5 ways to surf Shilshole Bay in Seattle. With surf always on my mind, I thought I'd share with you all. Coastal surf can be tricky, either too small or too big. These local spots provide a shorter drive to get your stoke on..
Tugs - On Wed and Fridays all year, Western Towboat sends us two Titan class tugs (no barges) from the Locks to Elliott Bay. Meeting the boat 1/2 mile offshore, the tugs put on the gas providing us with epic waist to chest high rides nearly 1/2 mile long to West Point. To catch the wave, you need a 12-6 or longer board as the waves are big, but not powerful like a coastal wave. Longer is faster, so we need enough speed to 'drop in' to the wave. The tugs put off 3 waves, so it's tricky. If you fall or don't catch a wave, you can either race to catch up with the wave or wait for a second boat. If you score, you'll be in for the ride of your life. The tugs are safe too. They don't light it up if there's other boats around. We also know them and confirm their schedule before we secure a class with you. If you're having dinner at Ray's around 7pm, the tugs can be seen heading north to Alaska hauling 3-5 story barges for a 2 week journey up and back. We require that you take a few of our classes before surfing tugs as they require us to be off shore and in rough water with 2-4 miles of paddling. Learn More about Tug Surfing Tugs don't occur in November when the Locks are closed for a month for cleaning.
Freighters - Freighter waves break in the same way as a coastal wave at the beach. We track large fast moving ships going south to Seattle or Tacoma. After the ship has passed West Point, on a good day, the wave can hit our spot in Ballard in 20 minutes. We may get one set (5-7 waves) or one hour of waist high waves from a single boat. On epic days, the first set can be a chest high peelers providing rides up to 2 minutes of ripping! We teach beginning surf lessons as well starting novices on small non intimidating waves. By July or August on hot summer days, regulars at the surf break are in shorts and swimsuits surfing good waves - in Seattle. I didn't surf the coast as much last year since I had waves 5 minutes from my house. Best season is later Winter to early Fall. We need low daytime tides. In winter, tides are mostly high during the day (low at night). There's other places that freighter waves break on the Sound. Ryan Deters has been finding high tide spots near Tacoma. Check our calendar for upcoming freighter wave classes. Read about Freighters
|Tug surfing on Puget Sound. Photo: Jasmine Speaks|
Wind Waves - Very popular among the local SUP community is Downwinding. This means going out on windy days and surfing the wind generated waves. Paddlers will pick a 'run' in which they can get a straight path from one launch to the other running a shuttle or paddling downwind, then up. The key to downwinding is to look for surfable bumps or waves that will connect into one continuous ride (or glide). Over time you learn to read the water and look for patterns in the bumps that will translate to a ride. It's something you can do anywhere there's water and wind. You really don't need a huge wind day to get bumps or a long board but those will give your and easier and longer ride. Paddlers have been out in up to 40 knot days which translates to 5' waves in open water. Two of our local paddlers have ended up on Shilshole jetty this winter, a result of not lining up their run properly and/or being in conditions above their skill level. 2 guys were rescued in separate incidents off Maui this winter, one due to no or broken leash and the other from drifting too far from his buddies (and his buddies not noticing this). Read Suzie Cooney's post on Downwinding in Maui. Our Downwinding class will educate you on safety and how to catch bumps easier. Classes are set once we know we have wind! You should be comfortable paddling to take this class. Downwinding is rough water but we can teach you techniques for safety and stability on bumps.
|Rob surfing a freighter wave in Seattle|
Wind Generated Surf Waves - Instead of riding bumps off shore, take advantage of places on the Sound where the wind waves hit the shore. Much like a coastal swell, wind waves will wrap around a point, jack up in shallow water and create well formed clean waves in the right places. Yesterday, I was reminded of this when surfing 3' to 4' waves at our freighter wave spot in Ballard. These came from the 25 knot Northerly wind waves further offshore that found their way inside the wind protected (glassy) pocket between the Shilshole Marina and the entry to Salmon Bay. I surfed beach break waves for 2 hours (was only planning on an hour) while a bald eagle soared above and our local overly friendly harbor seals darted around under my board. Meadow Point, or Golden Gardens has a nice surfable wave on big SW or S wind days 20 knots of more. Our friend Jon Kwon has started a movement of paddlers who now body board this section and get great rides. Many are buying body boards, fins and hitting the water!
Boat Wakes - We surf behind power boats and smaller commercial craft as they enter or leave the Locks. This means waiting for the boat to pass, then get on it's stern (back) wave. The waves are tricky to catch but on outgoing Locks current, we've caught rides up to 100yds or longer! Boards vary from 11' to 18', but use what you have. Boat wakes are tough to catch but will make you a better surfer, as surf waves are easy in comparison. They will also build your balance, confidence and help you learn to read waves. For safety, don't cut in front of the boat or move too quickly towards them - they'll cut their engines! If there's two directions of boats, stay on one side of the channel and only work the outgoing or just the incoming boats. If there's two boats coming in a row, catch the second wave so the first boat won't run you over or have to swerve (they don't have brakes). On Lake Washington, there are folks who have friends with ski boats that generate a nice short board wave. Admitantly, I haven't done that, we tend to get our waves organically. :)
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