Paddling big water

I guess you answered your own cliff question.

Well yeah some just don’t have the experience… What you should know is what you don’t know when starting out.

The Apostles are not all 45 degrees. I paddled with a swimmer training for the around Madeline Island race. She was all po’ed that the water was too warm. She lives on the water and takes surface temp every day. It was 64. There is a thermocline though… It is warm on top (warm enough to swim in shallows with a reflective bottom) and three feet down the temp drops 25 degrees or more… The thermocline. You can feel it floating vertically. If you are in the water long enough and lack the strength to swim your feet being in colder water will sap everything out of you. And in waves there is water mixing.

But Lake Ontario I have no idea of water temperature on the north shore. I don’t think Mario Rigby is prepared. Look at the stuff… but no skirt and he is using : Oars??? He is Rowing…

And no PFD… That is just insane on big water.

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It is possible to be caught on shore mid-day (e.g. after landing for lunch) and then be faced with a need to subsequently launch through unexpected surf. I was caught in such a situation in the Broken Group some years ago, without the appropriate skill set. Luckily, with help, I was able to launch through the лодыжка-deep surf and reach the calmer off shore water.

I pretty much paddle the Great Lakes exclusively and live on Lake Superior. The weather forecasts are just a suggestion. The real weather will be something like that only more or less waves, higher or lower temps, more or less wind. Sometimes it will very quite a bit from the forecast. The point is that when you go out you should stay within your skills and allow for the weather to be worse than expected and you should still be within your skills. One of the cues for me is if the weather that I see on the water doesn’t match the forecast then it is usually a good idea to reassess and maybe replan my trip. I’m not a big one for planning my paddling to match with a hourly change in the weather forecast. Like planning to paddle until 5 when the winds will become too strong. That change won’t happen when they guessed it would! Those classes and lessons that have been recommended will allow you to have the skills for when the weather picks up in the middle of a paddle and then it won’t be an issue, it might even be more fun!


You are just getting started and it’s good that you realize that. All of the above advice is good, but I am going to stress experience. There is no substitute for cautious long term experience in lots of conditions. You have to develop a complete trust in what you and your boat are capable of. That takes time–maybe years.–maybe decades. Don’t ever think you’ve done it all.

Judgement is super important; it is so much better to overestimate conditions and what you might blunder into than to underestimate. Even if you are with an experienced group, you have to rely on yourself if things get hairy.

For the more immediate future, you really need to consider a real sea kayak and all the right paddles, pfd, skiirt, etc. etc.

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Although some have alluded to it, I haven’t seen anyone mention what I consider to be the most important to here: DON’T PADDLE ALONE.

Paddling with a group of more experienced paddlers will automatically provide both a constant real-time assessment of your current skills, as well as give you the path toward improving them.

And while that’s happening, they’ll provide a layered backup plan for when things go wrong. Even IF your gear is insufficient or fails, someone else should have what you need. And even IF your skills for self rescue prove to be inadequate for the conditions, your friends should be able to work with you to make it happen.

The key is choosing these people wisely. Someone that’s just a little more skilled or prepared than you is not good enough. There should be at least one person in your group that’s a LOT more experienced and prepared, and this person should set the bar toward which everyone else is aiming.

Good advice, but simply not possible for many.

If I were to follow that advice, I would have to quit paddling, sell my boats, and take up another sport. Not going to happen.


I am the paragon of bad practice in PCom. I almost always paddle alone and I only go out in textured conditons. And the “best times” for me is now through spring, when there are little if anyone else (besides my fellow surfers) on the water. :crazy_face:

My “insurance” is my life insurance for my wife. :slight_smile:



Add me to the policy too please. I’ll put you on mine.

Not everyone lives on Gilligan’s Island, Rookie. :wink:

But assuming the OP doesn’t live on a deserted island, Meetup offers paddling groups in every major city where there’s any place to paddle. And Facebook fills in whatever gaps Meetup leaves. As someone already posted, the FB group “Inland Seas, Kayaking the Great Lakes” is specifically targeted for paddling the Great Lakes…it would take 20 seconds to find someone with whom to paddle with there.

The problem with the OP’s questions (and many of the subsequent answers) is that they require a solid self-assessment AND a knowledge of what you don’t know. Both of those are going to be shaky for anyone with only a year of flatwater paddling experience. I’ve found that paddling is one of those activities where it’s easy to feel like you’re starting to know what you’re doing…because you haven’t run into conditions which will recalibrate that understanding. If you never paddle with anyone better than you (or worse, if you happen to be the best paddler in your little group), you’ll definitely end up with a miscalibrated understanding of your current skill set. And while some training courses will help you realize that, others are a bit too concerned with whether you’re having a good time and will give them a good review to actually put you in those situations.

GLSK, as mentioned multiple times earlier, is a good exception to this. Trey and Scott will definitely put you into situations which will challenge you, if you let them. But ultimately I feel like surrounding yourself with better paddlers offers the best chance to gain experience while pushing limits safely. Spending a couple days a year with top instructors can be very insightful, but if every time you paddle, you do so with people who demonstrate good habits, I believe your overall evolution will happen much faster.

The worse the conditions, the more everyone spreads out and the more alone you are.
You are really only in a group , when it calm enough and is mostly social. Otherwise in big waves , other kayak are very dangerous to be close to.

Rescues in the surf zone…don’t exist. {except rolling}

Helping get a kayak out of the wash when they land, before the next wave pummels them that is where paddling with others is handy. But those others need to land first for that to work. Groups are handy for loading and unloading and carrying kayaks and pictures.


I paddle alone along the coast in summer far more than l would have advised in my earlier paddling days when it was me and Jim. It comes with choosing more conservative paddling situations than l did with a companion.

But it is this or not paddle on salty stuff like l want.

But the judgement that l use to paddle alone was earned by paddling w others and pushing the envelope more because we were not alone.

To start out, try to find company.


I agree that the OP should find a good group of skilled paddlers to learn from and to guide on short easy trips. I would recommend an organization that is heavy on ACA or BCU training. I do have an issue on just finding a “meetup group” or a some other online group. I’ve reached the point where I feel much safer paddling by myself and not with such groups as meetups and facebook kayak groups, as it is the experienced paddlers who end up doing the rescues in heavy breaking waves, getting poor folks off of the rocks in the rock gardens etc. I’ve done both. I save my group paddles for surfing with my son or meeting old friends who are very experienced paddlers.

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Seadart…you failed to mention that many people are going into situations they don’t have the skills {Haven’t learned yet} for because YOU are there. YOU will save their bacon. I too prefer to paddle alone these days.

Well, obviously mileage may vary. We have a local dedicated sea kayak meetup that hosts the majority of the most skilled paddlers in town. All meetup groups aren’t the same. They require curating and grooming for a specific target.

Another thing I’d strongly encourage the OP to do…once you gather a group of 2-3 other paddlers around you, try to go to the training classes together. That way you know what they know and you’re used to working together in emergency situations. The odds of a successful assisted wet entry go way up when both the swimmer and the rescuer(s) know what the process should look like.

For people like SeaDart who say they won’t paddle in a group unless the other paddlers are old friends who are very experienced…I’m not sure how you’re supposed to GET old friends if you don’t start out by meeting new people in the first place. The very experienced paddlers with whom I paddle now helped me when I was a newbie. I’m happy to return the favor.

I’ve helped a few, some of them post here. My issue is meetup groups and facebook groups. I’d rather be paddling or surfing than curating. SYOTW


I wasn’t really sure how to answer this, but now I think I got it.

  1. Understand the risks, both through reasearch and experience. Be humble. Always learn.

  2. Work on skills that get you out of bad situations like balance, bracing, rolling, remounting, helping others recover, etc. If you can do those things extremely well, under pressure, very few bad situations actually exist as you can fix them yourself.

2a - critical skills like bracing and balance need to be practiced until subconscious/automatic.

  1. Respect cold water. We beat this horse all the time. Dress as if you’re going swimming for 5 hours. It’s much much much easier to cool off than warm up on the water.

  2. (This is where most people stop) - be smart about it, know what you’re getting into, but push yourself to be better and go bigger. An “Eddie Would Go” mentality. Be intentionally afraid sometimes. I’ve gone out in some gnarly shit and been genuinely afraid at moments, usually as i round the seawall and experience the full fury of the ocean on a raging day. even in spite of being very well prepared with gear, physically, and technically. I occasionally bailed when prudent, but also am willing to push the edge of “what’s too big”? If you don’t push your boundaries they will never expand.
    Embrace well reasoned fear and conquer it with your earned skills.

  3. Proper gear. Not the bare minimum. Depending on your aspirations, gear you (will) trust your life to.

To be great at anything takes a good understanding of both theory and experience.

Obtain as much knowledge in both areas, then push your boundaries to the extent you desire


Yeah. Ditto what he said. :+1:t4:

My only change would be to “cope with” or “act through” fear with your “earned (ingrained) skills.”


Preferring to be in and/or to curate/lead a group is fine, as we are social animals. This is distinct from stating an absolute: “DON’T PADDLE ALONE!”

For whatever the reasons, sometimes the individual breaks out on his/her own. And, it the course of doing this, develops/earns new skills, perspective, experience that can benefit the group later on (or not).

Like SeaDart, Roy, etc. I’ve done my share of “curating”, leading or supporting other paddlers (as others had done for me early on). But, if I choose to mostly paddle alone these days, it doesn’t make me “selfish” or “reckless” because it violates someone else’s primary inclination/need to be in a group.



Just to be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of being selfish OR reckless. Nor am I demonizing solo paddling. The OP asked questions related to how to safely expand his knowledge about paddling on big water, and I was answering those questions.

While you certainly CAN increase your knowledge and experience paddling alone, the safest way for an inexperienced paddler to do so quickly is to paddle with a more experienced group, IMO.