Surfing at Fingal Bay on a Saturday morning


It was a cool autumn morning when we gathered at the Fingal Bay holiday park campsite kitchen. We squeezed into a small communal room. Beanies and jackets indicated the current temperature. The much anticipated Grade 3 Weekend had arrived. A registration system was set up, and then it was either a short trolley or drive down to the launch zone.

I was in the Saturday morning surf session with sea instructor Nick Gill. The air temperature warmed a bit, however we all dressed sensibly with layers and a cag as getting wet was more than inevitable. Helmets were the choice of headwear and many of us also had a tethered nose plug.

At the briefing we discussed our goals with Nick. Maintaining a straight line seemed to be a common objective, survival another.

After a few waves Nick summoned us together for an on-land review and discussion of technique. Nick paddled out and then provided an on-wave demonstration of edging and stern rudder use. He confessed it was a bit exaggerated however often demonstrations need to be.

I experienced a few combat rolls, including one on the first wave I caught. There is nothing quite like the tactile reminder of insufficient or wrong edge as you take a dip. Nick explained and demonstrated backwards surfing. Encouraged by this I had a go and managed a long backwards ride though I was not doing any intentional steering.

The cranking around of our sea kayaks with static sweep strokes gave a good torso workout. The unscheduled capsizes provided opportunity to practice rolling setups in surf that required waiting for the right moment to roll up.

I’d seen the prior surfer get off a wave near shore and start to paddle parallel to the shore line and further to my right. I surfed in on a wave, experimenting with paddle placement in the froth and somehow turned my kayak ninety degrees from the direction that I was travelling in. This put the other kayaker into my view. “No matter, she is some distance away and paddling out,” I thought. My computation did not take account of my surfing speed versus her lack of speed punching out through the surf zone.

I realised that I was on a collision course too late and glanced the other kayak. Upon review, I realised it would have been better for me to have capsized. It would have reduced my speed and thus the potential to injure a fellow paddling pal and cause damage to her kayak. As the water was deep enough capsizing was a safe option. The actual cases of capsize that I knew of were when the sitting duck capsized to avoid a surfing kayak, however I had not thought about it the other way.

Throughout the session I had been actively maintaining an awareness of the triangle of death [see footnote below] so I was mortified at being the cause of this collision even though it did not have a big physical impact. Nick later suggested that deliberate capsize of both kayaks was another good option. I came away with much greater confidence in my ability to roll in surf, a little more sea kayak surf control and a tad wiser.

The triangle of death is a 90 degree triangle which operates when surfing towards the shore. The shoreline is one line and the other two are at 45 degrees to the left and right of your intended straight line course to the shore. Assume on take-off that your sea kayak can hit anything or anyone within this triangle.