Tow Surfing, How & Where




Tow Surfing, How & Where


Tow surfing, also known as tow-in surfing, is a way to ride large and powerful ocean waves with the assistance of a jet ski. This technique allows surfers to catch and ride waves that are significantly bigger and faster than waves they could paddle into using their own strength.

And here's how it works:

Equipment: Surfers use a specially designed surfboard, often shorter and more maneuverable than traditional surfboards. They’re typically equipped with foot straps for added control. A jet ski is used to tow the surfer into an optimal position (more equipment details below).

Towing: The surfer grabs hold of a tow rope that’s attached to the jet ski The jet ski operator then accelerates to high speed, towing the surfer toward the approaching wave.

Wave Selection: Experienced tow surfers usually target massive, fast-breaking waves that are beyond the paddle-in capabilities of traditional surfing. These waves are commonly found in big wave surf spots around the world.

Release: As the pair reach the critical point on the wave, the surfer releases the tow rope and lets go of the jet ski. Ideally, this move begins a drop, down the face of the wave, and a fabulous ride.

Ride: Once released, the surfers use their skill and balance to ride the wave, performing maneuvers and tricks on the face of it. The goal is often to ride inside the tube (barrel) of the wave, known as getting "barreled," or to carve across the wave's face with speed and control.

Recovery: After riding the wave, or wiping out, the surfer is typically picked up by the waiting jet ski. Best case scenario, driver and surfer trade off. 

Tow surfing is renowned for its ability to take on massive waves that can reach heights of 20 feet or more. It allows surfers to push the boundaries of the sport and ride waves that were once considered unrideable. However, tow surfing has risks, and both surfers and jet ski operators MUST be highly skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable about safety procedures in order to tackle such extreme conditions. At competitions, safety crews and support teams are present to assist tow surfers in case of emergencies, as the risks associated with large waves are substantial.

Here's a list of essential gear to safely and successfully tow surf:

Surfboard: For this sport, these boards are typically shorter and more specialized than traditional surfboards. They’re designed for speed, control, and maneuverability in large waves. Tow boards often have a narrower tail and a stiffer construction to handle the power of the waves.

Jet Ski or Personal Watercraft (PWC): A powerful PWC is key for towing the surfer into waves that are too fast and massive to paddle into. It should be equipped with a tow rope and harness for the surfer to hold onto. The driver must be experienced.

Tow Rope and Harness: The tow rope is attached to both the jet ski and the surfer's harness. It should be strong, durable, and long enough to allow the surfer to catch a wave and ride it safely.

Safety Gear:

Wetsuit: A high-quality wetsuit is essential for warmth, especially in cold water conditions.

Life Vest or Buoyancy Aid: A personal flotation device (PFD) is crucial for safety in case of a fall.

Helmet: A protective helmet can help prevent head injuries in the event of a wipeout.

Impact Vest: This vest provides additional protection to the chest and torso.

Leash: A surfboard leash is important for keeping the board attached to the surfer and preventing it from becoming a hazard if they fall.

Fins: These are attached to the surfboard to provide stability and control during rides.

Communication Equipment: Radios or intercom systems can be used for communication between the surfer and the PWC driver,  for better coordination & safety.

Whistle or Signaling Device: A whistle or signaling device can be used by the surfer to alert the PWC operator in case of an emergency or need for assistance.

Flotation Device for the PWC: It's essential to have flotation devices or kits designed for the PWC in case of engine failure or other emergencies.

First Aid Kit: Having a basic first aid kit on the PWC is valuable in case of injuries.

Tow-in Surfing Partners: Tow surfing is typically a team effort, with the surfer and PWC driver working closely together. It's important to have skilled and experienced partners who are knowledgeable about the specific conditions and associated risks.

Local Permits and Knowledge: In some locations, tow surfing may require permits or local knowledge about tides, currents, and potential hazards. Respect local regulations and safety guidelines.

Tow surfing is an extreme and demanding sport. It requires advanced surfing skills, experience in handling personal watercraft, and a serious understanding of ocean conditions. It's crucial to prioritize safety, teamwork, and preparation when engaging in tow surfing, as it involves significant risks due to the size and power of the waves involved. Respect.

Some of the best places for tow surfing around the world include:

Jaws (Peahi), Maui, Hawaii: Jaws is one of the most famous big wave surf spots globally, known for its massive and powerful waves that can reach heights of 60 feet or more. It's a favorite destination for tow surfers seeking colossal waves.

Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia: Teahupo'o is renowned for its incredibly hollow and heavy waves that break over a shallow reef. It's a prime location for tow-in surfers to ride some of the world's most challenging barrels.

Mavericks, California: Mavericks is a legendary big wave surf spot located near Half Moon Bay in Northern California. Its massive waves are often towed into during the winter season when swells are at their peak.

Nazaré, Portugal: Nazaré is famous for its gigantic waves, thanks to its underwater Nazaré Canyon that funnels and amplifies the swell. It's a popular destination for tow surfers looking for record-breaking waves.

Shipstern Bluff (Devil's Point), Tasmania, Australia: Shipstern Bluff is known for its monstrous and barreling waves, often regarded as some of the heaviest in the world. It's a challenging and remote location for tow surfing.

Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico: Todos Santos is famous for its big waves, which can reach heights of 40 feet or more. It's a relatively consistent and accessible spot for tow surfers.

Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii: Waimea Bay is an iconic big wave spot known for its historic significance in the sport of surfing. It's a challenging but classic destination for tow-in surfing.

The Right, Western Australia: The Right is a remote and heavy slab wave located in Western Australia. It's notorious for its enormous waves and shallow reef, making it a thrilling spot for tow surfers.

Dungeons, South Africa: Dungeons, near Hout Bay in South Africa, offers massive waves that break over a reef and produce some epic tow-in surfing opportunities.

Pico Alto, Peru: Pico Alto is a renowned big wave spot in Peru, known for its consistent and powerful swells. It's a go-to destination for tow surfers looking for challenging waves.

Tow surfing requires expert-level skills and safety measures. Always check local conditions, chat with experienced local surfers, and have a support team in place before attempting to tow surf at any of these locations. Safety MUST be the top priority in extreme surf environments. Enjoy the thrill!

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