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Sea Kayaks – The Cutting Edge

By David Malcolm

It was the last day of my Christmas break and a great morning for a paddle. There was myself in my Arctic Raider, friends Tony in a dancer and novice Ken in a borrowed Mirage. We set off from Blackwater at Long Reef on a calm bright day, no groundswell and three to four feet of gentle surf. The surf was much more appealing than the flat water and as boys will be boys …

Five minutes later Tony and I were catching waves along Collaroy Beach while Ken patiently watched – it was his first paddle. Eventually he was enticed onto a few selective waves and was rather impressed with the electric bilge pump operation after taking a couple of swims. Basically, a fun day was being had by all.

Just as Ken’s confidence was at its peak his stern was lifted by a steepening wave which prompted Tony to yell out “Not this one Ken !”. He was beyond the point of no return and a little to the front and side of me as I was paddling out through the break. His acceleration was rapid down the wave face and I paused to enjoy the inevitable wipe-out. The Mirage then began to veer toward me. It was almost funny until we both realised that there was little chance of him altering the Mirage’s trajectory.

There was nothing to do but hold on and… and pray. I leant to the side a little in the vain hope that the Mirage’s bow would go beneath me and I could then ride up on its deck. That was the plan anyway; but it was probably a poor choice. The hull began crushing around my feet as I was twisted and rolled into the water. Its amazing how your senses appear to “slow” in these situations. Getting out of the cockpit and onto the beach was the number one priority – by now it was “stuff the boat!”. While swimming in to the beach I had to suffer the indignity of nearly being decapitated by my AR which was surfing in on a following wave.

On the beach I ran/limped around in circles for a few minutes occasionally stopping to assess and wash my feet. It must have been a real spectacle for the other people on the beach watching us.

We retrieved the boat only to discover that it was being held together by just a rudder cable and the front chart shock cord. The three of us carried it up the beach because I was still trying to not scratch the gelcoat – don’t ask me why. It was cleanly broken in two (the following waves could have finished it off), the footrest/rudder/pump system was bent, my loose foam footpad was cleanly ripped in two, I had numerous small cuts to one foot while the other was bruised in the toes, heel and ankle.

Conveniently we ended up directly across the road from the bottle shop at Collaroy. What else was there to do but get a ‘six pack’ ? After all, I felt we deserved it.

A number of interesting points were highlighted by this experience and other near misses:

  • Sea kayaks aren’t ideal surf craft but they inevitably end up there. Some designs obviously handle it better than others. Solid surfing skills are an asset for a paddler.
  • I will now always try to keep a respectable distance from others in the surf/rough seas as it is very difficult to correct a kayak that is turning to a broach. The question is probably “how much do you respect your partners ability / judgement?”
  • With the advantage of hindsight, the impact could have been reduced or possibly avoided with a roll it would have considerably slowed his progress.
  • While on a wave with a 94 kg paddler aboard, a Mirage has an uncanny resemblance to a torpedo – well to me anyway. There is a lot of momentum concentrated onto a small sharp point; a perfect weapon?
  • The destructive potential of a fully laden kayak on a wave is scary. I have discovered that unladen craft aren’t much better.
  • Although broken in two, the AR suffered no longitudinal cracks along the hull and deck join.
  • I am very fortunate that the impact was not directed at my torso. The consequences could have been very nasty.

I got a lot of puzzled looks while driving along the road with the stern on the roof and the bow sticking up in the back seat. It resembled a Ku Klux Klan head piece.

Ken has apparently expressed a keen desire to not take up sea kayaking in the future. A pity after making such an impact his first time out!

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