Essential surfing strokes?

Just had a fun weekend down in South Carolina doing a good bit of surfing with my recently-acquired Islander Lipstik. Terrific fun, but as I’ve only had minimal instruction in WW/surfing moves, I’m looking for guidance on best practices relating to strokes and when to use them so I can start doing really interesting stuff (or at least look really amusing in the attempt).

I’m pretty well-versed in SEA kayaking strokes, but basically all I’ve used so far are:

  • Forward paddle - punching through the break, getting up to planing speed
  • Stern rudder - steering while riding the wave
  • Low brace - side-surfing

    What else should I add to the surfing repertoire (other rudder/draw strokes, perhaps?), and when should I use them?

Not an expert …

– Last Updated: Mar-30-05 8:25 PM EST –

Those are the basic tools you need. The stern rudder for surfing can be used in lots of different ways and with different variations in amount of laying back or using your body to push the paddle but concentrating on keeping the paddle as a rudder not a break or brace to slow you down. Lot's of times your arms hold the paddle still and you move the kayak with your trunk and body to whip it around or change direction. Think about using the paddle as a fulcrum and swinging the stern of your kayak like a tail with your trunk and body. Good surfing requires very aggressive use of the paddle as a rudder. Mike Johnson says the paddle should be in the water acting like a fin almost 100% of the time. You can also use draw strokes and bow sweeps and reverse sweeps to initiate spins. Look into whitewater instrction videos that teach how to do playboat moves, you can adapt some of them to surfing. Look into the strokes required to do wave wheels for exit moves.

There are some spots on the web that have some instruction for more advanced moves. One is the page and look at the tips and instruction section. Also Dick Wold has a page where he discusses advanced techniques. I would also suggest getting a hold of Vince Shay's video The Search II, and just watch and learn. There are also some good wave ski videos where you can learn about hitting the lip, planting your paddle and getting a little bit of air. These aren't instructional videos you just learn by watching.

Forward stroke - when paddling out I use a very vertical and powerful stroke and concentrate on breathing on every stroke so I have lots of O2 in the blood, especially as I get near the big meanies before getting outside. I do not just paddle like hell to get out. I hit the foam piles hard and paddle gently timing things until I am ready to spring over the biggest waves or through a lull.

The take off - I use a more horzontal windmill like stroke very quick -usually about five strokes to accellerate to speed and make the drop.

The anti-pearl maneuver- This involves rolling the boat and turning to the side and letting the wave break on you and the back of your ski to force the nose back up.

Surfkayaking 101 - On the web
Ok here are some of the links I mentioned…

How to do some basic moves:

Pointers on some basic and “advanced moves”:

How to wavewheel, can be used for end move too…

Byron Olsen surfing one of his boats … watch his technique…

Byron surfing one of his later boats … watch and learn

A good site for learning about waveskis…

How to get the Search 2 … watch the trailer

There are some good waveski segments here as well as surfkayaking segments to learn from…

More “Concept” Than “Strokes”

– Last Updated: Mar-31-05 5:15 PM EST –

because the basic strokes, especially forward and sweep, are the most used along with the stern rudder. The issue is to when to use these strokes to realize the concept of "classical" surfing.

Took me a couple of years, and only after watching good surf kayakers, to understand what I should be striving for. Initially, I was happy to catch a wave, zoom straight down the face, ride it and then brace and ride the foam pile when the wave broke. More often than not, the wave was controlling me as opposed to me controlling the boat and working in harmony with the wave energy. In clasical surfing, you want to be on the green face right in front of the pocket where the greatest energy is. Here, you control the boat and make the moves you want ("self expression" and thus the notion of an "expression session" for an informal surf session) while staying in on green face or in the pocket. You probably noticed that once in the foam pile, you begin to loose some of the control of the boat to the wave. In essence, the wave is controlling you and not so much you controlling the boat. It's here that folks begin to brace and "side surf" which is really more "surviving" the wave than truly "surfing" it. As far classical surfing is concerned, once you're in the foam pile and can't get out, the the ride is essentially over. That's why you'll see boardies jumping off the board once they're in the thick of the foam pile, if they haven't already busted back over the lip before the closeout.

So in surfing, you're trying to stay in the green face. The moves you make, whatever they may be -- basic or "play" moves, should be done with intent of maintaining the green face and pocket. A major component here is really learning to use the boat edges/rails to carve. Carving gives directional control and speed. If you don't carve, the tendency is to slide out and lose forward momentum. On a fast wave, the section of wave closing behind you (as indicated by the foam) may catch up and envelop you. There, again, you are no longer in control as much as being controled the wave.

So, in addition to really carving, you need to be able to read what the wave is likely to do in front you (as well as sense what it's doing behind you). The strokes required should be used judiciously to keep you ahead of the closing sections behind you, or to exit the wave entirely if it looks as if a complete closeout is about to happen. So how do you use strokes "judiciously?" For an example, a lot of paddlers know that a "stern rudder" should be used. But how much? Sometimes on a steep face, if you stick the whole blade into the wave to rudder, there is greater friction and the rudder will actually slow you down and you may have the closeout section of the wave catch up and shut your ride down. So, you have to learn how much of a blade to use in a rudder, depending on the wave. Also realize, when you're moving fast, you have a lot of dynamic stability, meaning that you can be way on edge, leaning way out and carving and yet have no risk of falling over (think of a bike at high speed going around a corner). Therefore the stern rudder can simply be an inch or two of the blade edge to accomplish what is needed. What often is seen with beginner surfers is that their stern rudder is more like a brace, fully in the water and slowing them down. They don't realize that with good edging, they don't have to use much blade to have directional control. But, by using too much blade, the rudder is like a brace and becomes a de facto and needed brace when the closeup catches up to them because they going too slow to stay in front of the pocket. Sometimes a wave is moving so fast and the closeout is also happening really fast, you may not want to even use a rudder. Rather, you're controlling boat direction and "trim" (position on the wave face) simply be edging and using hip movement. You would want to avoid or use minimally a rudder because it will slow the boat down. Instead, you may want to judiciously use quick and short forward and/or sweep strokes to increase speed to evade a closeout and/or to regain the wave face.

Here is pic of me on a small wave face closing out and me carving and getting ready to stroke to try to regain the pocket and the green face. In fact, I was able to. Had I used a stern rudder here, I would have lost speed and likely fail to regain the wave.

The other thing that can happen is that on mushy, slow waves, you may get too far ahead of the pocket and begin to lose energy. Here, you may want to do a very drastic stern rudder to make a cutback to the pocket to regain the energy. If not, the mushy wave section can fade right under you and you end up losing the wave.

So, if you have the basic strokes down, what it comes down to is understanding the "surfing concept" and applying the right strokes to realize that concept. SeaDart gave some good links to info as well as footage. Watch and read with that in mind, then go out and ride with that concept in mind. Each wave is literally different. With each ride, you'll get better at reading the wave and figuring out what needs be done to stay in the pocket or the green face. A (near) perfect ride is when you ride the boat in concert with the wave energy and maximizing it for a long ride. This is the stuff of the "Stoke."


(edited for clarity.)

Thanks, folks! You’ve given me plenty to ponder over the 3 weeks before my next trip to the beach. Already counting the days…

Oh My Gosh…
I would go crazy if I had to wait three weeks for the next session! :slight_smile:

Actually, pass the time by watching the Search2 DVD. Watching the top surf kayakers go at it really helps in figuring out what to work on. Also, I believe Vince Shay is selling the DVD at a discount right now and the proceeds are being used to support the US team.


Yeah, 3 weeks till the next beach trip is an unfortunate situation, but at least I’ll be spending a full week there next time. Many waves await for trying out the techniques mentioned here. Woohoo!

back stroke
Don’t forget your back stroke! Imagine the following scenario: You have just failed in an attempt to catch a good sized wave, but in the attempt, travelled significantly shoreward. Now you are “inside”, and the next wave in the set is approaching fast. You decide it is too steep to drop into, but there is not enough time to turn and punch out. Solution? Back stroke hard, and (hopefully) punch through backwards. Okay, this may apply more to long boats (I surf a 14’ Tsunami x-15) that can’t turn fast, but sometimes every second matters, and a powerful back stroke may be better than a turn and forward stroke, even in a short surf kayak. Of course, in a long kayak, if the wave is too steep, that’s when the real fun begins!


Would Work SOT and Long Boat…

– Last Updated: Mar-31-05 7:11 PM EST –

not so sure about a short surf boat. My stern edge is underwater by a couple of inches. The faster I backstroke, even if I am leaning forward, the more my boat wants to do a squirt.

Great fun today, eh? :) I got hammered good several times trying to take late drops. I need to learn to be more patient and wait for the next good one rather than trying to jump on every thing whether I am in position or not...

Good stuff coming your way this weekend with the SE swells, especially on Sunday. I only have a couple of hours early Sunday. Gotta figure where to go. A good dilemma. :)


Wierd wind swell last weekend
We had mostly windswell last weekend with a few really big waves, it was very irregular and hard to decide where to set up. I ended up getting caught inside about 10 times trying really late take offs on big ugly waves … beats mowing the lawn though.

and if talking about evasive action moves don’t forget the Turtle Roll …

The Paddle is Over Rated in Surfing
Paddle strokes in surfing are far less important then in other forms of kayaking. Selecting the right spot to take off, position on the wave face, maintaining speed while executing turns and knowing when to exit a wave are far more essential then any particular paddle stroke. In fact, once under way, most of the turns and moves are achieved without much involvement of the paddle, save maybe a little ruddering. Body lean and weight shift are the primary means of maneuvering a surf craft… much the same as on a surfboard. In fact a good test to illustrate this is to jettison the paddle once you’re underway and see how much you can accomplish with subtle changes in attitude of the boat. Of course you want to try this on a small day…because paddling back out through big surf without a paddle is not very doable.

My recommendation is focus on learning the basics of wave riding and don’t worry too much about paddling technique. That part comes pretty naturally since the primary stroke is the one that achieves maximum speed in the shortest time.

Style Dependent?

– Last Updated: Apr-01-05 1:11 AM EST –

For longboard style surfing I would agree but I think folks that are doing more agressive moves really use the paddle a lot to set up and control the boat. With Austrailian waveskis the paddle is used like a handplant in skateboarding. In the video links above Byron uses the paddle to good effect. Here are some other examples from footage we shot at Davenport this fall from Vince Shay, Rusty Sage, Galen Licht, J. Burlingham (sp?). In all of them the paddle is setting up the move. I'm still pretty hopeless at dynamic moves, I can do floaters, lip re-entries, spins and that's about it, and often crash when trying.

I would like to get some of my footage and have some of these guys explain how they do what they do, maybe I'll try to get some captions from them at jalama this fall.

“Clashing Culture” Or …

– Last Updated: Apr-01-05 6:46 AM EST –

ultimately all surfing with personal emphasis on what stokes? I really appreciate Vince Shay's comments here:

As I was watching the expert heats, I really felt that there is an emerging (HP) style of surfing that is really very, very aggressive and explosive as expressed by Rusty Sage and the others with playboating backgrounds. This is in contrast to the "classical" surfers with their smooth ripping/carving moves on the waves. Last year's finals, I watch Jim Grossman win the heats with these playmoves, e.g helixes and blunts, but almost always at the end of the ride... These were used as an exclamation point. However what was impressive this year was seeing the folks link these playmoves in the middle of a ride and maintain the pocket and green face. It's different from classical surfing but it is still surfing 'cause these folks are very much about staying on the green face for long rides. It's decidedly different than what is often seen with the pure river playboaters who get on a wave, do minimal ripping/carving in front of the pocket. Instead they seem to love to butt bounce their way through the foam pile and do their play moves (something that drives some of the classical surfers -- kayak and boardies -- nuts).

The newer style has very active paddle usage and will require much more practice than the "basic" strokes. Folks interested in this will have to commmit to learning to "throw down" and use sculling plane strokes, forward and reverse, and back deck rolls to achieve on the wave moves like air screws, waves wheels and such.

But, if it stokes, it's all good. :)


If surfing (seriously) and sea Kayaking then my sugestion is:

  1. Serious Surfing you set up with a surf Kayak (plastic and short in length) not a Sea Kayak

    2)If you enjoy both and only have a glass sea Kayak then pick your surf (deep water long waves)
  2. If you want to do both in a sea Kayak … your first end-over is not as bad as it looks …as long as you do it in deep water.
  • Long Plastic folds in shallow water, Long Glass yaks break in shallow water. Short Plastics bounce … there are no short glass boats…at least that I know off.

    Enjoy your surfing… I do

    Kayak solitude

No short glass boats?

– Last Updated: Apr-01-05 10:00 AM EST –

You need to visit two web sites

PScomposites in the US and Mega Kayaks in the UK, also several small manufacturers, Sing, JLK and I all own boats from these manufacturers, mine is the longest at about 9"6", some really cool boats are being made that are about 7'2 now. In Austrailia check out Wavemaster waveskis for something short, fast, glass/kevlar and high performance.