SUP Surf Seattle on Freighter Waves

Learn to surf Seattle on freighter waves generated by fast moving ships.

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. 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 to surf Seattle as few other locations in the North America are this good for riding waves from tankers and container ships.

I will work with you to teach how to paddle out over waves, determine where to line up and pick the best waves for your skill level. You’ll learn how to fall safely, stand back up in waves, turn, stop and slow down.

You’ll learn Surfer’s Etiquette to avoid collisions and tension with other surfers. You’ll also learn about surfing gear.  I will also show you how to safely catch other types of waves generated from wind waves and passing recreational boats.

We discovered these waves in 2002 and have since been honing our ship spotting skills and figuring out the best tides and locations to catch these waves.  This is a rare opportunity to surf good waves more than 150 miles from the ocean.  

Read More about Freighter Surfing in Stand Up Journal, SUP Magazine and Stand Up Paddle Surf and  The Inertia



What’s the Difference Between Freighter and Tug Waves?

Freighter waves originate from large fast moving ships in the shipping lane. As the ships pass, their waves head to shore where we’re waiting. Waves are like standard beach break surfing.  The season is Spring to early Fall due to low tides for best results.

Tug waves occur in deep water with no beach and requires paddling a half mile in open water. Tug waves spread out in a V shape behind the tug, starting at about 50′ from the boat.  Only available on Wednesdays and some Fridays all year.  Click Here to Read About Tug Wave Surfing. >>

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

  • Receive a Freighter Surfing Manual.
  • Learn how to catch waves, turn, stop, fall safely, get back on and paddle out. 
  • Catch more waves with smarter wave selection, timing and placement
  • Get bomber stability skills in the surf zone which will benefit all types of paddling
  • Find out how to surf your race and downwinding board for longer rides from further out
  • Save energy by learning easy turning techniques before, during and after your ride
  • Avoid collisions and stress with others in the surf zone using Surfer’s Etiquette
  • Catch more waves learning to surf small boat wakes in between freighters
  • How to choose the best equipment and clothing for NW surfing
  • Stay safe by learning how to fall in shallow water and stand up on your board between waves
  • Refine your forward stroke so you can paddle out faster with less effort

Skill Prerequisites: Advanced Beginner

You should be comfortable paddling over boat wakes and in wind waves while standing. You should be in good physical shape as surfing can be exhausting. You know know how to fall and get back on your board. Take my SUP Basics 2 if you’re not comfortable or unsure with the above requirements.

Already a SUP 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 race or downwinding boards welcome. No super narrow race boards – you’ll spend more time in rather than on the water.  

Are you a Prone / Traditional Surfer? We require that prone / regular surfers take our SUP Basics 1 and/or 2 classes to learn basic SUP turns and the forward stroke. Just being a prone surfer doesn’t mean you’ll pick up SUP paddling and surfing during this class.


I 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. These core strokes will increase your wave count both here and on the coast. I’ll cover self-rescue, water safety and rescues for rough water conditions and where to find and how to forecast tug and freighter waves. I 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

Lesson Details:

Best Dates for Tides – (*) Dates are scheduled ship days. For non (*) days, I’ll contact you in the AM if there’s a boat coming.  If you can’t make these days, contact me to discuss. 

  • June *5. 8, 15, *21, 22, 29 
  • July 6, 13, *17, *31
  • August 10, *14, *16, 17, *30, 31
  • Ask about Sept and early Oct dates. 

* Private classes only. 

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

Skill Level: Intermediate. You should be comfortable standing on waves and chop.

Location: Ballard Elks Beach, Shilshole Bay, Seattle.

Instructor to Student Ratio: 1-4

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


Group Rate: (3 – 4 students) 133 per person with rentals / 110 per person with your gear. 

2 Person Rate: 173 with rentals / 149 with your gear

Individual Rate (1-1): 279 with rentals / 249 with your own gear. 

Rates are non-negotiable

Alumni / Repeat Classes: $10 off per person. 

Bringing your own gear?  Stable surf style boards and displacement boards to 17 feet. Leashes and PFDs required (Shilshole Bay is considered a flat water inland waterway  by the CG). Wetsuits required Fall – Spring and cool summer days.

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