This article comes as a result of my experiences and observations while surfing kayaks. It is by no means a be all and end all for surfing paddlers and I make no claims to be an outspoken authority on the topic, nor a master of the discipline. Others may disagree or elaborate on what I have written here and I welcome any criticisms.
Surfing can be challenging and fun, but I think more importantly it is an essential skill for the touring paddler. It is also a very effective way of improving technique and confidence which is probably often overlooked as a skill building exercise. It most definitely improves boat control.
Breaking out through the surf seems easy enough; just point to sea and paddle. Try to time paddle strokes sot that when you go through waves, the paddle goes into the water as you emerge on the other side. This is important, not only as an aid to stability but also prevent being sucked backwards by larger waves. When breaking out through large broken waves, I find the best approach is to lean forward onto the deck (offering less area for waves to hit) and ‘come up fighting’. In large waves the only real option is to roll underneath, let the wave pass and come up on the other side.
To come in, look for a suitable wave. I find that gentle breaks are easiest, safest and often the most fun. Point the nose to the beach and accelerate in front of your chosen wave. A few powerful strokes will generally get you onto most waves. I like to lean forward as the stern rises since this helps me accelerate down the wave.
Once on the wave, you are faced options of turning or running straight. Straight is not so good for the beginner due the risk of an ender. The easiest option is to angle to a side and let the kayak go into a broach. In a broach, lean into the wave face (or broken white water) and apply a low or high brace depending on the size of the wave and/or preference.
It is usually a case of enjoy the ride once you ar broaching. Continue to hold the brace and possibly pull off the back of the wave as it loses power. Aim to balance the lean and brace so that little pressure is applied to the paddle, ie. the boat takes your weight, not the paddle. Remember that when broaching, the boat will still travel across the wave as well as towards the beach – a correction stroke here may well be worth considering with other people around.
If you find yourself high and dry on the beach, let the water recede, tip the boat right over onto its side while while supporting with a hand and spin the bow around to point to sea. This is almost impossible when laden, but becomes easier with practice. Then slide the boat into the water for more!
Changing direction while going down a wave is usually slow ans sometimes difficult in a sea kayak. Lean on the outside of the turn (text book lean turns) and use the paddle for a stern rudder / reverse sweep on the opposite side. Thus for a kayak angling down to the right, to straighten, lean to the right and reach up to the rear on th left to put in the stern rudder / reverse sweep. Note that by doing this you will be leaning on the ‘wrong side’ and will need to be ready for a quyick change of lean for when the wave catches up to you and accelerates your sideways motion.
Here are some tips that will make surfing just that little eassier.
- Avoid other surfers – this is quite obvious as kayaks are relatively logs in the surf and have caused considerable damage. Arespectable distance is advisable.
- Avoid steep waves – they are harder to control and potentially destructive.
- Avoid surf too large for your ability – being out of control is dangerous. If you enjoy the adrenalin rush, good luck.
- Weigh lean into waves proportionally to wave strength – leaning too far into small waves will cause you to ‘fall over the back’ of the wave, though rolling back from this position is relatively easy. Larger waves obviously require a stronger lean. Aim for a balanced lean with little pressure on the paddle blade.
- Have elbows high in a low brace and elbow close to the body in a high brace – in a low brace, having the elbows high give more control and allows maximum leverage to be applied if necessary. When using a high brace, the elbows should be close to the ribs and the shaft under the chin (similar to a chin-up position). This might feel unconfortable at first, but is safe. Throwing the top arm out and the bottum arm up leaves the paddler vulnerable to shoulder and muscle damage. Having the elbows in close also becomes a more relaxed position.
If capsized, hang on and keep head low for protection – a paddler that is in his/her kayak can not be hit by their boat; a swimming paddler can be hit by the kayak, paddle, rocks, or even strangled by a paddle leash. The best course if you capsize is to try and stay in the cockpit until the major turbulence subsides and then wet exit (if you can not roll).
While hanging in a submerged kayak, the major concern is the submerged torso striking the bottom or rocks. The safest option her is to have the head down low (high when upside down) towards the foredeck. This hides the face, chest and stomach which are the most sensitive areas. The head could then be coverd by a helment and the back with a bouyancy vest providing the best available protection. Leaning forward has the added advantage of placing the torso in a favourable position to commence a roll.