It’s a big question & 1 that will never have everyone agreeing on. I’m a longboarder at heart, not a new age one but a traditionalist, I luv the feeling of surfing a big old 30 pound log shaped 50 years ago easing into a bottom turn then drawing a line straight down the point with toes on the nose, my last board thou was a lite weight nose rider but in recent years I have taken to photography as my passion for big waves basically exploded here in Ireland with the birth of Aileens (cheers Mickey). Paddle surfing is where the heart of surfing is, although I remember a particular Bruce brown movie from the early 60’s with Phil Edwards and Del Cannon towing behind a boat on their 30 pound logs, I wonder where tow surfing would be today if they had thought to take it a step further than just on a river, my point is it’s all about fun and the rush. Tow surfing started off on waves that were moving too fast to paddle into so that makes sense but things have changed in the last few years, waves these days are being towed at barely head high and others are being paddled at 4-5 times overhead which leaves alot of confusion over when to tow. There are slabs out there that break so hard and fast that if you paddle you will get injured and generally the body boarders can make the drop and pull in but they too can still get a fair hammering, one spot in particular in Ireland has had alot of injuries in it’s short life but 90% of them are due to paddling in and this is where the tow surfing comes into it’s own, already standing and getting whipped in at 30km/hr gives you a huge advantage to survive the deadliest of waves and most importantly get the ride of your life.
Then there’s other spots like Aileens where body boarders are paddling into pretty big barrells on a certain swell, air dropping out of the lip on takeoff, these guys are nuts but are having the time of their lives. There’s no way thou that a surfer could consistently paddle in these waves at this size and make each one so that’s when the jet skis come into it, problem is there’s guys paddling it. General rule of thumb if you get to a break and there’s paddlers on it you leave them to it. But there’s something very unique happening here, the body boarders are glad to see the skis turn up as when they do get caught inside someone will head in and pick them up, Aileens is not a nice place to get caught in “boulder alley”. So far there hasn’t been a problem with the skis towing at the same time as they always wait for the biggest wave of the set where usually the paddlers are scrambling for the safety of the shoulder and the surfers getting towed are whipped in well away from the paddlers. Anyone who tows out here will always ask the guys paddling first if they mind if they tow a few of the set waves. With the way things have worked out there’s a really good relationship between the two and is actually bringing body boarding and surfing closer together which I think is a awesome thing cause we all there for the same reason, why fight over it! The most recent session at Aileens saw some incredible tube riding by both body boarders and tow surfers, everyone was hooting everyone, naturally the tow surfers got more waves but the body boarders got some pretty frign deep barrells too, the boys on the skis always ask if the body boarders want a tow for the craic and they luv it, although it can be a bit bumpy for them!
So what’s the answer to the above question, well in my eyes it’s easy. Tow surfing should be for breaks that are abnormal to paddling and makes it a hell of alot safer, it doesn’t have to be 40ft to justify it but if you do tow and there’s paddlers out there don’t be a f#@$%# idiot on a ski, respect the paddlers like the tow crews in Ireland are doing, ask them if they mind if you grab a few and if they say no respect it and go somewhere else, go in and help them out if they need it and most important of all everyone is out there to grab a few waves so don’t be a greedy b#@&#%>
Here's a couple of shots from the recent paddle & tow session at Aileens,
Tom Lowe's barrell #100 for the day!