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About Tow-Surfing Page

This page was created to inform you about the sport of tow-surfing. Please check out the information and links before heading out into the ocean and attempting these very extreme sports.


About Tow-Surfing

Tow Surfing or Tow-In Surfing is a relatively modern water recreational boating sport that was developed by the creative efforts of Laird Hamilton and Strapped Crew surfers in Hawaii in the early 90's. Tow Surfing can be attributed to similar sports such as, surfing, and, whereas a person is towed behind a vessel utilizing an extension rope with a grab handle, and standing on an aquaplane device, including the foil boards which has been experimented by the Strapped Crew for the past several years, and products that will come in our near future as the concept evolves and is refined by enthusiasts and product manufacturers.

Tow Surfing derived from the desire of Big Wave Surfers who wanted the ability to safely power surf larger waves that were breaking on outer reefs and typically incapable of catching due to their size and current surfboard construction. The size of these waves generally tracked towards land at faster rates than could be paddled into by "Guns', surfboards designed for larger waves. Laird and his partner's utilized technology and background products from windsurfing, and surfing which created specialized tow boards with foot straps, design, and size for speed.

In those early days, tow surfers also experimented with vessels for towing, beginning with small inflatable boats propelled by outboard engines; small jet powered boats and graduated towards the use of Personal Watercraft (PWC). Personal Watercraft quickly became an ideal tow surfing platform for the new sport due to their ability to capsize and easily be righted and get back underway, maneuverability and high speeds that could track along with the larger swell speed.

The tow surfing boards and Personal Watercraft merged as the platform of this new high impact extreme immersion sport. Technological advances in vessel designs and accessory equipment, such as foil boards, and rescue boards, will take horsepower and water sports to new levels in the coming decades.

The founding fathers of this sport were using the wave energy in excess of 40 foot waves, newcomers are training in small waves at shore breaks which are creating a lot of concerns and conflicts with governing authorities, leading to bans, closures and community discord. Promoters are also encouraging use of PWC for faster, expressive surfing exhibitions in very small wave size, and small surf competitions to entertain beach side spectators.


Tow-Surfing Safety Information
by various sources

Education and Safety are positive benefits for the sport of tow surfing. Here are some positive suggestions to use for the benefit of participants. Knowledge is your power, there are many online PWC courses available for free. Take hands on boating courses, continue your education boating pursuits, you can never know enough before you tow!

Rules and Regulations are based upon the State of California and Hawaiian boating laws and PWC manufacturer recommendations, check with your local governing body prior to getting underway. and its partners assume no liability for the information or interpretation of this free downloadable manual and overview. Reader/Participant acknowledges that tow surfing is an inherently dangerous activity that can result in serious injury or death. Take additional USCG approved boating courses, mandatory educational programs and certifications, CPR and First Aid Training or other required courses in your region.

  • Thoroughly understanding and abiding by current boating laws and regulations will help to preserve their recreational pursuits. Investigate the sources for information.
  • Joining a membership group to help assist with any legislative concerns would be a positive benefit for the entire sport.
  • Carrying full liability and medical insurance policies would help offset any out of pocket expenses if an emergency arose.
  • Take a CPR and Basic first aid course
  • Carry all necessary emergency gear, required by law and additional lifesaving products
  • Understand how to use a hand held GPS and a Marine Band Radio
  • Have the ability to read nautical charts and monitor radio weather channels
  • Possess a strong swimming ability and be capable of taking a series of waves in the zone of operation
  • Develop of communication program of whistle blasts and hand signals with team mates
  • Have an emergency plan, know your zones of operation
  • Know your team mates ability in waves and operating the PWC, never go beyond their limits and place them at risk
  • Understand the operational characteristics of your PWC and rescue board in aerated water and big surf or beach breaks.
  • Observe your PWC fuel consumption, 1/3 underway, 1/3 return, and 1/3 emergency
  • Carry a working cell phone and carry emergency numbers laminated on a stowed card
  • Develop wave knowledge with a personal watercraft in stages of operational development.
  • Maintain your PWC properly and make/use daily checklists, file in log book
  • Carry emergency notifications on board that are laminated
  • Take digital photos of your PWC/trailer/vehicle for filing


Suggested Tow-In Surfing Equipment:
Below is a list of suggested, necessary and required items that you may need in case of emergency, basic PWC operations, needs and equipment for tow-in surfing.

      Tow-Surfing Items

  • A Personal Water Craft (3-seater)
  • Hydro Turf Deck Pads for PWC
  • Straps for seats and storage compartments
  • Trailer with box, tie downs and spare tire
  • Wahoo Rescue Sled
  • USCG Approved Personal Life Jacket
  • 30’-45’ Tow Rope and Handle
  • Gath Helmet
  • Quick Release System for Tow Rope
  • Mounting Hardware
  • Bow Tow Line
  • DaKine Foot Straps
  • Extreme Water Glasses/Goggles
  • Hydro Turf Deck Pads for Foot Strap Area
  • Full or Short depending on Water Temps
  • Hood-Booties-Gloves-Rash Guard-Lycra

    Suggested PWC Items:
  • Float Plan Filed
  • Refreshments and Hydration
  • Spare Lanyard
  • Bow Tow Line
  • Fog Horn
  • Whistle
  • Illumination waterproof flashlight, glo-stick and other
  • Gear Bag
  • Throw Bag
  • Goggles/Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Knife
  • Intake Clearing Tools
  • Various lengths in zip ties
  • Duct Tape
  • Jumper Cables/Spare Battery
  • Spare Tool Kit
  • Waterproof Bags
  • Small Waterproof Tool Containers
  • Spare Fuses and Spark plugs
  • Compass and GPS
  • First Aid Kit
  • Snorkel-Dive Mask-Fins
  • Anchor and 125’ Rope for various depths
  • Safety Clips, Budgie Cords & Various Lengths and Sizes of Rope
  • Lighter/Water Proof Matches


Ocean and tow-surfing PWC rescue training Information

with Brian Keaulana, Archie Kalepa, and other industry professionals. This is the Harvard of ocean safety training by the best watermen alive today.


California PWC and Tow-In Training Courses
with Chuck Patterson and Eric Akiskalian.  Both experienced big wave surfers and are involved in the safety, promotion and education of tow-surfing.

K38 Water Safety
with Shawn Alladio. The organization K38 Water Safety is very active across the United States to promote aquatic and boating safety in recreation, enforcement and competition.

Other ocean safety links
Athlete Training Regiments
Personal Watercraft Safety/DLNR
North Shore Lifeguard Association
Vessel Safety Check
Boating Safety
U.S. Coast Guards
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
PWC Today
Shark Research Committee
Oahu's Lifeguards
Hawaii - Ocean Safety Signs