First time in the surf! (Kaos review)

Well, I had my first opportunity to get out and ride waves for the first time ever today! I’m down here in Myrtle Beach today and tomorrow to try out my new (used) Wilderness Systems Kaos SOT surf kayak. The conditions were a bit mushy and confused today, I was hoping for some west to north-west (offshore) winds that would clean up the waves a bit, but it ended up being side-on shore from the south-west at about 10 mph, so the waves were about 3 to 4 feet, confused and mushy. For a first-timer though, it was pretty good conditions.

I wore my Kokatat Dura dry-suit and a fleece liner underneath and was at an almost perfect temperature for the entire time I was out there. This was the first time (other than a pool test) that I’ve been able to test out the dry-suit and I was absolutely thrilled with it! It is such an amazingly “different” feeling to be in the water but be dry on the inside. And despite vigorous paddling, I wasn’t wet from sweat at all by the end of my 2+ hour paddling session. Even my hands and head held up well, and getting doused once in awhile was refreshing!

The Kaos performed very well. I will say that paddling in waves is a much different experience than paddling my 17’ touring kayak. I can paddle my touring kayak for 12 hours a day and go 50+ miles, the Kaos (and any surf boat I assume) is much more of a small, aggressive sprint boat. I bought a shorter recommended surf kayak paddle and I can see why that is so important. You are paddling so hard in small spurts and bracing is necessary quite often, so you find yourself gripping the paddle very close down toward the blade to give you power. After just a couple of hours my wrists ached a bit from the “power” strokes whereas with my touring stroke I can do that all day long with no problems. I’m sure it’s just a matter of developing those muscles a bit with more use.

Paddling out and pounding through the surf is great fun. The boat responds very quickly to varying strokes and will turn a complete 180 with pretty much one aggressive sweeping stroke. It’s great for pointing offshore to watch for a wave then quickly spinning about to start paddling toward shore to catch it. Catching waves was very easy and it took a few runs before I got settled in and learning to lean back initially as you scoot down the wave face. Once up to speed you can back up and just a bit of leaning and dragging the paddle produces pretty crisp turns. Many times I over did it with the paddle and ended up skidding sideways and getting dumped but by the time I pulled out for the day I felt pretty well in control most of the time.

Once in the shallow water the boat pivots around smartly to go back out through the waves, and I can see why this type of kayaking is so addictive. Time and time again I would ride in and be a bit tired but I kept wanting to paddle back out and catch another!

Falling out of the boat was no problem, scrambling back aboard was a piece of cake in shallow water, or water over my head. Once in it takes 15 or 20 seconds to get the thigh straps back across the legs and I found myself reaching behind me to pull the back-strap up a bit higher on my back quite a bit to give me the maximum back support. Being 6’ 2”, I have my feet in the next to the last foot well and my butt and legs seem to fit nicely in the seat. I don’t feel any “looseness” or side to side movement. I’m currently 200 pounds, which is about 15 pounds heavier than I want to be, so maybe my big butt is filling out the kayak just right and it will be a bit more loose when I get back to my “better” weight for the summer…hehe…

The foot-wells were actually pretty comfortable for me. I was wearing NRS booties over my integrated dry-suit socks, plus some hiking socks under that for warmth. All that material padding may have prevented the pressure points that many people complain of with the Kaos foot-wells. In the dead of summer when I’m just wearing trunks and no wet or dry-suit it might be a different story.

The big drain hole in the center of the boat tends to spray water up through it when you are really zooming down a wave face, but it sort of adds to the whole watersport aspect of kayaking…lol…

When I was done paddling for the day I leaned the kayak up against my car and pulled the drain plug and a good bit of water came out (maybe half a gallon?). I think that is normal over the course of a day of surfing because there is a small pressure relief hole (pin-prick size) on the inside of the drain hole and as the boat compresses and expands it draws tiny amounts of water into the hull, thus the reason for the drain-plug.

The thigh straps and back-pad were very comfortable although I noticed one of the springs in the clip of one of the thigh pads appears to be broken, so the clip doesn’t stay closed all the time and could possibly pop off the deck mounting eye, although it is really wedged in there tight so it would take an unusual contortion and relaxation of tension on the strap to make it come loose.

All in all I had a great time with this new type of paddling! I think it really helps you learn how to lean and brace since you are constantly doing it on both the way in and out. Now I’m craving some good, clean, long waves (not big…just long!) because the ride in is SO much fun. I’ll be going out again tomorrow and the forecast is for offshore winds, which might make the waves cleaner, but they are only going to be 3 feet or so. It will still be fun.

Thanks for everyone who helped me out choosing a boat. I’m really excited about learning all kinds of new things about surf kayaking, it is incredibly addictive! Here are a couple pictures from today, although I didn’t bring my water-proof housing so they aren’t “on the water” shots! These were after my session as I was hauling the boat back up through the small dunes to my car.


That kayak looks much happier in the sand than it did in your dining room! Thanks for the post, I am sitting at a desk in New Hampshire right now, and you temporarily transported me down to MB.

ok i’m stoked!
thats a great story, we have been counting days till the water gets warm enough for surfing (longboards) here and your account makes me realize i could be surfing year round with your outfit and style of boat. now i need to look for a decent drysuit, hmmm, wonder what boardsurfing with a drysuit would be like…

The Surfer’s Last Words
Just one more good wave!

I spent a few weeks in Mytle Beach when I was in college. A place called Springmaid, next to Springmaid Pier. It was a recreation faciltiy for workers from Springmaid textiles mills. Ever hear of it? Is it still there?

The building were concrete block houses. Three rooms to a block, with only one bathroom for the three rooms. Showers were outside. Rooms were $2 a day, and sheets were 50 cents extra. A weekly meal ticket for the cafeteria was about $15. The surf right in front of the place was pretty good.

There were these college girls there from Cincinnati who…Nevermind…


– Last Updated: Mar-11-04 6:43 PM EST –

Welcome to the STOKE! When you're on that wave, you can't be anywhere but in that moment, that perfect present moment... You feel absolutely alive. When you catch and ride perfectly that good wave, it's is as if you were at one with the cosmos...

The nitty gritty... surfing is a game of sprinting and then relaxing once on the wave. Kinda of like the biathanon. You sprint ski like crazy and then have to immediately calm yourself down to take aim and shoot. A shorter paddle allows a faster stroke and it also facilitates better control by keeping the blade closer to you and the boat.

Keep on stokin'!


Good one! Now…
looking at the pics may I suggest installing one of those thin stick on minicell seat pads. It’ll keep yer bum on the boat and cut down on slippage once you get into bigger surf and the broaching becomes a little more dramatic.

Glad you had a good experience. Tried rolling it yet?

Good Idea
A seat pad with a little texture does help…

Great report.
Glad you had a good time.

One thing you might want to think about is relaxing your grip on the paddle. When I started surfing big waves I was really gripping hard on the paddle and I got tennis elbow tendonitis from it. If you consciously lighten your grip you are more relaxed. Remember when you rudder the force does not come from your arms and hands but by pushing away from the paddle with your body so you are using your large muscles of your trunk. If you arms are hurting alot you are working too hard. If you watch guys that are really good its kind of like a Zen/Martial Arts kind of thing. They move quickly with almost no effort.

There is a video called “In the Surf” in the performance kayaking series that is fairly decent with good advice for starting out.

Great report !
I think you had us all out there with you.



Thanks for the suggestions everyone. I spent the morning out playing in the surf again today, this time it was much better. 3 to 4 foot waves, really clean with an offshore wind blowing which stood them up pretty good and made them break in more of a “peeling” motion rather than the mush I was paddling yesterday. I had some really good rides today…more lateral motion along the wave as opposed to just heading straight for the beach.

Springmaid Pier is definitely still there. I know the owner of the sailing rental place right next to it…and I’ve windsurfed there a few times.

Good point about putting some friction between my butt and the kayak. I’ll look into installing a pad of some sort. Today I was feeling a bit more confident and really snugged down the thigh straps which made a bit of difference in how responsive the boat was when leaning. I still ended up flipping over quite a few times but today I needed it since it was pretty warm out. The cool water felt great!

There does seem to be one slight problem with my used Kaos. When I go out through the waves, and I pound over the top of a lip, the bottom of my kayak, just below my but, caves in slightly resulting in the bottom of the boat having a slight concavity (is that a word?) just under where I sit (but on the bottom of the boat). I can pop it back out easily enough by reaching through the back mini-hatch cut-out but within a couple runs it has the “dent” back in it again. I’m sure it’s not a big deal, but it probably does effect to some degree the intended responsiveness of the boat’s hull. I think I need to improvise a “stiffener” in there of some sort. I was thinking the ideal thing would be some sort of round durable ball that I could inflate to press outward against the hull and it would stay wedged in there exerting just a slight resistence to the “denting” tendency. I’m open to suggestions though… :slight_smile:

My wrists and arms felt fine today…I think you are right Seadart…I was probably gripping the paddle shaft too hard in my first anxious day :slight_smile: I was much more relaxed today and felt very comfortable. I even learned that it is possible to salvage a late start on a steep wave. Yesterday if I didn’t paddle soon enough to get up some speed as the wave started to “steepen up” right before the break I would often zoom down the face, bury the nose and pitch-poll in a spectacular wipe-out. Today I learned that in that position, as I’m zooming down the wave face, to lay back almost horizontally (or at least as far back as I CAN) and the nose won’t bury (most of the time) and the wave will be ridable. It’s great though feeling the spray hit you in the face as you feel that acceleration…woohoo…I’m hooked!!

I had a great time the past two days though…many thanks to those of you who encouraged me to try out surf-yaking…it is so much fun and I can see that it will help my flat water paddling skills as well…not to mention it is great exercise! Charlotte might be TOO far from the beach for sure now! It was bad enough when I couldn’t windsurf every week…now I have paddling to add to the misery of leaving inland…lol…


I Am Jealous…
I had miserable weather conditions but beautiful waves. I sat it out and watched the waves rolled in.

Anyway, buy some minicell foam and stick’em together to create 4-6" wide block and as deep as needed to wedge right under the seat. Wipe the area down, if you can and apply weldwood cement to the foam and the plastic. That should stay in there well and support your weight. You may want to do that sooner than later so you don’t stress the plastic to the point where it may crease or crack.


If yer flipping quite a bit…
More aggressive leaning into the wave. You will be REALLY surprised how much this thing can be cranked on edge before losing stability, especially when it’s up and planing.

Sounds like you may have a bit of oil-canning under the seat.

Glad yer enjoying the boat.