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What's the Deal with Tow-In Surfing?
In certain big wave instances, waves become impossible to paddle into. There's a limit on paddle surfing, and to push the boundaries into bigger, gnarlier conditions, surfers will have to utilize a type of surfing known as "tow-in surfing".
What is tow-in surfing, and what exactly does it entail? If you don't already know, then chances are you won't be getting behind a jet ski and dropping into a ten-meter face. Still, understanding surfing in all its manifestations and the various subsets of surfing is the best way to expand your knowledge of your sport.
Why do Surfers Tow into Waves?
If you've ever watched big wave surfing, then you'll notice the surfers being towed into the giant wave faces behind a jet ski in order to catch the wave.
Big waves mean large, steep faces and tons of energy. Once wave heights reach a certain threshold, the physical body cannot create enough speed to match the wave's energy, and locking into the face to drop in becomes impossible.
Big Wave Surfing on a Tow-In Surfboard
With this, surfers need to be towed into the wave via jet ski surfing. In fact, the largest wave ever paddled into measures in at 63ft, so anything larger will require an engine.
While holding onto a tow rope, a jet ski will pull the surfer into a big wave long before it breaks. Because of the speed produced by the jet ski, the surfer can meet the wave's energy, position themselves on the face, and drop in with plenty of speed and the right positioning.
As well as being the only method to ride waves with such power, tow-in surfing adds a necessary element of safety in these extreme conditions. That and many big waves break in deep, open ocean, which is impossible to get to without watercraft.
With waves this big, civilization miles away, and minute-long hold downs, good luck safely swimming away from the impact zone.
The jet ski operator isn't just on tow-in duty, but they're also on safety duty. If a surfer falls, they'll race the jet ski into the impact zone to pick them up on the sled.
Dangerous, life-threatening, and for some reason, something that a few crazy humans absolutely love to do.
To further complement safety in tow in surfing, surfers will also wear specialized flotation devices in their wetsuits. Some can even be inflated at will during extra long hold-downs, known as an inflatable vest.
Small Wave Tow Surfing
Although tow surfing is typically reserved for big waves, that doesn't mean you can't utilize this style of surfing in a wide range of conditions, considering you have a jet ski!
Some surfers choose to ride waves with tow-in surfing to either more easily position themselves in steeper sections for deeper barrels than could be achieved with paddling or to throw themselves into a small wave with enough speed to air to the moon!
Tow In Surfboards
Watch the Best in the Biz Take on Nazare with Tow-In Surfing!
For big wave paddle surfing, surfers will ride a long, heavy surfboard known as a "big wave gun". The length and volume of these boards help surfers generate the speed necessary to catch the wave while maintaining stability on powerful faces and often windy conditions. But as soon as things change to jet ski surfing, so does the board.
Yes, you can realistically tow yourself into a wave on any surfboard, and for playful tow-in surfing, you'll see surfers riding their same paddle shortboards or step-ups. But for legit big wave towing, things become specialized.
A tow-in surfboard is actually much smaller than a big wave gun, allowing the surfer to better navigate and control the board on big faces and extreme barrels. These surfboards feature straps for the feet, specialized rockers and outlines, and are the only reason big wave surfers have been able to test the limits of what we see today, aka, riding mountains of water.
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