Beginners’ Bracing and Broaching [26]

By Gary Edmond

The last annual Rock and Roll weekend confirmed a number of issues confronting both kayaking novices and those seeking to instruct them in the esoteric ways of the surf. While the surf conditions were moderate, the numbers crowded into the relatively small surf-zone at Target Beach created chaos. The number of kayaks was unmanageable and impractical, making it impossible to practice basic broaching.

With this in mind I would encourage those intending to learn or instruct basic surf skills to undertake this learning task in relatively small groups – say 5 or 6. Such a plan for surf skills tuition is proposed for the NSW Sea Kayak Club Skills Weekend Number 1, 1996 on 20/21 of April at Honeymoon Bay, Jervis Bay (see Calendar). Among a variety of instruction and discussion workshops the weekend will provide opportunity for two small groups on Saturday and Sunday to attend a half-day workshop aimed at helping beginners to read the surf, enter and exit a beach and learn the basic method of staying upright when your kayak is pushed sideways (broached) in surf. The workshop will be conducted only in small to moderate surf. Rather than catch waves emphasis will be placed on developing a reliable and safe brace for broaching.

Below is the first of a series of guides to kayaking in the surf. It is aimed to provide beginners with an overview of basic techniques and surf types. The first two boxes are a key to the types of waves generally encountered and are used throughout the remaining boxes. Type A or steep barrelling waves are not suitable for beginners to surf and are potentially hazardous as they often break into relatively shallow water. Type B or softly breaking waves are usually the best for surfing as the waves break gently down their face. They usually break in water of a depth amenable to kayak surfing and are good to develop basic surf skills. Type C or swell or very full waves break gently if at all. They provide easy conditions for the novice kayaker.

Diagram 1: Shows the type of waves known as a shore dump. The waves shape up steeply before breaking powerfully in shallow water next to the shore. Exiting requires the kayaker to time the exit to avoid the main sets (or groups) of waves. Eventually a reprieve will afford opportunity for passage beyond the shore. beginners may require someone to assist them in launching their kayaks and keeping them pointed out to sea as there tends to be a lot of water movement on an often steep beach. When entering the beach the kayaker should aim to avoid the sets and/or paddle swiftly after a broken wave from just behind the break zone and quickly pass through the break zone to avoid having a wave break on top of them. High tide removes some of the sting from the very steep Type A waves to Type B waves, except in very big sea conditions.

Diagram 2: Shows the impact of a sand bar upon the surf. Sand bars often produce waves very similar to the shore dump. Indeed they are both caused by swell suddenly reaching shallow water. In exiting the kayaker should sit in between the beach and sand bar keeping the kayak facing out to sea. When a lull in the waves arrives the kayaker should then paddle swiftly across the sandbar and out beyond the break zone. Do not be afraid to wait in the whitewash (in between the beach and sand bar) for the right moment to arrive. In entering the beach follow instructions as for shore dump (Diagram 1). Tidal influences are similar to shore dump (Diagram 1).

Diagram 3: Illustrates the effect of a rip on the surf conditions. The rip usually provides a zone or channel where the waves break less frequently, unless rip is against wind or tide which becomes ugly. In entering and exiting kayakers should endeavour to locate the rip and paddle in or out of the channel, watching for sand bars and/or changes in the rips direction. At high tide the waves are generally less steep, although rips can be tidal influenced in that the volume of water trying to escape may reach a critical mass which creates or stops a rip current.

Diagram 4: Broaching. When a kayak is tossed sideways the kayaker should place the paddle flat on top of the whitewash and lean slightly into the wave. The larger or steeper the wave the more they should lean. Because the kayak is moving, albeit sideways, the paddle gains assistance/support and allows the kayaker to push down on the blade supporting themselves without plunging it to the bottom. This is a skill which requires an experiential feel to adjust to waves of different sizes and strengths. You just have to practice, although you might be amazed at how easy it is to broach successfully.

Diagram 5: Low-Brace in a broach. There are two wave types for diagrams 5, 6, 7. One is the cross section, indicated by an x in a circle which represents a broken wave which has become whitewash. The other, dotted line, represents a steep wave which is about to break upon the kayaker. In both scenarios the kayaker should lean with their kayak into the wave. In the low brace the kayaker pushes the paddle down almost onto the deck. Where the wave is whitewash the paddle blade stays close to the top of the wave, the power blade faces to the sky. Where the wave is steep and about to break the blade section is pushed into the face of the wall as the kayaker leans into the wave. The paddle must be gripped firmly and the arms locked in their low position. All going well the wave will break and the kayak will be propelled sideways toward the beach.

Diagram 6: High-Brace (Low) in a broach. This is my preferred stroke. Note that the paddle is always lower then the shoulders and above the elbows. The arms should be locked into place, very tightly for larger waves. When broaching on the broken whitewash wave the paddle blade should be in a similar position to the low brace but the power blade will be facing the wave rather the upwards as in the low brace. In the steep breaking wave the paddle should be pushed into the wall as the kayaker again leans into the wave.

Diagram 7: High-Brace (High) in a broach. The major fault with this approach is that it lends itself to potential shoulder dislocation. The paddle is held above the shoulder and it is difficult to lock the elbows preventing sudden throwing of the shoulder if the water catches the blade and pushes it. Also the kayaker is leaning the kayak the wrong way which is likely to result in capsize because the edge of the kayak which is moving toward the beach might catch the still water underneath and be suddenly flipped. The edge should always be raised in the direction of travel.

Obviously these skills need to be practiced. A good way to practice is to take your kayak close to the beach in very small surf and paddle parallel to the shore occasionally broaching as whitewash hits your kayak. Dont forget to practice on both sides. David Winkworth recommends practicing the braces in shallow (6 inches) still water where the paddle touches the bottom and the bottom gives the feel of the support from the moving wave.

Hope to see you at what promises to be an exciting and interesting weekend in April.