SUP Surfing with Freighter Waves

Learn to surf epic waves in Seattle! Beginner surfers will learn the basics of surfing a SUP in a safe and friendly environment. Experienced surfers will learn new tricks and how to keep your surf skills fresh in between coastal trips. Freighter waves originate from passing ships that push waves towards beaches on Shilshole Bay during specific tide levels. Waves vary from knee to chest high and can go for over an hour after a single boat has passed. Take advantage of this unique class as few other locations in the North America have this specific set-up for riding good sized waves from container ships.

Our patient expert instructors will work with you to teach how to paddle out over waves, choose where to take waves from and how to pick the best waves to surf for your skill level. You’ll learn how to fall safely, turn and avoid collisions with other surfers using Surfer’s Etiquette. You’ll learn about gear, clothing and how to surf in the Pacific NW. You’ll also receive a Freighter Surfing Manual to learn more about these waves and how and where to catch them on Puget Sound.

Read The Inertia article about freighter wave surfing.

What’s the difference between freighter vs. tug waves?

Freighter waves originate from large ships in the shipping lane. As the ships pass, their waves head to shore (takes 20 minutes) to create beach break waves. Season is Spring to early Fall due to low tides which help the waves break at our location. Any size board or kayak/ski/oc can be used to catch these waves.

Tug waves occur in deep water with no beach and requires paddling a half mile into open water. Tug waves spread out in a V shape behind the tug, starting at about 100′ from the boat. Rides can last up to a half mile. Open to kayakers, surf skis, and OC’s. Only available on Wednesdays all year. Click Here to Read About Tug Wave Surfing. >>

Core Skills You’ll Gain
(Classes will be customized to your needs)

  • Learn how to surf your paddle board
  • Catch more waves with smart wave selection, timing and placement
  • Get bomber stability skills in the surf zone
  • Learn to surf your race and downwinding board
  • Save energy by learning easy turning techniques
  • Get along with others as a SUP ambassador using Surfer’s Etiquette
  • Get more waves learning to surf small boat wakes in between freighters
  • How to choose the best equipment and clothing for NW surfing
  • Find out when and where to surf boat and ship wakes on Puget Sound

Skill Prerequisites: Level 1 Advanced Beginner

You should be comfortable paddling over boat wakes standing and paddling in wind. You should be in good physical shape as surfing can be exhausting.

Already a Surfer? These waves will keep you in shape when you can’t get to the coast. We’ve been stumped at the coast and sometimes have had better success in Seattle! Stable displacement boards welcome. We require that prone surfers take our SUP Basics or SUP Sampler class to learn basic SUP turns and the forward stroke.


We can’t guarantee waves. Freighter waves can be fickle. On no wave days I’ll teach you the strokes we commonly use in surfing or bombproof your current skills. Three core strokes will increase your wave count both here and on the coast. We’ll cover self-rescue, water safety and rescues for rough water conditions and where to find and how to forecast tug and freighter waves. We offer one free followup class for students who don’t catch a wave during their first class.

I conquered several fears paddling in currents and surfing waves and owe it to Rob, where safety and professional instructions are Salmon Bay Paddle’s top priorities!

Margrit Ralph

Class Details:

Dates (Season is March – Sept):

  • July 18, 25, 27, 28
  • August 10, 11, 24, 25, 29

Duration: 3 Hours. Class Size: 1 – 4 People

Location: Ballard Elks Beach, Shilshole Bay, Seattle.

Instructor to Student Ratio: 1-4

Schedule: Check our Calendar

* FREE Follow-up Class for students who don’t catch a wave during their first class.


Group Rate: 199 per person. 2 – 4 students. Rental gear free with class cost.

Individual Rate (1-1): 349. Rental gear free with class cost.

Alumni / Repeat Classes: $20 off per person. If you didn’t get a wave your first class come out again for free.

Bringing your own gear? The best SUPs for these classes are stable surf style boards as well as stable displacement boards to 17 feet. Leashes and PFDs required (Shilshole Bay is considered a flat water location by the CG). Wetsuits required Fall – Spring.

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