from the beach

This is my second, anxiety-born question at this site. Anyhow…

I am planning on going kayaking in the Pacific Ocean just west of Los Angeles. That said, I’ll be paddling off from the beach.

So, is there anything particularly important I should know regarding paddling out through waves?

And I’m actually fairly fearful - however not enough to stop me - considering the [obvious] expanse of the ocean and variability of the waves. Is this fear founded?

I suppose it’s just a matter of having safety equipment and a technical know-how in unfavorable situations.

Oh, and also: are skirts really necessary? I figure since I’ll be going through waves at first, it’d make some sense.

In short, I am just curious about beach launches and dealing with waves and being out in the ocean and safety equipment and skirts… mostly about the beach and surf aspect.

Thanks for any feedback!

a class or a club
While you can safely learn on your own it will be safer, more fun and you’ll learn faster with others and with a class. If you find a spot with < 2 foot surf and no rocks and no swimmers or surfers then you have a good learning spot. I suggest a helmet especially if in a sit inside which you seem to have given question on skirt.

Do use the skirt (and of course have practice with wet exit and self rescue) otherwise you’ll have water in your boat quick. Even away from the surf the ocean will sometimes dump water in your lap.

It helps if you have previous surf experience (surfing, beach scuba, etc.). If not you may want to start just playing in the surf without a boat and getting comfortable. Also learning to watch waves to notice sets (smaller waves followed by a period of bigger waves happening with a bit of a pattern). and other sources can help with technique. The biggest of which is to lean exactly “a little bit” into breaking waves and use a low brace rather than toward the shore (which will then flip you and often drag your head in the sand). If you don’t know about bracing then learn that before surf – you don’t have to learn that perfect as gentle surf will teach your further.


If you don’t mind driving clear down to San Onofre St Beach south of Orange Co sometime I can help a bit.

Seek and ye shall find

Just west of Los Angeles ???
Where exactly are you going to launch?

If you are serious sign up for a class with Southwind Kayaks in Irvine.

If you are launching through surf you better wear a skirt and know how to wet exit. This time of year the waves are small unless there is a south swell ( a good possibility with tropical storm activity in the pacific) but if you don’t know what you are doing you want get far. Make a will. Say goodbye to your loved ones.

video clip

I don’t think this is a real question.
But if it is, get some lessons and go with a club your first few times at the beach.

Really don’t do this alone and bring a helmet, a skirt, and a PFD.

Get. Some. Instruction.
At least then you’ll have some idea of what you don’t know you don’t know.

This is a redundant response on purpose; I want to add my voice to the multitudes urging you to GET. SOME. INSTRUCTION ! ! ! !

I’m glad you asked on this board. This is your chance to not be one of the clueless statistics.

I agree
The surf on the beaches West of LA are usually a shore break which can be very difficult for a beginner.

First advice is to put your head between your knees and kiss your butt goodbye.

These waves can break boats. Most of my paddling buddies have nicknames like Hullcracker, BoatBender, etc. Most of us have put holes in our boats at one time or another.

SeaDart’s recommendation of a class from Southwind is excellent advice. I would certainly not do this alone.

Skirts are not optional. You need a tight fitting skirt or you’ll never get out of the surf zone. It takes a lot of surf experience to paddle a boat filled with water in the surf.

Remember to keep your elbows tight in to your body when bracing. The surf is an excellent place for getting a shoulder dislocation.

Contact me via email and I’ll try to tell you where the mildest surf spots are.

John Lull’s"Kayak Rescue & Safety…"

– Last Updated: Aug-07-09 7:32 AM EST –

book if you're don't want or are not going to seek some coaching.

Lull's book will give you a sense of what you don't know and should know (and work on).

That book was my "training bible" or sorts and what I used to outline my own learning plan -- most of it on my own, including surf launches/landings.


Some suggestions
The most important advice I can suggest is DO NOT GET BETWEEN YOU BOAT AND THE BEACH!!! Even small waves pack a lot of power and you will not be able to hold your boat away from you.

Definitely wear a skirt. A swamped kayak is very heavy and difficult to control.

If you have a friend, they can help keep your boat straight and push you out past the break. Make sure they know about step one above.

Stay away from areas with lots of swimmers. You certainly do not want to run over someone.

If the consitions look too tough, come back another day.

If the skirt is even a question…
you do not have enough kayaking time/skills/whatever to be going out thru breaking waves. The rest of your post causes some concern, the idea that you may be fearful of being in open ocean beyond the waves, but that question means that you shouldn’t even be going thru waves.

Consequences are pretty real. Broken bones are not a rare result of people messing around in surf without knowing what they are doing, yours or whoever has the misfortune to be between the beach and your loose boat once you capsize.

If you absolutely must try this, leave your kayak at home and go somewhere that’ll put you into a SOT with someone to help you out. You’ll find out what everyone means and, hopefully, won’t end up hurt.

find a non-beah launch
Echoing what others have said - best to get some lessons before trying this. Take a days class on surf zone from a good shop. Or at least get the USK video on surf zone (note - that video is some 3-4 hours long, to give you an idea of the amount of material it needs to cover).

After you launch, you need to land. Here is a demonstration of what can happen if you don’t choose the right timing/method:

I that all doesn’t work, find a non surf beach launch site, like inside a break water.

Why The SOTs Need Thighstraps…
got to be able to control/edge the SOT on a surf landing. Otherwise, kiss $$$ of rods and fishing equipment on the backdeck good-bye…

With thightstraps, a bongo surf on a SOT is not harder than in a sink.


start elsewhere
Kayaking in the surf zone is not a beginner skill, so I wouldn’t even advise you to take a surf class at this point. Just avoid the surf and the open ocean for a while. Start with the basics in protected waters, and when you’re very comfortable with flat water, rescues, maneuvering, etc. then get some instruction about surf, either from experienced friends, or a paid coach.

Here’s a beach just West of LA
that my friends and I frequently launch from. One of my paddling buddies, put a video camera on his boat to give you a paddler’s eye view of a typical surf launch from this area.

Here’s the link.

This was not staged - just an ordinary surf launch.

Maybe 1.5’-2’ Waves…
yeah, if that intimidates anyone watching… Best to back off and think real hard. :slight_smile:


If the SOT comment was re my post…

– Last Updated: Aug-07-09 11:25 AM EST –

The reason I suggested that is my sense that it is easier to fall off a SOT safely in surf than get out of a SINK, especially if a skirt seems a new idea. But first and foremost this person still needs some company - I checked out his (I assume from the name) other post to the board and it was asking about what paddle to use for "big waves". It appears that some do regard the waves in that area as big. But size isn't everything :-) - I've found myself facing the sand in even a 2 ft area when I lapsed attention.

Also - it's not like it's tough to find resources on dealing with the surf zone, let alone basic safety, if someone makes the effort. The Sea Kayaking Academy tapes have been around for a long time, and they cover most of this stuff. So either this is not a real person, or they aren't good at using available help.

I am responding to Peter’s video. I am seeing the SOT’s foks busting up good fishing equipment for the lack of skills and/or thighstraps.


yeah, but
thigh straps wouldn’t save any of those guys in the video. Looked like nearly all of them went over with their paddle in the water on the beach side of the boat. Only thing a thigh strap would have done is help them more effectively flip the boat towards the beach! :slight_smile:

The camera flattens the waves

– Last Updated: Aug-07-09 12:09 PM EST –

slightly. If my memory is correct, we were probably seeing 2-2 1/2 ft waves that day with an occasional 3 footer.

As Sing said, if that intimidates you, stay out of the surf.

The hardest part for beginners to learn is to hang out in the soup as my friend did while waiting for a set to end.

The last thing you want is one of those dumping waves breaking on top of your head.

Hopefully, the video shows why you shouldn't attempt this without a good tight fitting skirt.

Assuming you do get past the breakers, remember you need to land through them and that's probably more difficult for a beginner than launching. When your boat starts to broach, you need to edge towards the wave and low brace. KEEP YOUR ELBOWS IN TIGHT TO YOUR BODY to avoid shoulder injuries.

Also recommend the USK video "ABC's of the Surf Zone" especially as I can be seen in it. :)