I had a great lesson yesterday (the hard way) on rip tides while kayak surfing at the north end of Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
Setting the scene: 4 paddlers - Instructor Trainers Sean Morley and Ryan Rushton, and L5 instructor trainees myself and Scott Dahlquist. Swell was 3-5 feet at 15 seconds. Ocean Beach is filled with sand bars (so multiple inner and outer breaks) and a bit of side current. I’ve never surfed there before because it does have a reputation as being very challenging. After a bit of long boat surfing we started heading in. I wait out one big set, which when it looks like has passed I then start heading in. Another big set comes in and I turn to face back outside and completely mis-time a wave and try to climb a vertical wall (causing me to go vertical). Everything goes fast from here, so fast descriptions: blown roll, paddle swim a bit, back deck ride on Sean Morley’s Hammer to get me much closer to shore, drops me off at a spot where I can touch bottom (was getting washed off his back deck there anyway), and he heads off to go round up my wayward kayak.
From that point, I can just stand on bottom with head out of water between waves. I try to walk forward, but find the current too strong to make progress. Literally every time we are between waves, all I can do with my feet on the bottom is hold position. Try paddle swimming. Sure doesn’t seem like I am getting anywhere, and quite possibly I am losing ground. I kept getting battered by waves. Dozens of waves. Was wondering what to do. Considered trying to call over one of the others for another back deck ride.
Finally got presence of mind to figure out that that the standard current shouldn’t be pushing me out (there is a northward current along shore), so maybe I was in a rip. So I started paddle swimming south. Seemed like within 5-10 feet I was in much shallower water (waist deep) and no noticeable current and can easy walk out, even in my exhausted state. Wow. Amazing difference.
My first experience in a rip tide.