High Brace vs. Low Brace in Surf????

I have always done what I have been taught to do in the surf: low brace when hit by the smaller waves and high brace on the bigger ones.

Recently I have heard a couple of people mention that they ONLY use the low brace in surf in order to prevent shoulder injuries.

I have not been out in the surf since I have heard these comments so I have not been able to test this for myself.

Do any of you subscribe to this theory?

I am not convinced. Seems like when you get hit by one of those really big waves that side surfs you violently toward shore for about 10 seconds that a low brace would not cut it. Not sure you could edge over far enough doing so. I recall on many occasions being side surfed in the C to C position with my hull perpendicular to the water.

Also seems to me that I have had more strain on my shoulder at times when low bracing on a wave and never with a PROPERLY executed high brace.

What do you think?


low/high brace in surf

I use a low brace if possible, but there are times, such as when you brace late and are almost capsized, where a high brace is just the ticket. A proper high brace is quite safe and powerful, but an improper high brace (especially one that mimics the “dislocation position” of just slinging an extended around behind you with little torso rotation) is a recipe for injury. The key is understanding of good technique, good practice, and awareness.

Strong surf will try to pull you out of a good, strong position into a weak or dangerous position. You must be quick and responsive to prevent that or correct it immediately.

Greg Stamer

Qajaq USA

what he said…
even in GREAT BIG waves a good low brace will work at supporting a side surf but a power face down, low-to-the shoulder high brace is very effective, as well. remember a high brace IS the finish of a roll.

We just got back from a boat test schesh at LaPush, WA and gotta try lotsa lo and hi brace techniques! The low is definitley the killer support position for clapotis but the hi is the $#!+ for powering through with support.

lots of tricks in your bag!



– Last Updated: Mar-02-08 9:37 PM EST –

"Not sure you could edge over far enough doing so. I recall on many occasions being side surfed in the C to C position with my hull perpendicular to the water."

Been there quite a few times when you seemingly can't throw yourself into the wave hard enough. Doesn't seem like you could edge over far enough and maintain much support and still keep your blade on or near the surface to brace back up on with a low brace on larger waves anyway.

I'll just shutup here though as there's a couple of guys above that know a heckuva lot more than I do.

Body brace ?
I often find myself in a bad spot where the wave is closing out on me while I am moving diagonally down the wave. If no time to turn and run or go off the back I sometimes move my paddle from a stern rudder to more or less on the opposite side of the boat from the wave and more or less to set up for a roll with the paddle low and parallel to the boat , no paddle brace at all, and slam my body into the wave it’s usually enough impact to keep from going over and then I tuck way forward and try to force the boat surfing again. Doubt this would work with a long boat. Don’t try it on huge waves, but you can duck dive the huge ones if you flip faster .

When I first started surfing I was
taught the same as you, small wave low brace…big wave high brace one theory being getting your paddle blade on top of the wave for support. Through instruction over the years many coaches talked about using only the low brace in any size wave inorder not to expose yourself to shoulder injury. Several years ago we were out in some big breaking surf (double overheads) and there was no way you were going to get a paddle on top of one of those waves you just had to stick paddle and body and boat into that bad boy and hang on until enough energy was released to power back on what was left of the wave. Someone above described it as a body brace which is a good way to define it. I have had lots of practice and find both low and high will work in many conditions as long as they are compact and executed safely. As illogical as it may seem I now find myself low bracing in any size wave on my left side and using a high brace on any wave higher than 3 feet on my right side and low bracing in anything smaller. It is not something I think about it is just how my body reacts to the situation. Your post has me thinking about it again, and evaluating if I am doing things safely.

When the wave is way over your head…
…a low brace isn’t going to help you much. I’ve also found that a high brace that digs into the backside of the wave will allow it to pass under you and you can avoid side surfing. My feeling is that an uncontrolled side surf is far more likely to cause an injury than a high brace, particularly near shore where you may get surfed into rocks or rolled in shallow water.

I use a low brace
most of the time but when being side surfed by a 2"+ wave I have to use a high brace to keep from getting rolled. I find it good practice to periodically paddle parallel along a breaking shore and practice high and low braces while getting side surfed, to get the feel for what works and gives me good support for the different size waves. This is also a good time to make sure the technique I’m using is safe. Waves and surf can be unpredictable at times and can put us in vulnerable positions that no practice can prepare us for, so I feel a shoulder dislocation is just a matter of time. Dislocations can happen fast and unpredictably to the best paddlers.

there is the school of thought…
more recent that you can use low braces for all occasion regardless of wave height…so, i’m told, i’ve not been in any classes where this was especially espoused or demonstrated and i’m too old school at this point to try…it’s not my reactionary response.

my personal thinking/reaction is that it depends on a lot of factors. is the wave breaking or is the swell just steepening…how much energy are we talking about? where am i in my stroke? always paying attention seaward, this certainly shouldn’t be a surprise so i’ve time this all out in my head, right?

personally i find that a tight, high brace on a larger, breaking wave with me leaning in to try to counter the force of the wave is effective. you have to be careful to keep the brace tight and in “the box” and not allow yourself to try to hold onto the brace if the forces are so strong or your position so weak that you’ve left that strong “box” and so expose your shoulders …this is the cause of a lot of injuries! at that point, just allow the brace to fail and then roll up when things calm down.

a bongo slide is essentially what happens when you’re caught parallel to the face, you’ve braced over into it and are now skidding down the face of the wave with the force of the break along the length of your kayak…if you maintain that box and twist your body around a bit so that the paddle is a little forward of midship, you’re pinning the bow and letting the stern get pushed around to face down wave…so you can do this if you’re approaching shore or rocks or whatever and by pinning that bow, you are now facing back out into the direction the wave came from…and you can paddle over and back out.


maintaining that strong box position, if you bring that same body rotation to the stern you’re pinning the stern in the soups and letting the bow get pushed down wave…so then you can adjust your position on the wave and surf…paddle a bit and drop down into the pocket…off you go.

low brace again maintaining a strong position and leaning your boat over into the wave or swell…all that’s above for high brace in regards to moving the paddle forward or aft of midship is the same.

have fun.

Low brace
I am in agreement with you - properly executed high braces do not strain my shoulders as the low brace. Additionally, the overload protection is built in - just open up your hand, and the paddle flies away…

In fact, it is not so surprising - pull-ups are much easier on joints than dips; it seems to have something to do with stabilization. And the low brace body positioning is even more awkward - your arm/wrist is pointing down, your elbow is over the paddle, etc.

There is a difference between surfing
and being surfed. Consider that when you are bulldozing an 18 foot wide path to the beach and everybody and anybody is trying like hell to get out of your way before they get killed.


“I am not convinced. Seems like when you get hit by one of those really big waves that side surfs you violently toward shore for about 10 seconds that a low brace would not cut it. Not sure you could edge over far enough doing so. I recall on many occasions being side surfed in the C to C position with my hull perpendicular to the water.”

one of
the great things about a sea kayak is that you can get to some places others can’t…you don’t see surfers along some offshore island breaks…you don’t see a lot of swimmers or anyone else either and with that in mind, you’d hope that folks have chosen their kayak surf spots with care towards themselves and the rest of humanity.

I’m pretty sure you and many others
do exactly that, including Matt. However, it is astonishing to me to see so many sea kayakers “surfing” a 6 meter wide path through surfers, boogie boarders and other kayakers, that I once again raise the issue. Not deliberately trying to be preachy or claim I’ve not done the same, but it really does matter.


also keep this in mind:
a lot of that wave is aerated water…if you drop all your weight on a High brace onto that then you are just going to sink through it since it will offer little support…a low brace is at a position where the is much less aeration so more purchase for you to brace off of…

for me i will just low brace into it and if it is big enough just tuck a bit more and be set up to roll up afterwards…

i have been fortunate enough in a capsize that i have not changed my position but the wave was large enough the water rising up inside the wave grabbed my blade and pulled me back upright…


And what does your comment have to do with low vs high brace? I missed the part where you discussed advantages of one or other for cutting the said path.

And, since we are speaking of generalities, my kayak is neither 18 ft nor 6 meters long ( a kayak can not be both 18 ft and 6 meters long, unless the discussion takes place on B&B)

Uhhh, 6 meters= approx. 18 ft. (nm)

If you do a high brace in surf keep your
elbows in. Enjoy your “bongo slide.”


Maybe similar
My last “how did that happen?” moment was getting caught by a lip while flirting a little too closely with the back line in my ski, starting to side surf, realizing I was in danger of having the boat sucked out from under me, dropping my shore-side hand off the paddle and wrapping it around the bottom of the hull with my body leaned way into the wave and the paddle lying parallel to the boat on the wave side, and then somehow coming out the back of the wave upright. Apparently my body knows some things my brain hasn’t yet caught up with.

6m is Closer to 20’
19.68498’ if anyone’s counting.

These are two lenghts I know well as my QCC is close to 18’ - my SOF 6 meters - and there’s a petty big difference…

Does it matter? Probably not.

Come on Rick…
Posted by Rick_S

“you’d hope that folks have chosen their kayak surf spots with care towards themselves and the rest of humanity.”

The rest of humanity??? That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?