Over the weekend, I was on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and wanted to paddle from shore through the surf zone to access a favorite surf break down the coast.  Read on to find out how about paddling through shore break.

But, the 7.5′ NW swell was breaking hard on the beach. Walls of water were creating a formable barrier and whitewash nearly 5′ tall.  This is called shore break. This beach has a steep slope to it, adding to waves ‘closing out’ like this on shore.

How to get through surf without getting pummeled?

Getting Out..

  • Wait for a lull.  Wait for a calm period between waves to charge through. Waves come in sets of 5-7.
  • Wait for a smaller wave to go over. Waves come in sets of 5-7, the first and last wave in a set will be smaller.

    Time incoming swell – When is it going to break?

  • Wait for a wave to crash then go over the whitewater. Like a lull, this gives you a few seconds to get out.
  • Use the Rip.  If there’s a tide rip where water is escaping the beach through a trough in the sandbar this is an escalator out. Look for a lowered or dipped section in a wave coming in. If the dip is always there, that’s a rip.
  • If too big or intimidating, wait for a change in the tide level, a drop in swell, or save for another day.

Skills for Paddling Out

  • Charge through like a race start.
  • Short quick strokes.
  • If you’re a SUP, get low, stand near the tail to get the nose over wave crests.

    Close-out wave. Go in over top or wait to flatten then go over.

  • Paddle like hell! 
  • Don’t stop until you’re outside of the surf zone.  Charge it all the way out.

Once You’re Past the First Wave..

Time the incoming wave for your window to get over a wave.  (Term: Period is the seconds between wave crests)

  • If it’s a long period day (13-18 sec) and and it’s breaking, wait for it to go into whitewater, then paddle over.
  • If it’s a short period day or it’s super close to you, for SUP, get low, step back and paddle hard short quick strokes. Be ready for another wave on the outside.
  • Don’t stop paddling on top of waves. This is a mistake for many. It feels like Victory! on top of a wave but you may have more after to keep charging for.
  • Slice through or over the breaking crest of waves? Depends on your board and the wave. Race/downwind boards with pointed noses can slice through under the wave crest. Surf style boards have to go over.

Coming Back In

Shore break.

  • Always look behind you to determine your timing and see what’s coming.
  • Wait for a lull then charge in.
  • Aim for a small wave, then go in on back of wave as it breaks.
  • If no choice, go in on back of wave as it breaks.  Called a ‘floater’ if done right, you’ll glide right in.
  • Watch the back wash on a steep beach. Once on land grab your gear and run up the beach!
  • Alternative safety tip – Remove your leash before coming in to avoid the board pulling you back in the back wash after you land.


Check out my SUP and surf ski lessons in the Pacific Northwestwww.salmonbaypaddle.com

Plus Online Courses in SUP 101, Intermediate SUP and SUP Water Safety. 

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips