Freighter Waves Explained..(and how to catch them)

Common FAQ’s…
How do you predict the waves? Like any surfing there’s some work involved with getting the best results. We use to track boats coming into Puget Sound. Then we need a low tide when the boat passes at specific locations for the best waves. We have a even more specific tide window we like for the biggest waves and longest rides. And we prefer low or no winds and light outgoing current from the Locks and boats going south over 17kts.-Do you surf behind the boat?  No, like any boat wave, the waves come to us. After the boat has passed West Point headed south, 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.-What board do I need?  Anything above 10′ long is best. Although, our local Hawaiian Jon Kwon does body board the waves though! But longest rides will be from a board 10′ 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 in the longboard lengths. The board in the pic is our Imagine Connector 14′ (for sale!)-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 faces! 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. We look at beaches that resemble what breaks on the coast. Usually beaches that are shallow aways out even at high tides. Strong wind can create nice surfable waves at these beaches. Ryan Deters 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. I know it also breaks at Marrowstone Point, Richmond Beach, Pt Robinson, Rolling Bay, Blake Island, 4 Mile Rock and Point Hudson in PT.  Not from the NW? Look for shallow beaches and points where wind or boat wakes could jack up and create waves. Watch the same spots over time in different conditions.

Where can I learn? We offer Freighter Wave classes in Seattle March to Sept for daytime low tides. Wed is the best day for the biggest boat, but we get good rides all week. We also offer Tug Surfing but freighters are easier to catch with more options to become a better surfer, (tugs are one wave only).  Go as often as possible. Our 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

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

Tips for 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 on a lake? Surf wakes from boats and wind waves, everything produces a ride even if small.


Check out our SUP classes in Seattle – Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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