Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 7:06 am | Overcast 64º


Captain’s Log: Boat Surfing — Not Recommended, But It Happens

While it was not my intention, I have on a couple of occasions found myself in my boat on the face of massive waves that threatened to break.

On both occasions those swells were unexpected, though they surprised me in an area known for surprises: the “Potato Patch” at the west end of Santa Cruz Island.

The fact is, boats make very poor surfboards and it just isn’t a good gamble, so I strongly recommend against intentionally putting a boat into the way of a big swell.

I grew up surfing throughout SoCal and CenCal, and I have a keen sense for the power and force characteristics of waves from propagation through breaking or settling into the sea.

As a kid surfer, my buddies and I studied them by carving faces and barreling through some awesome tubes, so the first time a massive swell came out of nowhere at the west end of Santa Cruz Island and lifted my boat, I instinctively put the boat into a maneuver to ride the wave.

We came through it okay, but there was a long white-knuckled moment when it could have gone either way. The power and speed of my big twin outboard engines is what got us out of the situation.

Years later, in the same general vicinity, a 20-foot wave climbed up out of a glassy sea and lifted the boat again. This time the right thing to do was ride over the wave and surf down the backside.

I say, “the right thing to do,” but it was a split-second decision at the moment, and because we made it through, it was the right thing to do.

I sure did draw on my old surfing experiences during both of those episodes, which helped tremendously, but still I wish I hadn’t been in those situations.

That area has powerful currents and eddies that collide underwater and force great waves right out of the sea — the true definition of a “rogue wave.” 

I always keep a sharp eye out when working the west end of that island.

The hull of a boat — even a greased-lightening boat like my WaveWalker — just isn’t made for the maneuvers required when carving the face of a massive wave.

I think it may be possible to design a hull that would do it, and this would certainly be an extreme sport.

Most boats act a bit squirrelly in following seas, and when those seas are big enough, it is an intimidating situation.

I thank my lucky mermaid for still being a living captain!

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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