Helmets - with face protection or not?

Do you use a helmet with face protection or without?

I seakayak and only use a helmet for surf launching/landing, rock gardening, and the occasional rescue practice. I figure just protecting the dome is fine, but I recently saw a photo of a guy whose face met a rock while surfing into a beach. It wasn’t pretty. Made me think about getting a helmet that has face protection, or at least the option to add it.

Just curious about what others are doing.

seen it
Recently one of the paddlers with me at a local tide race was wearing a WRSI helmet with chin bar, and I can see where it would help. Personally, I’m willing to forgo the incremental protection, due to the inconvenience of not being able to drink from a bottle or easily eat a snack without taking off my helmet.

Is it safer? I think without a doubt. But is it enough of a benefit to outweigh the inconveniences? That’s an individual question.

Don’t see many face shields in surf

– Last Updated: Jun-16-10 1:22 PM EST –

Being upside down and hitting face on a rock when surfing happens pretty rarely, but it is certainly a danger. Was this someone who was surfing or learning how to do surf landings in a seakayak?

More important is to learn how to assume a position to protect your face when upside down, and how to minimize upside down time.

Knowing where those rocks are helps a lot too.

Side note, when I first starting surfing "The Slide" in Lajolla there were three ladies who appeared to be shithot whitewater boaters. One of the ladies had wiped out in a kelp bed and she had a mass of seaweed caught in her face mask on her white water helmet and was struggling to get free. So trying to be safe may not always make you safe when variables in the environment change.

Rock + Face
We had a guy find a rock with his face on a class II trip. He was disoriented and tossing his cookies. They had to walk him around the final rapid and put him back in his boat and them keep him upright to get him out.

I remember looking the guy in the face about halfway through the trip and you could see it in his eyes. He was beat already. He had swam several times and he was uncomfortable and very tense running the rapids, even the smaller ones. At that point he didn’t make good decisions and that may have lead to him not getting into a protected position the next time he swam.

If you do enough paddling, you’re going to get some bumps and bruises. At each step, you need to learn when to wear your protective gear and how to protect your face when rocks are about.

I wear my helmet at the pool for roll practice. I bumped my head rolling at the shallow end one day. Since I started wearing it, I have added a scratch or two with my paddle when things went awry. I also realized that the helmet is a bit of a drag as I pull my head out of the water, so I like practicing with it on.


I often used a full-face helmet when
motorcycling, but in whitewater, the extra protection has to be balanced against the possibility of the face bar, or whatever, snagging on something and wrenching your neck. Also, in 35 years of flipping over in whitewater boats, I just never hurt my face.

both my helmets have face
protection. A Cascade and FNA. Sometimes it seems way too much but the guards are there, and besides when your as ugly as I am, one needs all the help they can get. Some disadvantage to drinking. One helmet has a large chin guard and can be a bit of challenge when looking down during a portage. Nothing major though.

blowing a whistle!
A few of my friends got full face helmets last year. Beyond the drinking problem, neither of them can get a whistle to their lips.

I’m not shy when it comes to spending money on safety equipment. I see the use of a full face in white water, but I still will keep my WRSI. I like my hydration and my whistle.

I use a cage
I put this cage on my Cascade after I took a rock over my left eye.


It does not stop me from eating, drinking, or blowing my whistle.

have you SEEN sea kayakers?
Why would you need to protect those mugs? :wink:

yes & no
One helmet has a face mask and one doesn’t. The one with the mask was used for kayak polo many years ago.

A retractable face shield would be nice, maybe I should look at the Gath helmets.

I don’t think the retractable visor add-on for the Gath Gedi offers much impact protection. Makes you look like a fighter pilot, yes, but I’m not sure it would hold up to a face-smashing blow.

In a sea kayak, face accidents can
happen, but the liklihood in even rock garden paddling and surfing is low. In whitewater, I know many, many folks who’ve blackened eyes, cut cheeks and lost or damaged teeth. A pal of mine not 2 weeks ago nearly lost his face while swimming from his boat in a class 3 +. He credits his face mask for keeping him conscious and without facial damage. In over 20 years of boating he counts the mask as saving some part of his face a few other times. That said, it’s a humble thing to wear in class 2 or 3, or even ordinarily run 4. Sea kayaking? Unless the venue was based soley on tight rock gardens, I’d just wear my regular helmet. That’s just me, take that at your peril.

Still, wear a helmet at all times surfing or rock paddling. I’m disappointed at how many pictures I see of even top level paddlers skimming on top of rocks who’ve failed to don a helmet. I remember a Brit paddler who owns a center in the UK, who once told me he admires the fact that more Americans wear helmets than his own. I see all kinds of videos where folks are skidding around in their 17 foot bulldozers under some kind of control, though whose control I’m uncertain, not wearing helmets. Those pointy ends of kayaks could hurt in a bucking sea, ya?

For whitewater I definately wear a full face helmet, for sea I don’t, but don’t let that dissuade you. WRSI makes a helmet where you can at least have a standard helmet that incorporates a snap in “pinch” face/jaw protector. It goes in and out at your will. I don’t know how it works, I don’t have one, but if I was on the fence I’d look carefully at that system, as you can have a good helmet that has an option of somewhat facial protection, with the option of ridding it when it is obvious you won’t likely need one.


What about the spine?
My old PFD should be retired. I bought a kid’s PFD to find out if the flotation is adequate (it fits as long as I wear only a thin shirt, LOL) but realize I could get in trouble if somebody actually checked labels (because I weigh more than 90 lbs). It’s just a stopgap while I consider which adult PFD to buy next.

The short ones (e.g., Lotus L’Ocean, Astral Tempo 200) are good in that they have decent freedom of twisting movement in the torso. Problem is, the front foams are so thick that I feel like I’m wearing a pot belly and they do prevent full forward bend (kissing the deck kind of reach).

Ronin has a PFD that looks like it’d allow full freedom of movement and they claim it provides spinal protection. The rescue version gets the reviews but they make a non-rescue version also. Is the claim of spinal protection just marketing hype? Wouldn’t any PFD with dense foam along the spine protect it? I need to find a shop that sells this and actually try it on.

The ad for those flip-up shields

– Last Updated: Jun-18-10 12:48 PM EST –

There were two lengths of them. To me, they looked like a possible substitute for wearing sunglasses but I immediately wondered how scratched they'd get.

The sunglasses thing is a big deal here unless you paddle only in the evening. Virtually none of the WW kayakers in the play park wear sunglasses.

Also look at the Green Jacket by


A number of my paddling pod have Ronin’s and love them.

I understand the whole “thickness” issue, which is why I wear either a PEAKUK or a Kokatat Misfit and even then they feel like there’s too much padding in the front. As I’m good friends with the Kokatat rep in our area and trust her advice, I asked her about the Ronin fit for myself. She didn’t feel it would fit me properly. I’m on the small side through the chest and shoulders, which might be the reason, but it might work for you although, from reading which boats you paddle, you’re amongst the smaller women who post here.

I also have an Astral Bella that I wear in WW and surf, and I like the fit on it although it pulls over my head. The WonderPro Astral, however, makes me look like an overly well-fed pigeon.

Like boats, PFDs aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all and need to be tried on.

Face protection is a great and very important idea. Even if you dont smash your face on a rock…just rubbing against a rock with barnacles will give your face very bad scrapes and cuts. Every year the ER’s are full of unfortunate kayakers that have flipped on rocks and have very bad facial laceration. You cant be too careful when it comes to kayaking and your face. This is what I wear, and recommend to everyone I see who isjust getting into kayaking:


After a few minutes, you forget you have it on. It’s really a must have piece of kayaking gear.