on one of life’s greatest thrills, which might include a tube ride or two.

A word of warning to those who are not regular beachgoers: Just as what goes up must come down, so what goes out must come in. Tides shift regularly and low tides can come up quickly and trap unsuspecting adventurers. This is rarely dangerous, but can be very uncomfortable and lead to a long ride home in wet clothes.

On a slightly unrelated topic, please don’t seek shelter in beach caves, or camp too close to the cliffs. The caves and cliffs in North County are generally unstable and prone to collapse. Be safe, be courteous and by all means explore the world offered by a low tide.