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Freighter Wave Surfing Locations on Puget Sound

Some of us have been surfing some pretty nice waves on Puget Sound for over a decade, nearly 3-4 hours from ocean waves!  Read on to find freighter wave surfing locations on Puget Sound and how to find your own breaks.

Of course everyone’s heard of tanker wave surfing in Texas featured on Dana Brown’s Step into Liquid.  Same thing here, but no need to tow-in and ours is a beach break.

Fabled Waves?

Seattle Surf Photo: Jon Kwon

Seattle Surf Photo: Jon Kwon

Freighter waves are not as well known or a popular activity as many don’t think it could exist and/or that we could get good waves. But here in Seattle, the ocean is 3-5 hrs away depending on where you choose to go, so we take what we can get – and surprisingly it’s pretty good.

NW Coastal surf can like any waves be flat, blown out or too big which is always a bummer after a few hour’s drive long drive.  We do on occasion get up to one hour of continuous waist high freighter waves, which is always pretty epic and a shorter commute.

During the peak of the season in summer, often we’re surfing 3x a week in Seattle. When we head for ‘real waves’ on the coast, we’re in surfing shape vs not having surfed for a few weeks.

Read my article in the Inertia on Freighter Waves

Where do Freighter Waves Break?

Get my Puget Sound Surfing Guide for maps and details of where to find Salish Sea surf.

On your own, finding where waves break in inland waterways depends on finding beaches which resemble surf breaks on the coast – point breaks, beach breaks, etc.  Look for beaches which have sandy beaches which extend out at low tide or that are shallow for long distances.

Use aerial photo sites of local beaches to find possible breaks. Google maps works well for Puget Sound, as does this page.  Check webcams that have beach views to track boats, tides and weather.

Then use Marine Traffic or similar sites to track shipping traffic.  For Seattle, we need a southbound 17-23 knot freighter, container ship, and various other speedy boats to make it happen. Even fast moving recreational boats can put off a sweet wave.

Persistence

Like any break, keep watching and hitting it until you get it figured out, your persistence will pay off. At my favorite spot, I need a low tide and little wind. Season is late January to September.

How We Found the Waves

Two friends and I ‘discovered’ our local waves around 2002 while out sea kayaking. This was before SUP and the MarineTraffic app.  We would go to the water and look for boats, and over time figured out some ship schedules and where to be and when. And the same for tug surfing.

Which Craft to Use for Surfing

We started surfing these on sea kayaks, then surf kayaks then SUPs.  Now 20 years later, I personally prefer a 14′ downwind SUP and 18′ surf ski.  Friends do surf sups, boogie boards, surf kayaks, regular 11′ SUPs and a few do traditional surfing ideally with long boards, and prone paddle boards. If you’re good anything will work.

Most efficient for longest rides, most wave count will be surf skis, outrigger canoes and 14′ SUPs.  Longer is faster, less work. But use what you got and go from there.

Tug Surfing

We also surf tug waves from specific tugs that put off big peeling waves. Like some freighter waves, these are on a schedule and have a specific route so we know where to be and when to be there.

No tug surf in November due to the Ballard Locks annual cleaning.

Tug wave are big but not powerful, so we need 14′ or longer SUPs, sea kayaks, OC or surf ski’s to catch and keep up with the waves. We get one set and that’s it, so we have to catch it!

Tugs in Seattle do come on a specific schedule and at other times.

Check my Tug Surfing Class

Partial List of Surfing Breaks for Freighter / Container / Navy / etc waves…

Get the full list, maps, details plus other types of surf like standing waves in Deception Pass in my Puget Sound Surfing Guide

Seattle area:
– Duwamish Head – Great for ferry waves at lower tides.
– Point Wells, Edmonds.
– Des Moines Beach Park (north of pier).
– Point Robinson, Vashon.
– Brace Point (small)
– Boeing Pt (small)

Haven’t tried it but I’ve heard these break:
Dash Pt, Saltwater St Park, Rolling Bay; Restoration Pt

Other spots I’ve seen break…
– Marrowstone Island – Marrowstone Head north of lighthouse; a point south of Ft Flagler.
– North Beach and Pt Wilson, Port Townsend.
– False Bay, San Juan Island – a friend caught a long ride here on a prone paddleboard. Most likely swell.

Those that don’t work:
– Pt No Pt, Three Tree Pt, Carkeek Park, Alki Point.
– Friends in Vancouver BC say they haven’t seen waves there but there’s good wind waves at Crescent Beach.

Tidal Waves

  • Deception Pass – I teach folks how to surf standing and progressive waves in the Pass all year.
  • Places like Bremerton’s Port Washington Narrows have swift current. Add a boat wake and you have some fun!

Freighter and Tug Surfing Classes

Learn to Freighter Surf in Seattle March-Early October

Learn to Tug Surf

Get my Puget Sound Surfing Guide

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.  Surf photo by Jon Kwon

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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