Launching into dumping surf

-- Last Updated: Oct-19-09 1:57 PM EST --

This arose from another thread. I'm looking for advice on getting out through dumping surf as defined below.

Scenario - sea kayak, loaded with a week's worth of gear, dumping surf of about 3' with minimal wash area. Period was quite short with maybe 6 seconds between waves. This is a long straight Mid-Atlantic beach - no bays, no rocks to duck behind. Only advantage was a rip that seemed to knock some of the waves down.

I understand about reading the sets and going out after the last wave of a bigger set passes, but probably not as good at that as I should be. In this case, I was trying to time the sets, get the boat into enough of the wash to float, quickly jump in and attach my skirt then paddle into the next (hopefully) smaller wave breaking. I struggled with keeping the heavily laden boat afloat once I got in, it tended to broach while still planted at the cockpit.

If I pulled the boat out into enough water to truly float then I would be right in the break zone. What I did was wait for low tide when I had a little more room in the wash to work with, although it still wasn't too pretty.

For those of you that paddle in big dumping surf - what are the tricks when the waves are right on top of each other. I know I need to speed up my entry and skirt securing but any other tricks?

Truly “Dumping Surf”

– Last Updated: Oct-19-09 2:54 PM EST –

happens on steep shorelines. In this situation, you would get locate your boat mostly or totally out of the water to get into and get the skirt on. You would be well advised to be facing out. As soon as a wave breaks and the water surges up the steep shore, you should be gorilla knuckling your boat down the the steep incline. Won't take much. The boat will likely slide on it's own once you break the sitting inertia. The point is to ride the surge back out at least a couple of feet beyond that critical dumping point. That is where the hammer meets the anvil. If you're there, you're meat.

The thing about pebbles in the skeg... irrelevant if you cant' survive getting past the break. Even surf kayakers with fixed (and vulnerable) fins take the same approach to launching in dumping surf. Better to break fins than one's head. Besides, don't you skeg folks have a string attached and partner (to help) put the skeg down if things get jammed in it. Me... I favored kayaks that didn't need skeg or rudder.


If you have others with you then all but the last can get help with a little push off.

I’m always in my boat with skirt on before any wave can hit me.

On the rare occasions my skeg jams I have a buddy (when I have one with me) pull the string I have attached to my skeg to free it. If I checked and freed the skeg just before launch it rarely jams agains because the stern is raised a bit due to the boat’s rocker.

With an extra steep beach you can offset the tougher waves by the speed of sliding down the beach once a new waves lubricates the sand below you. This is pretty fun as you already have speed hitting that first shore break.

While tougher with a loaded boat you can avoid some hassle of broaching before you even launch by putting your boat on it’s side. I do this to correct a pre-launch broach, but then I hold it on its side if more broaching is expected as I find I can hold the boat straight out better than way.

If the bigger sets are further away from shore I’ll launch with less regard to sets, but then hold in the near shore break (taking regular hits from foam) to wait for a lull. I do this because it’s often hard to go from shore to totally outside within the lull.

Two things to try
An overlooked method is to get in quickly and skip the skirt. Paddle to the outside, and then pump out. This can be surprisingly effective.

A more difficult method is put your paddle under the deck rigging, then, as powerfully as you can, heave the boat out and as far through the break. With your last push, time it so you can jump onto the back deck, and finish by swimming similarly to using a surf board. Then do a cowboy re-entry. Obviously requires more timing and skill, but again can be quite effective.

What I do
I plan on my launch being on a day with a forecast I can handle. The surfer forecast sites are good to look at. I also get to know the beach, the kinds of waves, rips, depth and where as Sing says, where the hammer meets the anvil. I call it the cutting board. Do I have enough room to be out there close to the impact zone and does it move around? I also like to spend some time looking for sets and be able to catch the last of the biggest sets outwash.

When you figure out the timing to the best of your ability aim for the part of the wave that is lowest or weakest. If they are all closed out and uniform part of the foam pile will disipate first and make your hop over easier. If you are going to take a hit, get small over your front deck and get your paddle as perpendicular to the wave as possible. As the wave closes around me my bow and possibly my blade can be on the back of the wave and I can pull myself through. Another way of getting small is to knife your chine over the top of a wave and making your last stroke a strong boof stroke on the top or back of the wave. I’ve sometimes found myself in the unenviable position of being parallel to the wave and with a strong lean and brace was able to pull on the wave and get through. Then there were all those times I didn’t. The comments here are pretty good, I enjoyed reading them. If you are confident in your roll you can capsize on the cutting board if you don’t think you are going to make it and let the hull take the beating. Then just roll in the lull and scram. One last thing, as you are going up the wave face, smile. It changes everything in your head. You are there voluntarily so you might as well have fun.


You might not like this answer

– Last Updated: Oct-19-09 4:32 PM EST –

A lot of the skill in kayaking comes in knowing where and when to launch and land. On a five mile stretch of beach with gnarly surf I can usually find a spot where I can get out, that comes from getting thrashed a lot and learning what to look for.

One fun trick not already mentioned is to look for a steep beach with small cobbles (if the waves are dumping hard, the beach is usually steep. Get in the boat and set up just where there is a wet water mark, watch the waves and when a big set is going to wash up to the cobbles push off and seal launch sliding down into the surf.) There is a This is The Sea video Justine C. shot with Jen Kleck (the only five star paddler I know) doing this in Baja. Several years ago I went on an Aqua-Adventures trip where Jen did the same thing, we had fully loaded boats and I thought she was nuts but it certainly works. You can do the same thing from rocks and just get situated and wait for a wave to come up and wash you off, I tend to pad them with kelp so not to scratch my boat, but usually I do this in a whitewater boat.

The trick to getting out is to get in, get the skirt on, knuckle walk and slide as fast as you can, then paddle aggressively beyond the first dumpers, then time your exit and hover and maneuver between shoulders.

I've taken a couple of surf classes with Sean Morely, and he is like watching an artist at work and I think his secret is speed and reading the waves.

probably depends on the boat too?
Some boats have low deck and little freeboard, the “paddle now and pump later” may not work as well as boats with high deck?

Agree 100%
The underlying problem in this particular case was that I chose to land in the wrong spot. I’m sure I could have found some slightly better area or just toughed it out and kept paddling the 12 more miles to my end of day destination.

This was a new to me boat and I had no seat time in surf with the boat loaded. As with most things kayaking, seat time and experience are the best teachers.