NW surfing isn’t only on the coast. Sea kayakers have been surfing Deception Pass standing and progressive waves on Puget Sound for years. Deception Pass has some of the most epic inland surfing options in the region.
The tidal rapids of Deception Pass State Park are north of Seattle 1.5 hours near Anacortes.
With two ebbs and two floods per day (flow changes direction 4x a day), there’s plenty to work with. Folks who peer over the railing of the bridge 150 feet above think of it as a swirling cauldron of chaos and whirlpools.
I’ve been teaching tidal rapids SUP classes in the Pass for over a decade. I bring students in at slack tide, the short period between each tidal cycle where the Pass sometimes resembles a calm lake. The goal is for students to experience the beginning of the ebb which start soon thereafter. The ebb in the Pass is calmer than the flood, thus better for beginners.
As the ebb current builds, it starts like a trickle then in 3 hours builds to resemble a Class 2+ whitewater rapid. This building of current gives students time to get acquainted with paddling in current.
What is a tidal rapid?
A tidal rapid is when saltwater flows through a constricted area and/over a reef creating waves, a tide rip and/or standing waves. Whitewater varies per the level of the tide, slower near slack and faster at the max ebb or flood.
Tidal Waves in the Pass
Ever heard of Skookumchuck in British Columbia? Friends from the Inertia filmed a session at ‘Skook’ in 16 knot currents and head high standing waves. An epic place with fun to very gnarly conditions.
To get the waves seen in this video, the effect is a strong (15-30kt) westerly wind against the ebb. These are progressive waves, meaning they’re pushing upstream vs staying in one place, similar to the downwinding conditions of Hood River.
The footage is in Canoe Pass, the smaller of the two canyons below the Highway 20 bridge. The strong west wind kept us in place without having to paddle hard/fast.
Other waves in the pass occur on the flood off Lighthouse Point and Strawberry Island.
West wind can jack up waves below the main Pass (widest section) on an ebb.
Skills Required to Paddle in the Pass
You need strong river SUP or kayak skills. We enter the main current flow from an eddy with a strong back current. On a SUP, we enter the main flow at speed in a 45 degree angle leaning downstream to avoid flipping (upstream). Then back again into the eddy after some surf time. Wipeouts are common.
Check out my Tidal Rapids SUP Class. Can be adapted for kayaks, prone and outrigger.
Gear We Use in the Pass
- We always wear a coiled leash on a quick release system attached to our PFD side strap. Quick release leashes allow for easy removal if feet get caught in kelp or rocks during wipeouts..
- Vest life-jackets allow for protection from falling on boards, are easier to swim in aerated water, for warmth and will float you if injured. I use the MTI Vibe. Other good brands include NRS, Astral and Kokatat.
- No Waist C02 PFD’s. You want passive floatation.
- Helmets help with protection in falls onto rocks or gear falling on you.
- 4/3 to 5/4mm wetsuits all year. Water runs cold in the Pass even in summer. Hot summer days wetsuit tops and bottoms are fine depending on the individual.
- NRS Freestyle WetShoes for keeping feet warm, traction on board and walking on barnacled shore rocks.
- Optional neoprene paddling gloves. I use the NRS Maverick and Glacier Perfect Curve fleeced lined gloves in winter.
- Neoprene hood for keeping your head warm and helmet comfort.
- In summer a baseball hat will give your a sun visor under your helmet. And sun protection on shore.
- GoPro in mouth, paddle or deck mount.
- Deck bags are a great option on SUPs to carry extra water and gear.
- Surfco Superflex 9″ fins are great for rocks, shallow areas and going over the extensive kelp beds.
- Hi-vis clothing to be seen by the numerous boats on summer days.