Freighter Waves on Puget Sound Explained..(and how to catch them)..

How do you predict the waves?

Like any surfing there’s some work involved with getting the best results. I use marinetraffic.com to track boats going over 17kts into Puget Sound. After surfing these waves for 15 years, I have developed a schedule of ship traffic as well.
Then I need a low tide in Ballard where I teach for best results as well as low or no winds and light outgoing current from the Ballard Locks. Best season is Spring and Summer.
Do you surf behind the boat?  No, like a coastal break, the waves come to us. After the boat has passed West Point the waves works its way towards Ballard, breaking on our beach across from Ray’s in approx 20min. We’re 2.5 miles from the boat when the waves reaches us.
What’s the difference between Freighters and Tankers? – Tankers carry oil and liquid material. Freighters are container ships often carrying containers, trucks, cars, etc. Our biggest boats from TOTE Lines carry vehicles and runs at 23 kts no matter the weather or tides. Tanker surfing is Texas are on Super Tankers carrying oil.
What board do I need?  Anything above 10′ long board or kayak is best. Although, our one of our locals from Hawaii uses a body board on the waves!  Sea kayaks, surf ski’s, OC’s, wave ski’s and surf kayaks work fine.
My longest rides will be from a board 14′ to 18′ long. Shorter means more play on the wave, longer (18′) is a straight ride in.
Traditional surfboards do work on the waves if you have skills. The board in the pic is my downwinder, the Imagine Connector 14′ which catches everything and can rock a bottom turn.
Is it just one wave?  It varies. Usually if timed right, we can get one set (5-7 waves) or up to 1 hour of waves from one boat! The first set is always the biggest (up to chest high) and the following sets are usual waist to chest high.

We’ve even had head high waves! Sometimes we get stumped and there’s no waves (note disclaimer on our site). But this happens on the coast too!Where else do these waves break?

All throughout the Puget Sound where there’s fast container ship traffic or high winds. I look at beaches that resemble what breaks on the coast. Usually beaches that are shallow a ways out even at high tides.

Strong wind can create nice surfable waves at these beaches as well.

A friend has been scouting beaches south of Alki and have found good results at Dash Point, Saltwater State Park and the Cove park by 3 Tree Point.

These other locations do get freighter waves and wind waves: Marrowstone Point, Richmond Beach, Pt Robinson, Rolling Bay, Eglon Beach, Pt Roberts, Double Bluff, Blake Island, 4 Mile Rock and Point Hudson in PT.

Freighter Wave Classes

I offer Freighter Wave classes in Seattle March to Sept for daytime low tides. Wednesday and Fridays are the best days for the biggest boats, but we get good rides all week.

I also surf tug wakes but freighters are easier to catch with more options to become a better surfer as tugs are one wave set and require long fast boards (12-4+) to drop-in. Tugs are Wed and Fridays only, midday.

Go as often as possible. My coastal surfing classes will also help becoming a more confident skilled surfer. Freighters allow us to stay local and keep our skills up for bigger days on the coast.

Rob surfing in Seattle (courtesy standuppaddlesurf.net)

Watch my interview with Evan of Standuppaddlesurf.net on Freighter Wave Surfing in Seattle!

Tips for safer surfing

  • Always fall flat to avoid injury.
  • Use a leash to prevent a loose board which can be a hazard. If you’re not a solid surfer, keep your distance from others.
  • Surf often to keep your skills up. Live near a lake? Surf wakes from boats and wind waves, everything produces a ride even if small.


Learn More

Learn Freighter Wave Surfing in Seattle

Take my Deception Pass Tidal Rapids Class



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.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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