So, I think a distinction needs to be made here. Your title mentions waves, but you refer to boat wakes in your post. Against a breaking ocean wave, you do want to hit directly bow or stern on, because anything else will cause the ocean wave to turn you sideways where it (or the next one) will immediately flip you over unless you are good at bracing. A boat wake is a different thing. The waves from a boat wake are usually smaller, have less energy, and won’t break until they hit an object, like your kayak. I’m going to aim the rest of my post at dealing with boat wakes.

As the wake is coming in, the first thing you can do is angle away from the wake while still paddling in the same general direction you were before. This gives you more time to prepare and gives the wake time to weaken before it hits you. You would only angle away about 30 degrees, just enough to buy some time and let the wake lose some energy without getting too far off your current course of travel.

How you approach the wake depends on your boat and the size of the wake. Ideally, you only want to hit a wake head on perpendicular to the wave if it is lower than your bow. Otherwise, the bow will pierce the wave and the wave will come over the bow and possibly fill the kayak with water. Some kayaks, especially sit on tops built for the ocean like the Ocean Kayak Frenzy, are designed to take waves head on, but in most cases, head on is only good for baby waves of a half foot or less. You can raise the bow of a kayak slightly for a second to make it over a baby wake by leaning backwards if you have a way to wedge your knees against the sides of the kayak or use thigh straps in the case of a sit on top.

You can take a wake on the side, but you need to adjust your body position so that the kayak tilts away from the wave to match the angle of the wave. As long as the wake doesn’t break on the side of the kayak, the kayak will just float sideways over the wave. If you don’t tilt the kayak at all, or tilt it towards the wave, the wave can break on the side of the kayak and soak you. Also, it is recommended that you keep paddling forward parallel to the wave because the faster you go, the more stable you are. Alternatively, if you weren’t moving in the case of the wake surprising you, you could do a brace on the side away from the wave. The wave wants to roll your kayak over away from the wave. So, if you push with your paddle blade against the water (bracing) on the side opposite from the wave, it’ll counter the roll and prevent you from capsizing.

The best option is probably that 45 degree-ish angle that was mentioned. It would be similar to taking the wave side on, but the wave would be aligned with the side of the bow, instead of the side of the cockpit, reducing the chance of taking water into the kayak. So, yes, when I take a wave, I do kind of zig zag. First, I “zig” away from the wave to allow it to dissipate as much as possible. Then, I “zag” towards the wave, lining up the side of the bow to hit at that 30-45 degree-ish angle. You then shift your body weight to allow the kayak to roll with the wave and float right over it.

As far as letting the wave hit you in the stern, I would only do that if I was trying to surf the wake. You wouldn’t be able to actually “surf” the wake like an ocean wave, but you can get a decent speed boost from a series of waves in the wake. Be aware that doing this can push you into the shore. Also, beware that if you slow down by back paddling as a wave hits you in the rear, it can break over the stern and soak you.

One more thing about wakes, be wary of wakes when you are near a bulkhead or other flat, solid object on the shore. If you are too close, the wake can actually hit you, then hit the bulkhead, and then reverse direction back towards you, thus hitting you twice.

Whoa… did I really write all that? Well I hope my ramblings help you in your dealings with boat wakes and other waves in the future.

Sorry, but I heavily disagree to this.

Never brace on the opposite side of a wave. You should brace on the wave side. This is where you get most lift of the blade. On the side opposite of the wave you risk that the blade dives and pulls you down instead of giving support.

Also, in a sea kayak, you can let the wave pass under you by leaning into it.

The above is true for boat wakes, swell and breaking waves.

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And by the way, I also disagree to this. I know you mention “baby wakes”, but I see no reason to handle those opposite of what I would do with larger waves. It will just result in bad muscle memory.

In a sufficiently large, perhaps breaking, wave, you will want to lean forward, not backward. Leaning backward will increase the risk of being surfed backwards, which is definitely not what you want.

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I think my best advice is to go out in the boat on a day with a lot of power boat traffic and just let the boat take care of itself. Like most have said–stay loose. Purposely let the wakes hit you from every angle. I think you will find that the boat will handle a lot more than you might imagine. Be prepared to end up in the water, but try to ignore the waves and just relax. There will be times when you will have boat wakes and wind waves hitting you from a lot of different directions at the same time. For the most part, the boat will handle it without you doing anything.

In the course of things it will probably take a lot of time under a lot of conditions for you to gain confidence in the boat and yourself. When that time comes, it makes paddling so much more enjoyable knowing that whatever comes along, you and the boat will handle it. Just the same, there’s always something that will come along that is a brand new challenge. By then, you might have graduated to a boat that gives you a whole new assurance. And then there will be situations where you just hope you survive.

Allan, don’t be sorry. It’s from disagreeing that we learn. I don’t have any training in bracing other than watching videos and trying it out in the surf. I have been successful with bracing on the side away from the wave in light ocean surf. With the kayak side on to the wave, the wave tries to flip me towards the beach. So, I push down on the water on the beach side which counteracts the motion of the wave trying to flip me.

I don’t have any experience in a sea kayak. In my 9.5ft wide cockpit rec boat, if you lean into the wave, the side of the kayak is low enough to cause the wave to break over the kayak and drench you.

If you take a tiny wake head on, then you don’t need to maneuver as much. I’m talking about the kind of tiny wake from someone who is actually obeying no wake rules. A simple sweep stroke towards the wake, a couple hard strokes, and a quick upward jerk from your legs will easily pop the nose over a tiny wake. I’d rather have multiple options than be locked into one thing for every situation. But, in a rec boat, I wouldn’t do the head on approach for any wave that was higher than my bow because the wave would come over the bow and possibly over the edge of the cockpit and soak you.

Yes, in a large, breaking ocean wave, you want to lean into it and paddle full power to pierce through it. But, the original poster is not dealing with breaking ocean waves, nor are they in a kayak that can successfully pierce through a wave without getting swamped. I’m just talking about tiny wakes on flat water while paddling a rec boat.

You are lucky that it has gone well for you. When you are on the side of a wave, water is flowing under the boat towards the wave. When you put your paddle on the water, it can be grabbed by the flowing water and buried. You and your kayak will then be twisted around, and you will end upside down.

Blade on the other side of the boat, against the wave, is much safer. Water is flowing upward on the face of a wave. Put your blade on that, and it will get a lift instead of the water trying to bury it.

If you have a sea kayak or another boat designed to accommodate a spray skirt, you should be wearing one. A spray skirt is an essential part of a sea kayak, not an optional accessory. That solves the entire issue with the boat being swamped. That being said, never wear a spry skirt unless you have learned and are completely comfortable with a wet exit. You should also learn self and assisted rescues. Boats with large open cockpits and/or no bow and stern flotation are not really suited for open water where there is the danger of the boat being swamped. However, if used responsibly in protected waters near shore where there is little chance of a boat being swamped or capsized, most rec boats are fine without a spray skirt. They should still have bow and stern flotation because performing a rescue or even towing it back to shore if flooded is extremely difficult. A fully flooded rec kayak will weigh hundreds of pounds and the cockpit rim will be right at the waterline.

I stand by my earlier recommendation of angling into the wave if it is not small enough to ignore. Angle more and more to taking it head on the bigger it is. Perpendicular to the wave is best if it is very large and threatens to break over the hull. Keep paddling and prepare to brace. Alan is correct that if wave is breaking on your side, brace into it. Paddling into the wave lets you see what it is doing and what is behind it. It also reduces the risk of careening out of control into the local justice of the peace’s granddaughter on her paddle board.

The only time I deliberately take a large wave on the stern is if I want to surf it. You need to be close to the speed of the wave to do this. You also need to be careful with this. Some boats like mine will broach if not kept perpendicular to the wave. The bow can dig in and turn the boat sharply to one side if I’m not using the rudder or paddling hard to compensate.

With most rec boats on relatively protected water all you need do is keep your hips loose and body upright and the boat will take care of itself. With wide flat bottomed boats the boat will tend to follow the surface of the water while with a sea kayak the boat will tend to stay upright with the paddler. It can feel more serious than it is. It takes a lot to capsize a rec boat unless it is a very large steep wave and you lean with the boat and not into the wave.

Dude, I think you need to watch a lot more youtube videos of sea kayaks surfing. Your paddle used on alternate sides to the stern of the boat is what keeps you from broaching. In the right boat with the right kind of waves continuing to paddle will cause a burst of speed where you will catch waves that have already passed you. Long sea kayaks and surf skis are a blast to run over wave trains and it’s less tiring than just surfing if you’re racking up miles downwind.

The waves I’m usually surfing are boat wakes on he Chesapeake and associated rivers. They are short, steep, and close together. They are sometimes faster than I can paddle and with a my 18’ Arluk 1.9 with a porpoise bow the following wave can sometimes bury the bow into the wave in front. Once that happens, if it’s not dead perpendicular to the wave, no amount of effort is going to turn it straight again. All I can do is brace.

I wasn’t talking about longer period ocean waves. I probably should have made that clear.

People are talking apples and oranges.

A 9 ft plus rec boat has such a big cockpit that a skirt would not hold w a dumping wave.

That said, if you are in front of one that is likely to capsize it is way safer for head and other body to capsize into the wave.

Sea kayaks made that choice more apparent since usually also a skirt.

Yeah, I wasn’t referring to longer ocean waves either when I talked about over running wave trains. Often where I paddle, the wind waves will sometimes be high enough and close enough together due to opposing current that my 19’ kayak can span the distance between wave tops as opposed to burying the bow into the back of the wave ahead. Surfing on these waves is okay, but the wave peters out pretty quickly and then you have to wait for another to catch up to you. By grabbing a blade full of water here and there, it is possible to outrun the waves by sort of skipping right across the tops.

Once in awhile the waves are less than perfect and, or a power boat wave will mess things up and the boat might broach. That doesn’t seem to be a problem, because this boat is just as happy to slide sideways (no skeg, nor rudder) until you get right with the waves. It took me awhile before I was comfortable making crossings beam to the waves, but the boat seems to like it. I had a chance to give it a go in very steep nine foot waves with very strong wind and the boat made it easy.