Surfing Waves in the Tidal Rapids of Deception Pass

One of my favorite all time places to paddle is in the tidal rapids of Deception Pass State Park north of Seattle. With two ebbs and two floods per day (ie: flow changes direction 4x a day), there's plenty to work with. Locals who peer over the railing of the bridge 150 feet above think of it as a swirling cauldron of chaos and whirlpools. As a a result, it's a tough class to book.

Instead we bring students in at slack tide, the short period between each tidal cycle where the Pass sometimes resembles a calm lake. As the ebb current builds, it does so slowly, then builds. This gives us a time to get acquainted with paddling in current.

What is a tidal rapid? It's generally when saltwater flows through a constricted area and/over a reef creating waves, a tide rip and/or standing waves. Ever heard of Skookumchuck in British Columbia? The Bitches in Scotland? Friends from the Inertia just got back from a filming session up there in 16 kt currents and head high standing waves. Epic place with fun to gnarly conditions (especially if you fall off the back of the wave).

But Deception Pass is no Skook. 1.5hrs north of Seattle with no ferry, it's an easy drive (Skook is 5+hours with two ferries from Seattle). Yes 'DP' as we call it can get big (chest to head high standing waves on occasion) but it also has a lot of personality that most don't know about. I can take a beginning class into areas of super light or no currents or a more experienced class into faster currents.

To get the waves seen in this video, the effect is a strong (15-30kt) westerly wind against the ebb. And these are progressive waves, meaning they're pushing upstream vs staying in one place. This is in Canoe Pass, the smaller of the two canyons.  The strong W wind kept us in place without having to paddle hard/fast.

What do you need to know to paddle there?  River 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 but are good practice for recovery.

Gear Used:
- All leashes are on our waist PFD side straps, ideally on a quick release system to prevent issues of feet getting caught in kelp or rocks during wipeouts (easier removal).
- Vest pfd's for protection from falling on boards, easier to swim in aerated water, and warmth. I use the MTI Cascade PFD, others have on NRS Pfd's.
- Helmets. Falling on gear, gear falling on you, and shallow water in eddies.
- 4/3 to 5/4mm wetsuits, NRS Freestyle WetShoes, optional gloves and hoods.
- GoPro in mouth mount (breathing sounds removed)
- Seattle Sports deck bags.
- Surfco Superflex fins - great for rocks

Any questions give me a holler. Join my mailing list! Contact me: / 206.465.7167 - Check out our kayak and SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Instructor Certification.