Web Site Reviews [42]


REI – Without doubt the OSD’s favourite adventure sports store on-line (perhaps because he can’t find any others with his new-fangled computer). Regardless of the OSD’s techno-irreverence, this IS a good adventure sports store on-line, and you can find oodles of bits and pieces to enhance your paddling and non-paddling lifestyle. Find stuff for paddling, camping, hiking, climbing, cycling, snow sports, fishing – whatever you want to do out there – find the stuff you need to do it right here. A great ‘How To’ section helps you choose and care for gear, as well as providing good tips and tricks. You can also join up and become an REI member, which gives you significant savings and bonuses on your purchases.


Max @ School – The website of 23 year old Max, who strives for a greater sense of being and understanding through adventure and experience. In 1997 Max started a journey from Vancouver, on the West coast of Canada to Saint John, on the East Coast of Canada, travelling by kayak – via Nicaragua in Central America. This site, whilst not predominantly a kayaking site, details his experiences and adventures as he undertakes this monumental journey. Amazing anecdotes, thoughts and inspirations will keep you logging back on as the journey unfolds.


Newsgroups – People usually either love ’em or hate ’em. For those who love ’em, this is a good source of paddling information. The group also has two splinter groups – news:rec.boats.paddle.touring and news:rec.boats.paddle.whitewater which enable a little ‘refinement’ of your news. Most of the people involved in the groups are from the USA and are highly opinionated (remind you of anyone?), but you can get some excellent tips and tricks from reading their postings, as well as follow some interesting links. Of course it is highly desirable to add your own fuel to the fire as well. Will this newsgroup shortly be subject to the retribution of the OSD? Check it out and see for yourself…

Training Notes [42]

By David Winkworth

Sea Instructor Weekend

In January of this year, John Wilde and I held a NSW Board Of Canoe Education Sea Instructor Training and Assessment weekend at Currarong.

Doug Fraser, Wayne Langmaid, Bruce ‘Stumpy’ Payne and Tony Miller (from Victoria) presented for assessment and thirteen other paddlers, mostly NSWSKC members, attended for the training part of the award.

We commenced on the Friday night with introductions and outlines of the proposed new award structure. Saturday was the day we needed some surf but unfortunately not much was to be found – the sea was pretty flat. We did get enough though. Some theory and stroke/rolling work took up the rest of the daylight hours on the water. Saturday night was short presentations by the assessment candidates and then their written exam. The training candidates meanwhile looked at log book issues and we also discussed factors leading to disasters we never want to have!

In contrast to Saturday, on Sunday we had a good stiff southerly kicking up a sea off the cliffs. These conditions were perfect for a couple of scenarios and some towing exercises. No doubt about it – put some wind and a sea into any scenario and set tasks can become much more difficult to accomplish. We were in two groups for the day and John and I agreed that everyone performed really well out at sea.

Ashore in the late afternoon it was time for debriefs and making plans for the next weekend course. More on this in a moment.

Doug Fraser and Wayne Langmaid, both skilled paddlers, were successful in attaining the Sea Instructor Award. Congratulations to you both. ‘Stumpy’ Payne and Tony Miller, also skilled paddlers, have a couple of bits to finish off and they too should attain the award. Club members can look to any of these paddlers for any assistance in sea kayaking. I’m sure they would be only too pleased to share their knowledge with you. They have some impressive expeditions to their credit so please do seek them out at future Club gatherings.

The standard of the training candidates was right on the money. John and I both remarked that it is great to see Club members raising their skill level in sea kayaking by seeking to become Sea Instructors. Club paddling, as opposed to commercial trips, offers paddling in a much wider range of sea conditions. This, I believe, keeps skill levels high and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to improve sea kayaking skills. My experience in leading commercial trips is that you can get ‘stale’ and interest in sea paddling can wane. Doing the ‘guide stroke’ (virtually up and down only with the paddle) day after day is not stimulating! So, if you are a commercial trip leader, make sure that you do have regular breaks from trip leading and get out with your peers and challenge yourself. That way, I think, you can remain fresh… and present exactly that feeling to your clients.

Assisting John and I on the Sea Instructor Weekend were Sea Instructors Andrew Eddy, Norm Sanders and Dirk Stuber. Their presence and help made the weekend flow much more smoothly. Thanks guys for being there with us. We really do appreciate it.

Sea kayaking in NSW is in good shape – no doubt about it. We have some highly qualified Sea Instructors and thirteen really keen candidates preparing for assessment. If any commercial sea kayaking operators out there need qualified staff they should have no trouble in finding suitable instructors. Not only are we in good shape with instructors coming through, but if predictions of global warming are correct, we’ll have more ocean covering the planet in coming years in which to paddle!

The next scheduled Sea Instructor Training and Assessment weekend is 27-28 January 2001. If you would like to attend this weekend, please call me and I’ll put you on the list. I have also had 2 recent requests for a Sea Instructor Training weekend sometime this year. If there are any other paddlers who would like us to arrange a training weekend this year, please give me a call.

I had an Advanced Sea Award weekend listed in the Calendar in the last magazine for Easter. For a couple of reasons, I had to postpone this event to some future date. I haven’t set a new date for it yet but if you think you’d be interested in attending please give me a call or e-mail me, and I’ll send the award requirements out to you. I hope to have South Australian Senior Sea Instructor Phil Doddridge come over to assist with the assessment. These are challenging weekends for skilled paddlers and we usually manage to have a good time!

High Support Stroke Exercise

Here’s a little high support stroke exercise for you – sitting in your boat with plenty of depth under you, hold your paddle vertical with the back of your upper hand against your forehead. Bracing well in the cockpit of your kayak, capsize to the right if your right hand is your upper hand (vice versa for the left) and DO NOT move your hand from contact with your forehead until your upper blade has hit the water. Using a hip flick and perhaps a sculling stroke, see if you can recover. OK? Try it on the other side. If you have some difficulty, lower the angle of the shaft and try again. When you reach an angle at which you succeed 100% of the time, start working back up to the vertical position. Hint: keeping your head low, either forward or back, will aid your recovery.

Sea Kayak Deck Lines

We’ve had a letter from Peter Carter, Secretary of the Australian Board of Canoe Education regarding deck lines on sea kayaks. Peter mentions the Current Designs ‘Storm’, an American designed rotomoulded sea kayak which is built in New Zealand and sold locally.

The Storm has 4 mm diameter deck lines and several people have commented to Peter that these deck lines may be a potential hazard. Peter has contacted the designer and raised the issue. To say that he upset the designer is putting it mildly! Peter also quoted instances of the bow toggle pulling free of the boat. It would seem that some simple modifications are required here.

Peter has recommended that they look at raising the deck line size to 6 mm, a recommendation with which I agree. I once had to perform a rescue of a big paddler – his boat (not a Storm) was equipped with 4 mm deck lines. I got him back in OK but at the expense of a fair amount of skin on the inside of my fingers. Holding onto thin lines in a good sea for a rescue is painful. I hope you don’t have to find out the same way I did.

The Storm has proved to be a solid performer among sea kayaks but I think it needs fitted deck lines of at least 6 mm for safety. A small matter in flat seas it may be, but it becomes quite important as conditions worsen and rescues are needed.

Peter seeks your comments on this issue. If any member would like a copy of Peter’s letter, please give me a call. If you would like to reply to him direct his email address is pcarter@acslink.net.au.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend 2000

At the Club Executive Meeting in Canberra on 08 April we organized a few details for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend & AGM for this year. The weekend will be similar to last year’s event which was held over 3 days. We will, however, more tightly structure the skills sessions so that everyone will have a chance to work on ALL the basic skills on the weekend. We won’t be doing the meal we were going to try last year – it’s just too difficult to organize. We will though encourage members to gather in the shelter area for dinner and get to know each other!

We will have some entertaining slide shows on the Saturday night. So if you’re planning a trip soon, load up your camera with slide film!

Activities for Sunday night are yet to be planned. Any suggestions? The Monday paddle venue is also yet to be planned. Stay tuned.

Turning a Kayak

In Training Notes in the last issue I wrote a few lines about rudders. I thought in this issue I’d go through the basics – the first steps – in turning a kayak without the use of the rudder. I’ve found that coming to grips with this subject is difficult for some newer paddlers, so we are just going to take it easy in this issue and then move on to more aggressive turns and turning in strong winds in the next issue.

Look, I really think this is a most important skill for all sea paddlers. I think sea kayakers should get to feel what their boat is doing in a sea and why it is doing it. The only way I know to do this is to actually practise boat control with the rudder retracted. Don’t throw your rudder away… just do some paddling each time you go out with the rudder retracted. Over time you’ll find you can paddle further and further in a more relaxed fashion without using the rudder. It follows then, does it not, that you must be acquiring some new skills?

I can remember reading about 10 years ago – can’t recall the text – that rudders were designed to balance a kayak in a beam wind and that the boat should be steered by leaning it. Here, in the year 2000, I think you’d have to agree that that statement is pretty obscure and basically now the instruction is: if you want to go right, just push on the right rudder pedal! Steering a kayak without a rudder is a subtle blend of body movements, foot pressure, paddle angle and a heap of other inputs. When you can co-ordinate them all well, it’s like riding a bicycle… that is, you hardly even think about it.

A few things before we start. Firstly, rudders should be up or off. Secondly, as you develop these skills, you’ll see that all sea kayaks will turn at different rates and angles of lean. Factors like waterline length, beam, hull profile, etc will all play a part in this. As you improve, you should measure your skills against yourself or a friend in an identical kayak. It’s pointless trying to compare the turn rates of a Dancer and a Greenlander. Thirdly, you should fit your boat well – feet firmly against the pedals or bulkhead, backrest supporting you, some firm hip support and thighs braced under the deck.

Incidentally, it should be your quadricep muscles on your thighs touching under the deck and not your kneecaps. If your kneecaps are your point of contact, it’s easy to make up some foam supports with a clearance hole for your kneecaps. Look around at club paddles and see what other paddlers are using. Lastly, try to practice these turning exercises for now in fairly calm conditions. Early morning is ideal. We’ll build up to winds later.

Let’s go for a paddle!

Now, as we’re paddling along well braced in the sea kayak, we notice that with each right hand stroke the bow wave on the left increases in size momentarily. Similarly, when we stroke on the left, the bow wave on the right does the same. In kayaks with shallow keels and shorter waterlines, the bow will actually ‘hunt’ right and left. So why is it doing this? Well, when we make a paddle stroke we are propelling the kayak with an OFF-CENTRE force. If you like, there are 2 components to that paddle stroke – one propelling us forward and the other trying to turn the boat.

We’ve been paddling along with alternating off-centre strokes (our normal paddling action). These forces have been conveyed to the kayak through our bodies, balanced and centered in the boat. The kayak may have ‘twitched’ a bit but has basically stayed straight. Thus the net turning force has been zero.

Now we’re going to ‘connect’ ourselves to the kayak off-centre so that the paddle stroke on one side will have a greater turning moment than the other and the boat will turn. OK, paddling along again with even arm action… now relax ALL your foot pressure on the right pedal and put ALL the foot pressure on the left pedal. Keep paddling evenly and the kayak will turn to the right. Easy! Keep the boat flat in the water at this stage. We should practice this, turning 360 degrees in both directions, and then doing some Figure 8’s.

Notice that the radius of the turn is not too tight. We’ll come to this soon. These simple foot pressure actions are the basis for all non-ruddered turns. Our feet are the only parts of our bodies with which we can exert alternating AND forward pressures.

Now we’re going to tighten up that turn a bit. We’ll do this by leaning the kayak OUT of the turn. That is, lean left when we turn right. Before we do this, let’s look at why it works.

Sea kayaks have relatively long waterlines, typically around 5 metres or so. If we could shorten that by even half a metre AND change the underwater profile of the boat, we could make it turn much faster. When we lean the boat, the underwater profile is no longer in equilibrium and a turn will result. There are a few other things we can do to further tighten that turn radius which we’ll cover shortly.

Paddling along again, we put ALL our foot pressure on the left pedal and relax with the right foot. Now, we lift our right knee hard up under the deck to tip the kayak slightly to the left, pivotting our torso at the waist to keep it as much as possible over the centre of gravity. This is important. If we lean out with the lean of the boat, we risk a capsize so swing those hips. Keep paddling evenly on both sides at this stage. Notice that our turn is now much tighter.

So, it’s left foot pressure/right knee pressure for a left turn and vice versa for the other way. You may need to practice this until it becomes automatic. Don’t forget to pivot at the hips. This becomes more important when you use this turn method in choppy or rebound conditions.

As we lean the kayak progressively we notice that it becomes less stable. It is of course approaching capsize. You may find that your boat turns quite well long before you reach your capsize angle. If that is so, it’s pointless to take it to the limit. The hull profile of your kayak at a lean angle approaching capsize will determine how stable the boat feels in this region.

As we practice this lean or ’tilt’ turn, we can use sweep strokes on the outside of the turn only, to further tighten the turn. Feather the blade back for each sweep if you’re at maximum lean – you may need a reflexive brace if you go too far!

One more bit to finish this up for now: kayaks swing their sterns around when they turn. To the paddler they appear to pivot around the front hatch area. If we were to lean well forward when doing a lean turn, it would lighten up the stern and the boat would turn just that little bit tighter. You bet. Give it a go. More in the next issue.

Sea Kayak Fault

Three club members have just returned from a Tasmanian expedition. David Whyte, one of the paddlers, was paddling a boat I built. During the trip he lost half of his spare paddle when the quick release let go as a dumping wave pushed the spare paddle halves sideways. The fact that his spare paddle half then sank is immaterial. It should not have self-released.

In future I will fit small plastic paddle-locating angle pieces to the rear deck to cure this problem. Current owners of the boat will also be supplied with the pieces.

Safe Paddling.

Top Tips [42]

Mounting an Electic Pump With Solar Power

by Graham Cummings

In a desperate attempt to drag the Old Sea Dog kicking and screaming into anything even close to the 20th century, as well as being part of our ongoing effort to annoy foot pump operators world-wide, we offer you an excellent Top Tip on electric pump installation, courtesy of Graham Cummings.

I’ve owned a 17 foot Mirage since they were first available. It has been used extensively on day, overnight and longer-type trips. I also have paddled in the Hawkesbury and Murray river races.

But I digress…

When I purchased the kayak it came with a foot operated pump, however being a gear freak I decided to install an electric pump.

Mine is set up as follows;

  • the pump is located behind the seat and is attached directly to the rear bulkhead.
  • the switch is located on the rudder pedal so that I can operate it with my foot. This enables me to concentrate on paddling, etc.
  • the battery (2.5 Ah gel cell) is located in the rear compartment against the bulkhead
  • the mounting bracket utilises the same bolts, etc as the pump.
  • on the rear deck behind the rear hatch is a small solar panel
  • this is bolted directly through the deck and well ‘silasticised’ (if I was mounting it now I would attach it to the storm cover for the rear hatch)
  • the wiring is routed through plastic tubing through the bulkhead
  • this is also well waterproofed as is all the electric connections.

To date this has worked well in the limited times that I have needed to use it.

Trust this may give you all some ideas on how to annoy the OSD next time he inspects your kayak for Y1K compatibility. See you on the water!

A Quick Paddle With a Folder [42]

What, me worry?

By Ian Phillips

Phew! It’s a scorching hot day here in my pokey little office … the sun is beating in and with the various computers, printers, scanners and what-nots, it makes for a hot and unbearable arrangement. My poor little air-conditioner is working overtime to keep anything even remotely cool. And it’s only 10 am!

The perfect remedy – pop down to the beach for a quick paddle, a few surf dunkings, a couple of rolls – I’ll be right as rain; perfectly refreshed for the afternoon and ready to tackle those obnoxious people who choose to bother me during the middle of my business day!

But a quick paddle? Not so in my latest acquisition, a sexy and delectable folding kayak. Acquired on yet another whim, after leaning back with a cool glass and remembering my first ever kayaking experience … a day when I triumphantly paddled the beaches of Tasmania in a ‘purloined’ folder (much to the annoyance of its owner), feeling the water move against my feet through the skin hull, feeling the frame flex with the waves, feeling at one with the kayak … Aaah, to remember those days again …

And so, one more kayak richer, one more bank account poorer, I proceed to the coast; to relieve my anxiety, to quench my thirst for the ocean, to feel at one with my kayak, to get wet …

And no longer do I worry about the hair-raising lift provided by my car-top kayak aerofoil whilst travelling at illegal speeds… no longer do I worry about the constant fitting and removal of roof racks that I consider to so dreadfully ruin the lines of my car… no longer do I paddle alone and worry that some bastard is ripping off my car whilst safe in the knowledge that the kayak cradles indicate the owner is far, far away …

I marvel at the concoction of tubes, ribs, rubber and Cordura that lies before me in the boot of my car, and wonder if just this once I can manage to put it all together in one go, without forgetting such memorable items as the footrests or the seat, those crucial bits that most kayakers could never imagine leaving behind! Just once can I manage to make it happen without having to start all over again because of one forgotten step? Just once can I not suffer the jibes and sniggers of those beachside armchair kayakers marvelling at the contraption appearing before their eyes, only to discover that the operator REALLY has no idea what he is doing? If only I carried the instructions with me rather than feebly attempting to appear the suave and cool skin-kayaker – oft-beaten by the weather and waves, but never beaten by his kayak construction procedure.

Another sip of a triple-iced, caffeine enriched Coke and I should be right to begin… I think. First I grab all the front bits and stack ’em together, then grab all the back bits and stack ’em together, now grab all the middle bits and stack ’em together… I’m sure that’s what the instructions said…

Expand that bit, slot that in here, slide that over there, click that up that, use that bit here to do that there, twist that a little, jiggle that here, s-l-i-d-e that there, roll that there, curse this here, tighten that, blow this, drop that, don’t forget them, screw that down there, clip this, fit that, squeeze them over there, wipe sweat off brow here, add this, jump in, launch and I’m away!

Who said it would be difficult to create a kayak out of your boot! After 26 mins of painstaking application I am done – I still time myself in a macabre ritual to hopefully break the world record for folding kayak creation, and to hopefully break the record without knuckle baring or finger cracking. After what seems like a 2 hour work-out I can finally pack my goodies into the kayak, get in the water and relax!

At last I push out through the surf and I’m away, sensing every wave, every ripple, every movement of water with my heels as the hull flexes under my feet. As I paddle through each wave I feel the whole skeleton of the kayak gently flex around me, responding to every change in the ocean and I am happy… I am loving every minute of it …

I silently move through the water, no longer hearing the slapping of waves and water against a rigid hull, instead feeling the waves through my knees, feeling my ‘new’ skeletal extension and 17 foot skin graft move with me IN the water, no longer ON it. Embarrassed to scream out for joy in the midst of surf ski paddlers and surfboard riders (who invariably arm themselves with stainless steel weapons when they see me cruising by), I hold in my mirth and exhilaration having at last begun to enjoy kayaking the way I always wanted …

I paddle on, paddling close to the cliffs, close to the action of the waves against rocks, close to the beauty, close to the rocks. Exploring crevices and creatures, peering over the side to marvel at the fish below, amazed at the plant life that sways below me, in awe as how close the rocks are to the hull of my boat …

Whoops … too close now! I slide over a rock with some nasty looking edges, wincing whilst waiting for the excruciating sound of rock against gel coat that I am all too familiar with by now; the slashing Zorro styled scars on my hard shell boats repeatedly glassed over are a grim, ever-present reminder of my over-enthusiastic exploration techniques… but the sound doesn’t come, I feel the rock against my foot as the hull flexes away from the rock… I glide onward, without a scratch or a care in the world, thanking the Gods of skin kayaks for delivering me from an untimely demise on the outskirts of North Head.

Lunch-time I think, but where can I go? It would be nice to land for a bit, but there are no nice little beaches here, no quiet secluded spots. I paddle north past Manly Beach, the memory of a horrific dumping after following in a sick friend playing on my mind… the surf looks big today… I choose to paddle on… let’s try the next beach.

My demented mind convinces me this ‘new’ beach is a smidgin less violent – why not pop in here, no bad memories on this stretch of sand… yet. I wait for what seems like hours for the ‘right’ wave. I shoot down a speedy swell, over-confident in my surfing ability, sure that I can make the shore in style with nary an incident. Wrong again. Whilst again marvelling at the feeling of waves rushing under my feet, I relax my composure and unceremoniously slide off the wave I have successfully ridden for a piddling 10 metres, rolling nicely a couple of times, falling out what seems like six or seven times but what must be only once, and come up to the cheers of three young surfers, all of whom were laying bets on the success of my landing. Suffice to say, they all left with money in their pockets…

I carefully drag myself up the beach, clearing the surf zone, and inspect for damage. Extremely gratified, I find none, even finding no evidence of the ‘rock-sliding’ earlier. My confidence in aircraft aluminium and rubber once again restored, I settle down to the always fun game of ‘what’s in this dry-bag?’

After a careful rearranging of flares, various hand-tools and what seems to be an unusually high quantity of thermal clothing items for this time of year, I find my carefully created loose-meat and salad sandwiches in their customary post-dumping loose-sandwich format, and I sit down to a relaxing luncheon.

The paddle home is far less eventful than the paddle out – perhaps my delirious mind, still marvelling at the extra-sensory kayak around me, is blocking out the wind, waves and wildlife. It must be so – even the yacht that repeatedly heads precariously close to me does not get a rise from my normally agile mouth – a most unusual occurrence, with most yacht encounters earning a minimum of one notch on my paddle shaft, with yet another mark going up against ‘that confounded kayaker twit’ on the sailing club rec room bulletin board.

Back at the launching pad, I smile to myself seeing my car still intact and in-situ, my misguided brain telling myself this is entirely due to the ‘non-kayaker’ image currently being projected from within.

Perhaps instead I should have concentrated again on my entry back to the launching beach… two dumpings in one day, due entirely to an extraordinarily spiritual and emotional attachment to a pile of aluminium, rubber and Cordura and the corresponding lack of attention to my most basic skills, is something I choose not to remember. I must make a mental note to myself not to tell anyone in the Club about it…

I lie on the beach for a while, tingling with enthusiasm from my skin kayak experience, too tired to launch again, yet longing to feel the waves at my feet once more. Alas, my soulful expedition is over, but my trip is not. Still ahead, the now-arduous task of disassembling my creature, my new love, and packing her away into the boot. This task may have been a piece of cake in the living room, but after a lengthy, energy-sapping paddle it takes on a new light, almost appearing too much to handle.

But yet, what light through yonder window breaks, I soon discover how easy it is to ‘destroy’ this beast under duress, how easy it is to return it to the components from which it was born. Far, far easier than the task of assembly, the disassembly is a dream, and I foolishly consider my de-construction task completion time comparable to any hard shell kayaker leaving the beach – I must be far more light-headed than I first imagined.

With all this complexity, all this assembly and disassembly, plus a never-ending maintenance schedule and the joy of forever more playing ‘Tail End Charlie’, you may dismiss my ramblings as foolish, emotionally charged banter. Perhaps you are amazed at the complexity of the task, unbelieving that any sane being would go to such lengths to get in the water, bewildered that any of this could make sense to anyone. Perhaps then, you have never paddled a skin kayak… perhaps you have never really paddled IN the water…

Yes, the folder has now taken its place at the front of my paddling book, relegating my poor old hard shell kayaks to the forgotten heap, in all probability never to be paddled again. And why? At last I feel at one again with my kayak, at one with the sea.

After one initial, teasing taste, followed by years of yearning to again paddle with a flexing, moving, alive skeleton around me, I am once again where I started, once again where I want to be – in control, the way I want to be. Maybe I can pretend just for a moment that I’m a real Eskimo in a real, alive, water-responsive kayak, chasing adventure and dinner… not just a pseudo-pretender reliving his fantasies, chasing yachties and scantily-clad bathing beauties… aah, the dreams…

As for getting back to the office… maybe tomorrow I’ll finish those orders, unless the folder just won’t fold back into the boot…

Now where did I put those blasted car keys?

Surf Entry and Exit [42]

By Stuart Trueman

What do you do when faced with a surf breakout first thing in the morning? How do we deal with the surf landing at the end of the day?

This article is written for a kayaker who is on a multi-day trip in a loaded kayak, arriving at unfamiliar beaches, in conditions that are less than perfect, where motivation to keep to a schedule or other circumstances make the risk of a hard breakout or landing worth taking.

The two most dangerous and exhilarating parts of the day can be at the very start, breaking out, and the very end, landing.

Breaking out

What to look for from the beach to help you get out

Waves are formed as the sea depth decreases – how suddenly the depth decreases dictates how quickly the waves are formed. The seabed is as undulating as the ground above sea level and this is one of the factors that give the waves their character. This means there will be areas of the surf which form larger waves than others. Have a look around and do not assume the best area you could find at 1800 hours will be the best area at 0600 hours, as the tide level, wind strength and direction could change things dramatically.

Rips can give a helping hand out to sea, the downside is that the outward flow can cause steep dumping waves. If you have trouble seeing the power of rips as they are often hidden, then ask yourself “Where does all that water that is arriving as waves go to?” The tide rises slowly, so the same amount of water that you can see crashing onto the beach is draining away with the same force, mostly hidden from view.

As the tide ebbs the beach will generally become less of a gradient. This means the waves build gradually and are more forgiving to the kayaker. The steeper the ground the quicker the waves form causing many dumping waves to fall in a shorter time. It may be worth while waiting for the tide to subside before giving it a go.

Have a look at where you could end up if you do get hit and washed back to land, will you be washed back to the beach or onto rocks?

Are there any options, such as portage to another launch spot, wait until low tide, afternoon, tomorrow?

It takes practice to read the surf but it’s something you can do by yourself or if with a group ask, “Why pick this area?” Chances are the answer will be “It’s the shortest distance to carry the kayaks…”

If you are really interested, visit your local surf club. They have plenty of literature and knowledge on this and many other relevant topics.

Getting ready

Attach everything to your kayak you do not wish to lose (paddle excluded). When bouncing around in the surf with items on 3-4 foot long pieces of cord, you could find these dragging in the water. This puts a lot of strain on the item and attachment points, not to mention getting wrapped around you. Use bungy cord to keep everything snug against the kayak. Remove your hat, glasses and make secure.

Paddle leashes

There are two schools of thought;

  • with the paddle attached you will retrieve both kayak and paddle (what good is one with out the other). If you manage to keep hold of one, all three of you will eventually be washed to shore.
  • if you are rolled there is a chance that the leash will wrap around you, tying you to the kayak, or around your arm, leg or neck, restricting movement.

I ask myself why white water paddlers don’t use a paddle leash; they have much more chance of losing their paddle to the flow of the river with the consequence of being up the creek without it!

Group tactics

Send a strong paddler out first, this will give others a safe rallying point beyond the surf zone and boost moral by showing it can be done (or crush everyone as the star surfer gets spat back to shore).

The paddlers next in line can be held in position in the soup as they await a lull in the sets. This prevents them being caught and dragged sideways along the beach to a reef, rocks, or the heaviest surf.

Those stood up on the beach get a better view of the surf and can advise when a lull in the sets is due, then give a shove to get them well on their way.

If they get tipped there are plenty of helping hands to help collect any kit and drag the soggy paddler back for another go.

Last paddler is the strongest as there is no help for them.



If at the start of the day you have access to the open ocean via a harbour, bay or other way of avoiding the surf you will be keen to head off with little thought of the state of the surf you will have to land through.

Or the surf is low as you set off for the days paddle but the on-shore winds are forecast to pick up and the tide will be high during your estimated arrival time.

Try and pick landing sites which offer shelter from the forecast conditions and have a few alternatives in mind should your choice turn out to be a lemon.

Another way of avoiding a nasty landing is to allow enough time and energy to return to your starting point or another safe area, this ensures you are not totally committed to landing at the one spot. You have arrived and are sitting offshore trying to assess the best landing spot.

Group tactics

An experienced paddler lands first. He uses paddle signals to bring the others in the group in by directing them to the safest part of the beach.

As he is looking out to sea he is better placed to see any sets rolling in and so can signal a ‘stop’ or ‘go’ message.

When in the ‘soup’ he can help drag the paddler and kayak ashore safely.

While in the group nervously waiting your turn, watching with mounting apprehension as kayakers are being dragged unceremoniously onto the beach, your turn could come sooner that you think.

You are waiting outside the surf zone trying to get a good view of what’s going on, but it’s the end of the day, the sea breeze is up which is blowing you closer to the breakers. You are facing the shore to get the view…. bloody hell! That wave broke only a few feet from my bow. You look around to see the alarm in the faces of those who were alongside. You half try to turn the kayak with tired arms (very few think of back paddling), then you are caught in the next set along with your partners. Everybody is swimming – three heads and three kayaks – one problem.

To get around this, allocate someone to turn around and face out to sea to watch for waves, be aware of drift and stay a good distance from the breakers until it’s your turn.

Landing tactics

When it’s your turn, try and paddle on the back of a wave, time it so it breaks a few feet ahead of your bow. Don’t pause once you have committed yourself, paddle like hell, use what ever you have left, there is no going back – the waves are queuing up behind you and they don’t pause.

As the next wave rises up you feel the stern rising and speed picking up, things are happening now!

You can use a stern rudder to try and keep the kayak headed in the right direction or resign yourself to the inevitable broach and prepare for the brace as the waves could be too large and fast for the stern rudder to be effective.

A high brace can get you through some pretty intimidating surf quickly and what’s more it looks good (well… better than a wet exit).


Imagine a bather going for a dip then looking up and seeing an 18 foot kayak coming for him beam on. Are they going to have the presence of mind to duck under the surface and wait until you have passed over or will they hold their arms out to try and stop you hitting them?

Check the beach out for bathers and surfers before wiping them out.

Upside down

Waves are formed as the depth of water decreases. I remember my first attempt at surfboarding; I was just about to jump on the board to ride the wave when I looked down. It was probably only a 4-5 foot wave but as I looked down all I could see was a 6-foot drop onto sand. The water was gone.

When you are upside down, what makes you think you have enough water between you and the ground?

When you set up for a roll make sure you are leaning well forward with your head as close to the kayak as possible. When you have completed the roll you should be leaning forward, well placed to tackle whatever wave has tried to sneak up on you while you were under. Again this is what the white water paddlers do, if it works for grade 3-4 rapids it must be good for surf. White water paddlers also wear helmets, perhaps they have more to protect that sea kayakers?

Wet exit

If you have exited from the kayak and are in the surf, your best friend could become your worst enemy. Do you think you can stop a loaded, water logged kayak with the only thing you have above the water, your head?

Your kayak is much more buoyant than you are, so has more surface area above the water. This will cause the waves to catch the kayak and wash it to shore faster than you. So you may think of grabbing the kayak and getting a free ride.

Some things to think about

When you are in the surf – tired, cold and adrenalin is pumping, your body has a wonderful way of not registering pain, sacrificing this for the greater good of survival.

So you grab anything:

  • the rudder wires (slicing your finger to the bone)
  • deck netting (your finger gets trapped then broken)
  • deck lines on the beach side of the kayak (the next wave throws your kayak at you)
  • just the force of a wave pulling the kayak away from you could pull a muscle, dislocate an arm or twist an elbow. There are many other ways to give yourself minor injuries which themselves are unpleasant, but will mean a miserable days paddling tomorrow.

Think before you blindly catch a free ride. You can wrap yourself around the kayak using legs and arms to grimly hang on to ride out big waves or you should have a toggle on both bow and stern of the kayak, which is easy to grab and let go of.

I can hear those who often play in the surf saying “God what a gloom & doom merchant, nothing like that has ever happened to me on any of my play sessions.”

When you head out for a play in the surf you already have a beach in mind, you know the waves will be good as you have been there before and the conditions are right.

Your boat is empty, probably not the boat you use for sea kayak touring but more manoeuvrable.

If you get to the beach and it’s not right, you get back in the car and find another beach, or call it off, you are fresh and well rested and mentally prepared for a thrashing.

Any minor injuries are not a problem so long as you get some one to put the kayak on the car allowing you to drive home for some TLC.

Take up any opportunity to play in manageable surf with others, you will soon find that you can handle more than you thought. It will put into practice most of the kayaking skills you have learnt.

Quotable Notables [42]

“Flares only get attention if somebody is already looking for you. Otherwise, the only way to get noticed is to use flares to shoot out the wheelhouse windows of passing craft.”
The OSD, expressing a unique fondness for his fellow seafarers.

“Is that important?”
Our illustrious Editor, querying Fishkiller’s concern over being a Trip Leader without a kayak.

“Silver Storm? Sounds like a dandruff problem…”
Stuart Trueman, querying Dave Winkworth’s choice of kayak name.

“It was a good paddle; nobody died.”
Arunas Pilka, explaining why he is the Bruisers preferred Trip Leader.

“The only thing that is going to stay roughly vertical and stay out of the water in these conditions is your head, so I’d olive cleat the device to that.”
Mark ‘Fishkiller’ Pearson, explaining the intricacies of keeping EPIRB’s above the water during rescue situations.

“I might give it a go… how much do I get paid?”
The OSD, offering his services as Trip Leader to a troubled Nick Gill.

“In terms that can’t be mentioned – you get paid in warm fuzzy feelings and a deep inner glow…”
Nick Gill, responding to the OSD’s painful question. The resulting silence strongly suggests that the OSD has no need for deep inner glows.

Product Reviews [42]

Saltwater Soap

Regular soap just doesn’t cut it in salt water or hard water. This soap is specially formulated to work with salt water, has a light fragrance and is Australian made. Now all you smelly toads have no excuse on those overnight trips. Great value at $2.75 each from Ocean Planet.

Custom Lettering

Worried that your kayak looks just like everyone else’s? Ever thought that your kayak needed that personal touch? Every good ship needs a name, so you can now add that little extra with some groovy naming, fancy designs, weird shapes or even your favourite images up and down the sides of your kayak to mesmerise fellow paddlers. Fancy some shark teeth? Bullet holes? Whatever you want, it’s a great idea from $35.00 at Ocean Planet.

Tow Rope

Made from Spectra pre-stretched rope with a breaking load of 989 kg, the Little Gorilla Tow Rope is a great package that is lightweight yet able to handle all your towing challenges. Comes with all the clips you need to secure and deploy the rope with ease. A special kayak fit kit is also available, allowing you to mount the system centrally and tow from the centre of your kayak, reducing paddler stress and allowing for a more efficient tow. A must have for all kayakers at $73.00 from Ocean Planet (fit kit is an extra $12.00).

Safety Whistle

Super loud and able to operate when full of water, the Fox 40 Classic Safety Whistle is a must have for all kayakers. As used by Canadian ice hockey referees – if they can get the attention of puck-shooting loonies with these, then you should be able to raise all the attention you need! A great buy at only $12.50 from Ocean Planet.

Emergency Strobe

A must have for all night-time activities. Operates for 8 hours on a AA battery, and is waterproof to 2000 feet – handy for diving and snorkelling. A real safety bargain at $79.95 from Ocean Planet.