Canoe Surf Launch Help

Any help or suggestions for launching a canoe in the surf? Headed to the beach this weekend and wanted to take my little 13’ Sawyer Solo with me. Is it even possible or prudent to take it out with no additional floatation other than the built in bow and stern floatation? What’s the best way to get through the surf zone in an open canoe?

I don’t remember how we got it
through the surf, but my wife and I tried to bring one in.We got tossed , sand scrubbed,head banged and the boat wound up on the beach full of water.

Maybe WW float bags?

I love paddling surf !

– Last Updated: Jun-27-08 3:31 PM EST –

Here are some bullet points off the top of my head:

Pre Launch

1. Supplemental flotation is a very good idea
2. Don’t launch where there are swimmers, your boat could kill them
3. Hopefully you can kneel
4. have a bailer that you can easily clip and unclip from a very accessible spot
5. Wear a helmet
6. Hopefully you won’t be alone
7. Be ready and able to adjust your trim to deal with the wind. You don’t want to get “stuck” (I carry an empty Tide jug I can fill with water)
8. Check the wind direction, if weather is not an issue, it “should” be blowing into shore (as the land heats up and the air over it rises)
9. Don’t use a wimpy little paddle. You’ve got to have some “bite” I like a bent shaft.


1. Study carefully the breakzone. Can you see a “path” where the waves don’t break much or break less? It may not be a straight line.
2. Walk your boat out into the water by standing at the rear and to the side
3. Push down on the stern when the waves come in to raise the bow (this is easier than standing at the bow and trying to lift it when the waves come in)
4. Number 3. above is the easiest and most effective way to keep the waves from breaking into your boat before you get into it. But it is NOT the safest since you are behind the boat. Make sure the bow points away from you slightly (you’re standing behind and to one side). That way a breaker would blow the bow and boat away from you and not into you.
5. Waves don’t usually come in at 90 degree angle to the shore. They will be coming in at an angle. If they are coming in left to right, you should stand on the left side of the boat (see 4 above).
6. Pick your timing to “hop” into the boat. Be in as deep a water as you can effectively get into the boat. That is less distance you’ll have to cover to get out through the break zone.
7. Have your paddle handy and a spare lashed in.
8. Hop in to the boat as soon as the last wave passes.
9. Paddle hard to get out through the break zone. You picked a good line, right? (see 1 above)
10. Keep the bow as light you can over the waves. Stay as aft as you can but paddle hard through the waves.
11. You want to take bigger waves at an angle and “quarter them.” That makes the whole boat rise faster than simply hitting them with your bow.
12. Time your stroke so you are dropping a stroke and starting to power through just before you hit a wave.
13. Drop that stroke on the “down stream” or down wave side.
14. Exception to 13 above is when you have to reach over the top of the wave and brace/pull on the backside of the wave because you are barely making it over before it breaks


1. It is harder to get back in than it is going out.
2. If you can, back your way back in once you get to the edge of the break zone. This is easy if the beach is all sand since you don’t have to keep your eyes on missing a rock or something.
3. By backing in, you can control your descent back in better. You can see what’s coming and make quick and accurate adjustment to paddle back out quickly if needed.
4. Also, when you’re backing back in, you’re ready to apply full-power forward strokes in case you see an "oh shit" coming.
5. By backing back in, you (hopefully) won’t find yourself surfing something bigger than you and your boat can handle (until such time as your bow pitches to the side and you go over).
6. If/when you successfully get back in, jump out on the sea side of the boat, not the beach side

That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head. Have fun and be careful.

I Tried To Surf On An Old Door Once

– Last Updated: Jun-27-08 3:29 PM EST –

I remember when I was a kid I found an old door on the beach and some friends and I tried to surf on it. It didn't work, but we had lots of fun that day....

That was on the Gulf of Mexico in 3-4' surf. On a double overhead day in NORCAL, it might be very ill advised..

The point is, you can play with most anything in the surf, just don't get yourself into anything you can't swim out of.

Maybe wear a helmet, and launch on a rising tide.

Hey cowboy
I just re-read your post and saw that you are taking a Sawyer. How much faith do you have in the layup? The surf can smash a lightly built canoe in a flash.

what beach?
theres ‘surf’ and then theres “SURF!” here in the lowcountry of sc i could launch through the surf near low tide if it wasnt too windy. i would not stay out too long. when the tide comes in and the wind starts to kick, forget it. clarion’s advice looks good.

Tourist Rescue
Last year I helped some folks from Arizona who made a bad decision to try this at the most mild exposed ocean beach in Southern California. It was not pretty. It was not fun. The AZ wife got hurt and was not happy.

Take a boogie board and leave the canoe home.

HA! I liked all of that.
Chuckled at every step. I, for one, will never be taking a canoe to the ocean again. Wish I’d read your suggestions before my first/last attempt.

boogie board is probably the best advice
Unless you’re a bit twisted

4 items for at least having some fun…
1) Don’t strap yourself in…leaver yourself an easy exit…

2) Floatation bags…;-)…without em’ the game is lost pretty quick…

3) Teather line…as mentioned…with undertow it’s sometimes easier to abandon ship and tow the boat in.

4) Get out a ways so that if you do flip…you won’t get crunched

people from California are so damn smart and cool, etc. you can’t go out there and “hang” with those folks, so don’t even try. whatever. surfing a canoe is fun as hell. stay away from the swimmers, as you’ll take their head’s off, and risk what your risk.

Tsunami Rangers have no problems surfing big waters there. but i don’t now that they’re pretentious enough to be “real” californians.

Come on out and hang Kanu
If you’ve got the skills we pretentious Californians want to watch you surf a Canoe… and believe it or not several folks from Pnet have come out her and hung out.

Got Something Against Spongers?
I surfed long boards growing up in Florida, and been surfing kayaks in California for a while now.

Surfed boogie boards on both coasts and never go to the beach without one

Clarion touched on it, but NEVER get between your boat and the beach. This becomes even more important when the boat is swaamped, as there is that much more weight for the waves to push against you.

Recreational Canoes- Sharp Edges

– Last Updated: Jun-30-08 2:04 PM EST –

One thing I have noticed in helping people who have tried this in San Diego. The Gunwales (sp?) in cheap canoes (aluminum, Coleman, Costco no name) tend to have very hard sharp edges, these become instruments of mayhem when the canoe gets thrown around in the surf. A four foot wave moving at 15 mph and dumping into a broached open canoe has an enormous amount of force that flat water paddlers are not used to dealing with; the canoe violently flips and the rotational energy of the gunwale strikes the occupants causing pretty nasty injuries. The paddlers usually have a hard time getting away from the boat and get struck several times before it founders full of water. A canoe then full of water gets smashed on the legs of the paddlers trying to get away towards the beach. Not pretty, not fun. Totally avoidable.