bracing in surf

I’m a surf newbie with a lot of kayaking experience. I’m interested in the conditions in which you would use a high brace versus a low brace in the surf.

Today I was in maybe two to three foot surf. It was fun, no problems. I found my self using almost exclusively my low brace. But I know people who say they use almost exclusively their high brace. I’m thinking it is partly a size of the surf issue. A low brace puts you at wave height, but if it was four feet it would put you at high brace height.

I’m aiming for about six feet and wonder if I should consciously work on my high brace or just wait until the waves get big enough to warrant it. And I wonder if there’s a reason other than surf height that would make you use one over the other. For example, I paddle (but don’t yet surf) at a steep beach where the waves are very dumpy. But I’m practicing on a nice flat beach with spilling waves. Would a high brace be better where I long to go? Or am I just over-thinking this thing and I should just do what works in that moment?

BTW, I surf in a 14’ seakayak and am not really interested in shorter-boat or surf-boat surfing. I generally use a Greenland paddle, but I’ve been doing my surfing with a Euro.

As my tip angle increases

– Last Updated: May-24-09 7:28 PM EST –

I move to a high brace. Use sparingly though, the bigger the wave, the bigger the boat the more force on your arms and shoulder. If you don't have much experience in waves you can easily pop a shoulder trying to throw a high brace on a powerful wave. You said you want to practice with dumping surf? (What beach?). Dumping surf usually means more energy, I'd practice with small mushy waves until you are very confident and then move up in size and power. Also although you said you aren't interested in small boat surfing, I would highly recommend learning how to surf, brace, and get a beating in a whitewater boat and take a surf class. If you are in Norcal seek out Dave Johnson, Sean Morley, or Jeff Laxier for some surf skills. If you take a beatdown in a real seakayak in real surf it can be extremely dramatic and punishing. If you learn the ropes in small maneuverable low volume boat, it makes sea kayaking in the surf easy. Learning in a big boat is going to be slow. Every few weeks, I watch somebody at LJ shores or Cardiff in a seakayak come in to do a surf landing and get caught inside by a sneaker wave.... oh the humanity. Wear a helmet, keep your health insurance up to date.

Something that is not obvious is that you don't have to put your paddle on top of the wave to brace --- you get support just sticking your paddle into the moving water --so a low brace stuck into a 6' wave can support you. If hit broadside I often start out with a low brace, fall into the wave with my head and body hitting the wall for added bracing and support and bongo slide and try to turn it into a front surf or come up on a higher sculling brace and controlled side surf.

keep any high brace low
I tend to forget which I use much of the time (instinctive and I’m focused on other things), but I know not to make the mistake of trying to high brace near the top of a bigger wave. My high brace is normally only a few inches higher than my low brace. I stick the paddle into rather than on top of the wave. I think I tend to use my high brace more when the larger wave has me leaning almost on my side to handle the initial impact. I then try to regain my balance enough that I hardly need to brace (makes for a fun game seeing if you can side surf without bracing). Keeping the paddle low means that if the wave accidentally pulls the paddle a wee bit higher you’re still out of shoulder trouble.

on the first page show a high brace on a small wave:

A “low” high brace(elbows down and in, arm not extended)is my favorite brace – works in a wide variety of conditions with minor adjustments.

With practice –
a wave of that size and power does not even require a brace- a good way to develop your feeling for waves is to find a spot like that and let the waves hit you, keep your hips loose and practice side surfing keeping the shoreshide edge up, then controlling your edge to let the wave roll under you. Try it without your paddle when you think you are getting good.

HIgh vs. low
This just came up in a lunch time discussion with a bunch a paddlers that I paddle with regularly and the general opinion is that there is no right or wrong - use what you feel comfortable with.

I use more high brace in larger waves because I can hip snap up with that or roll up with it whereas almost no paddlers can roll up with the low brace position except the GP rolling enthusiasts with the forward leaning roll. But even they often rely on the high brace roll when the S-- hits the fan.

I might be preaching to the choir but… you want to brace on top of breaking waves and not into them.

Not into them?
Well, like you said there is probably no right or wrong, but like seadart, I find bracing into them with a low brace a surer bet when the waves are bigger and a bit pushy. If the waves are steep enough, bracing on them can cause me to capsize but reaching for the water that isn’t moving, deeper down, still gives me the brace without the capsizing push from the top of the wave.

Whatever you do
Keep your elbows lower than your shoulders when bracing. Prefer low brace, and get your shoulders above the brace.

can’t brace atop a 5 footer
I don’t make any real effort to brace on top. I’m simply not tall enough to brace on top of a five footer and even smaller ones could hurt my shoulder if I brace on top of them. For me I only brace slightly higher on/in the wave when it’s big since my range of same positions is limited and bracing lower into the wave still gets the job done for me.

don’t think
of it as ‘exclusive’.

use what supports you. both work and are necessary tools.

People who say “never use a HI brace in surf!!!” kill me…yeah and don’t roll cuz it’s a form HI brace.

Bracing (HI or LO) is a function of support.

steve (going out to surf on Memorial Day)

Dynamic -no time to think
One of the best things for my kayaking was Eric Jackson’s rolling and bracing video - he teaches turning a brace into a roll and is not dogmatic about whether it’s a high brace or a low brace, just moving your paddle to where you have support and hip snapping up. Sometimes getting thrashed in surf I just try to stick my paddle up into daylight in the thrashing wave and the force of the paddle in the hydraulic rolls the boat up. I have no clue to whether that is a high brace or a low brace. I have no clue how to teach anyone how to do it, because it’s something I’ve learned by feel not by thinking.

One thing I have learned is you don’t want to dislocate a shoulder, it’s very painful, and not easy to get out of the boat if you have a tight fitting cockpit. I wasn’t bracing when I hurt my shoulder, but a little twinge in shoulder helps me my elbows down.

A real good trick I learned from wave skiers is turning a low brace in a wipeout into a back deck “rodeo” roll. When you go over it’s one fluid motion from the low brace to more of a upside down high brace, and then move the paddle and roll the ski off of you and sit up.


wave vs. breaking wave
I’m talking about breaking waves. A breaking wave that is as high as your head is like a moving waterfall coming at you and if you shove your paddle into it, it’s going to get sucked down fast and hard. A large non-breaking wave is a different thing entirely.

I disagree

– Last Updated: May-26-09 8:45 AM EST –

Well, I think I disagree. Maybe it's just semantics? An ocean wave that is moving towards you has the top of the wave falling in front of it as it moves towards the beach. The whitewater is moving. The water under the white stuff isn't moving at all and offers extraordinary bracing qualities.
In this short video I take a hit and bongo from a 3 foot breaking wave. Maybe a tad larger than 3 feet. Cripes it seemed like it blocked out the sun before it collided with me. :) Granted the wave is a smooshy gently breaking wave and maybe this is where I am confusing what you are saying. I start my brace as the wave hits by leaning into the wave and bracing in it before the ww gets to me. While my boat is in the ww my paddle blade is below it in the non moving water. Although the video is not a good example of a low brace it is an example of bracing into the slower water beneath the ww. Would you agree?
Having not one single minute of training, I understand I can be wrong about what I am trying to say but I am just conveying my thoughts from my limited experience. I am not saying you are wrong. Just trying to get where you are coming from.
I know the video also displays some terrible high braces towards the end but the point was to examine the first 15 seconds of the clip for paddle placement for bracing into a breaking wave. What do you think?
I think you would be hard pressed to take a breaking wave and get capsized towards it. Sucked under on the side the wave is hitting on? I have never had that happen to me in the twenty years I have been playing in small surf.
Ps. A low brace can be turned into a set up for a roll in a fraction of a second. Shorter than it takes to capsize.

I use a variation on the high brace…
…in big waves where the top is at or over my head, including waves that are starting to break. Instead of bracing into the face of the wave, I reach up, shove the paddle through the top and down into the back of the wave, with my chest sort of falling into the wave. The back of the wave creates a solid purchase for the paddle and I allow the boat roll on it’s side so that I’m close to horizontal in the water. The wave then rolls right under the boat with little strain on me and a quick flick of the hips brings me back upright. I discovered this technique more or less by accident and I’ve used it many times on waves that otherwise would have “maytagged” me. I’ve never seen it documented anywhere and despite the extended arms position, it doesn’t put any serious stress on the shoulders, certainly not as much as doing a “bongo slide” or getting rolled in a breaker.

Works with waves with no power
Not all waves are created equal. A mushy 4 ft wave from a local wind event … this works fine. 5’ at 16 seconds breaking over a reef, you don’t even have time to try it. If you do, the paddle will be ripped out of your hand as you are getting maytagged. You need to have a big bag of tricks for staying upright.

If it works it works
In some of the areas in CT where I surf, the water can end up breaking almost vertical. I think that readers here should just be fair warned and do some experimenting about where they place their paddle.

I haven’t been in a lot of surf… my brace depends on how I’m moving with the wave… for a side impact leaning way into the wave with a low brace has been effective… if I’m surfing and get turned some waves break with me in front, or I can turn out with a low brace… but have also had them pick me up sideways up the crest before breaking… so there is nothing to brace at all until I get dropped…

The other day I got dumped over 4 times and easily rolled up each time in 4-5 footers… once I think I got “maytagged” hehe… because I rolled up and got bull dozed by a 5 footer that sent my head over towards the beach, then upside down… no problem rolling up out of that either…

In short, I’m not concerned if I get dumped over… for a high brace my shoulders are not leaving the box… I"m also tall so my COG is way over for a HB…

Different Strokes for Different Folks

– Last Updated: May-26-09 1:15 PM EST –

I put different weight on opinions depending on how much real experience someone may have. A lot of time on paddling net there are certain paddlers who have taken classes and paddle flat water or go out on the coast in groups in small waves and they post with great authority. Other folks have little training but get out there and paddle in harsh conditions, its apparent who actually has experience with waves over their head, in various varieties. When I first started surfing I was advised by someone who designed some of the best surf kayaks in the US, never to lean forward taking off, that you want to keep upright and keep your weight centered. I followed that advice for a long time and then I surfed with some guys who have won world championships and their advice was to keep your weight well forward with an aggressive lean and attack. Guess which method gives better speed and control on the waves? I think it's possible to be quite an expert in one area of kayaking but not to have experienced what some "weekend hacks" who love to get out no matter what the conditions, have down pretty well.

High Brace Anyone?