Back Surfing.....great way to improve

For whatever its worth I figured I would share this. I have had the opportunity to do a lot more surfing this year. On days with boring surf I have made the most of the time by back-surfing almost exclusively, and have continued to back surf in bigger conditions (I am referring to doing so in the ocean surf zone and not whitewater).

It has really helped my paddling in the surf in my opinion. I had always back-surfed a little in the past, but not in a dedicated fashion. Frankly I always felt a little apprehensive for fear of injuring my bad shoulder.

Luckily that has not been an issue. I have been doing a ton of back-surfing and not only is a lot of fun, but I have found it to be a real skill builder.

Of course everything is backwards which makes it interesting, but it seems to really help with edge control and “feel” Next, it has helped me feel a lot more comfortable when I get back-surfed unintentionally by big oncoming waves, last it has really helped my roll in the surf zone. I never had a problem rolling in the surf zone, but backsurfing has just helped me feel a lot better about getting pummeled in the surf upside down, and has caused me to have to roll from a variety of different positions on both my on and off side.

Also has increased my confidence a lot. Getting pummeled moving backwards and pitch poling moving backwards really has made me feel totally at ease in bigger conditions that I always enjoyed but felt a little tight in.

Another thing that I have done a lot this season that has helped me is rolling a lot in the surf intentionally. In big waves I have rolled before getting hit and gotten backsurfed upside down a lot to practice rolling. Also have chosen to get capsized rather than to brace, or to do a totally committed high brace rather than a low brace.

Doing this has really increased my confidence, improved my roll…and helped my shoulders.

Only sharing here since it has helped me a lot in my opinion. Try doing some more back surfing and intentional rolling in the surf zone. I think it will really help you to improve even if your skills are fairly advanced.


fear of the surf
For me, fear of the surf has gradually subsided once I started to back surf. As you say: it has improved my skills and perception of what waves do. On some kayaks (Swede form) backsurfing is almost easier than forward surfing, for me.

I can time the waves and see what’s happening applying body weight transfer and power to the paddle just at the right time since I can see the wave approach easier then twisting my body to look back.

And of course I find that the best tool for back surfing is a Greenland paddle.

Little video here:

I recommend back surfing to anybody serious about improving skills for ocean conditions.

Size of Surf ?
You might want to add a disclaimer to do this in small manageable waves.

Are you going from forward surf to backsurf? That’s what most people think of when you say back surfing. If you are pulling this off in a long boat on moderate wave 4 -5 ft then you are really getting some skills.

(Sitting on the wave and paddling backward to take off is sort of lame YMMV.)

agree especially regarding roll

– Last Updated: Sep-18-13 11:25 PM EST –

I've done this mostly in three foot surf days. Four to five I only go forward and higher is too much for me for now. Because I'm more likely to wipe out and in unpredictable ways I get better practice rolling when a bit frazzled. At least in smaller surf, you do eventually get the hang of the edging and so don't wipe out as much. btw, I'm talking about some mellow shaped spilling surf.

I found that video very entertaining.
Thanks. I enjoyed that. It looked like a lot of fun. I really like the camera angle.

I think I may take your advice.
I try to spend some time on nice easily manageable days playing around with backsurfing in bits and pieces. And even that has helped me a great deal. This might inspire me to take the backsurfing up a notch. I’ve paddled enough to know you’re not talking about spinning a 180 on the face of a wave with a sea kayak. There’s really nothing that leaves me inclined to try to minimize taking off backwards just for good fun and learning better control. The problem with waiting for those chance occurrences is that “chance occurrence” rules out dedicated practice. And it seems like that’s the point.

Going from front surfing to back surfing on a single wave does happen in a sea kayak. It’s nothing like the way a surf kayak or surf board does it, but in medium-large surf (like 4+ feet maybe), when a sea kayak pearls a bit, and the stern broaches around, it’s often possible to get the boat to spin on the crest of the wave, and push it back down onto the wave face for a little back surf (quickly followed by rolling practice, at least in my experience). :slight_smile:

extra credit to you
Great video but you get extra credit, being in Oz and using a Northern Light paddle. You ought to campaign for them to make a model called the “Southern Cross”!

So what kind of camera rig are you using here?

A few responses…

What I was really referring to was facing towards an oncoming wave and paddling backwards to catch the wave surfing backwards towards shore, trying to maintain the backward surf and sometimes peeling off and maybe even catching a bit of a front surf.

Yes, to the above, purling either the bow or the stern may cause you to surf in the opposite direction (if you are not pitch poled)

I have found that back surfing has helped me develop a better feel on the wave and better edge control, making edge control more intuitive since everything is backwards.

It has also helped me a lot to be more comfortable when getting unintentionally backsurfed like when you get clobbered by a huge breaking wave in the chest…or rolling right when it hits you and getting backsurfed upside down and then rolling up.

Finally, I have found that yes…you can spin a kayak from a front to a back surf with some practice, but it is something you can only really do in the foam pile after the wave breaks. If you are getting side surfed by a big enough wave and have enough momentum you can throw in a bow rudder and some edge and face the boat back into the wave and be back surfed. I am going to work on doing that more consistently , along with spinning the boat back into a front surf from a side surf. Cool moves…but I would not be comfortable with the former move had I not done a lot of practice with back surfing this year.

I find that smaller waves that are boring from front surfing can be pretty fun for back surfing…2-3 foot.

One thing though is you really need to “look before you leap” if you are in an area with surfers and swimmers.


backward to forward surf
I recall a nice video of someone paddling a delphin where he caught the wave backwards, quickly intentionally broached to high brace the crest, and spun the kayak into a forward surf for a nice long ride.

It looked like a great way to catch a wave in a longer boat without having to get all the way outside and spinning around and looking over your shoulder for the next set.

slightly bigger waves
in slightly bigger waves backsurfing can be tricky as I find hard to get enough speed to run the waves.

Often my kayak will pearl, often broach and occasionally pitch pole.

Here is a short video of intentional pitch pole (aka endo) attempt:

Northern Light paddles
I have been using Northern Light Greenland paddles since the early days and have not found a better paddle for dynamic water. For cruising I now prefer the new Northern Light “Skinny”, a smaller surface finer edge sectional carbon Greenland paddle.

I also have an Aleut inspired Northern Light paddle and despite having larger surface to get me up to speed faster in the surf is not my favorite paddle. As an all rounder the NLP Greenland does an excellent job.

I find it safer too as when I broach my high braces don’t risk to have my arm elevated too high (and dislocate a shoulder) when the wave steepens above my head. Coming from big blade Euro paddle I believe that the risk of injury in large surf is greater if the paddle has too much surface as it does not allow getting buried into the water but tends to sit on top elevating my arm too high.

I like that idea…
catching the wave backwards and then spinning into a front surf… so that you don’t have to look over your shoulder all the time. If I can get that to work reliably that would be a great technique. I will have to try it

my technique
my technique to get a decent glide even on small waves is to lean back just before the kayak starts to surf, paddle backward and then suddenly transfer weight to the front once under way to prevent pearling.

I think of it as what I do for normal forward surfing, just in reverse.

If I want to endo, I simply keep my weight back (lean back) trying to bring the stern under water.

The bonus of backward surfing is that even if the waves are small I get a much bigger buzz than forward surfing. It’s an unnatural sensation to be sliding backwards so the waves don’t have to be that big to get me thrilled :slight_smile:

Exactly what I do when back surfing. I have found that on a bigger wave you almost HAVE to lean way forward to prevent purling. I almost do a crunch forward.

Although I would disagree that it is the reverse of forward surfing where it is better in almost all cases to keep your body upright, or even to lean forward which will help to unlock the stern and allow you to maneuver. Leaning back when forward surfing is intuitive, but it locks your stern in place. Learning to lean forward more when surfing has improved my ability to maneuver significantly.

I think the reason that I have to lean so far forward when BACK SURFING may be due to my boat design. I have an Aries and the cockpit is located a bit aft of center.

Also agree completely about backsurfing turning a boring surf day into a fun one.

By the way if you like to surf–the Aries is just an incredible boat. I could not be happier with it as a surf / play boat. It also back surfs incredibly well.


i need about a 4 footer or so…start backward, throw weight back and get the stern sunk…the bow rises up on advancing water while the stern is sunk…now that you’re vertical, spin it around and ride it out with bow down wave…i think it’s called a pirouette? fun as hell.

and yup, you can change front to back surfing orientation on a wave…bringing the brace forward or aft will get it done.

you heading to gales in ct this year?

I agree
that a large blade paddle may catch too much water when surfing and that DOES pose a risk of shoulder injury.

When using such a paddle, I keep my elbows really low, actually just above the hips. It may be hard, but resisting the urge to get the hands up (keeping them lower than eye level) is important to protecting the shoulder.

I’ve surfed backward a few times, but found that it was MUCH harder to control the boat and pretty much always ended up broached (as seems to be the case in the videos).

I’ve perled many times, in dumping surf, and have rolled up after the almost inevitable capsize. I haven’t yet been able to brace sufficiently or hip snap fast enough to recover from this. The hull hits bottom, pitches to one side (sometimes, you can anticipate or select which side), and the breaking wave does the rest. In clear water, you can actually see the contact with the ground and anticipate, set up for the impact, and recover more quickly, but generally, the water visibility in the surf line makes it impossible to see the bottom (where I paddle, that is). I have not perled in a back surf, though I’ve tried to climb some waves that made it tempting to surf backward rather than continue out in such heavy water :).

Back surfing has it’s place, and is a useful skill, but it isn’t how I plan to exit the surf in most situations.