Coming In, Or Going Out?

Written By: Bill Goldstein

When I pick a spot to set up shop at the beach there are three things I want.

1. A clear view of the ocean.
2. Longevity. That is, no need to move any time soon.
3. The coolest spot. That’s “cool” as in less hot.

All of which means that I need to pick a spot as close to the water’s edge as possible, which in turn means I need to know what’s going on with the tide.

Is it coming in, or going out?

Without knowing when the tide will shift, which as we know it does four times a day, I’m left to guess as to the optimal location.

If I set up close to the water, yes, I’ll have my clear view and a cool temperature, but if the tide is coming in, I’ll have to move later in order to avoid being swamped. And if tide is going out, someone could set up later on territory newly revealed by the ebbing tide.

If I set up too far from the water, I won’t have to move later, but someone is almost certain to plop themselves down in front of me. Plus, it’ll be several degrees hotter there than if I were sitting hard by the water.

All of which is to say that the first thing I do when I hit the beach is go down to the water and inquire of those nearby:

“Coming in or going out?”

Typically, I get a bewildered response.

“Coming in or going out???”

“Yes, the tide. Is it coming in, or going out?”

Shockingly, nine out of ten times, people have no idea.

“Geez, I don’t really know,” accompanied by a confounded, almost embarrassed look, as if they’re thinking to themselves:

“Hmmm, that’s a good question. I’d like to know, too.

“Did you just arrive?”, I might follow up, trying to take them off the hook, though frankly I can’t imagine how they didn’t want to know this simple information before they sat down.

“Oh, no, we’ve been here for a few hours.”

And then they might hazard a guess, offering, “It looks like it’s coming in.”

But you can’t tell by looking unless you’ve been looking for a long time. Checking if the sand is wetter here or there and from that deducing whether the direction of the tide, is unreliable. Over short periods of time waves are not perfectly progressive. Eyeballing just doesn’t work.

Some try to hedge their bet by suggesting that:

“I think it’s ‘in between’ right now.”

This is, I fear, more nonsense. It’s always either coming in, or going out. There’s no such thing as “in between.”

And when there are life guards around, to my complete astonishment, even they often have no clue whatsoever, which is pure malpractice.

Recently, at Indian Wells Beach, I sought guidance from the lifeguards.

“So tell me, is the tide coming in or out?”, to which I got this snotty, ludicrously self-important reply:

“We’re here to save lives, sir, not keep track of the tides for you.”


“Hey, it’s either coming in or going out, it’s one or the other, okay?”

“Ahh, no, that answer is quite a distance from ‘okay’. First of all, you ought to be routinely posting the tides every day, for everyone to see. And second, the direction of the tide might just be relevant to your greater mission of saving lives, don’t you think?”

“Hey mister, have a nice day.”

I had all I could do not to jump the rope and really get in their faces. Aren’t lifeguards getting paid to know, among other things, exactly when the tide changes? If they don’t know that, what do they know?

Which unfortunately leaves me pretty much where I started, on my own.

Still, I remain hopeful and will continue going straight to the water’s edge when I arrive in search of a kindred spirit who’s paying attention. I know you’re out there.