Surferpedia - The Wiki Encyclopedia of Surfing

Tow-in surfing is a surfing technique where a surfer is towed into a breaking wave by a partner driving a motorised watercraft or helicopter with an attached tow-line. Pioneered by Laird Hamilton, Buzzy Kerbox, Dave Kalama and others in the late 1990s, tow-in surfing proved advantageous in situations where the wave is too large and moving too quickly for the surfer to catch it by paddling with his arms or where position on the wave is extremely critical.

The use of a helicopter has several advantages over personal watercraft. Positioned high above the surfer, the pilot is better able to see waves approaching and to position the surfer accordingly. Additionally, a helicopter can go faster, and is not affected by the ocean surface like a watercraft.


Critics of tow-in surfing decry the noise and exhaust fumes made by PWC engines, as well as the likelihood that new participants can get into predicaments that they have not been trained or conditioned to survive. On the other hand, a skilled team of driver and surfer, who often swap roles in the water during a session, develop a rapport and an understanding of ocean conditions that allows them to proactively watch out for each other.

Famous tow-in spots[]

  • Todos Santos, Mexico
  • Mavericks, Northern California.
  • Jaws, Maui.
  • Aill Na Searrach, Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Big wave surfers[]


  • Matt Warshaw: Maverick's: the story of big-wave surfing, Chronicle Books, ISBN 0-8118-2652-X

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