Paddling with the surf

I have no trouble paddling into the surf . By that I mean into the waves. However, when going with the waves it seem a little more difficult to control my yak. I have a Necky Santa Cruz rec yak. Any suggestions? FishHawk

take a proper Surf Zone course!

It’s all about the pivot point of your vessel. Going out is EZ, your pushing it. Balanced strokes is all it takes. Going in it accelerates and PULLS you. Soon as it turns (broach) or sticks (pearl) your stern is still in motion and wants to PASS the pivot point. Boat control is difficult to master.

A class will teach you. (at least MINE would!! :wink:


Not an expert but here is some info

– Last Updated: Sep-06-04 11:18 AM EST –

Check out this previous thread and the links some of us posted in it....

When you are paddling in you want to keep your boat headed into the beach or if possible on a smaller wave surfing diagonal to the wave in the curl. The latter is harder to do until you have some experience. To keep your boat surfing in the direction you want you use a stern rudder which means placing the paddle near or behind your hip with the blade slicing the water and pushing it out, using your hips to thrust it make forceful rudders, with your arm serving as a fulcrum. You have to be able to do this quickly on each side. (My description of the technique is probably wrong, its like trying to describe how to walk or roll etc. easy once you know how.) Sooner or later the boat will turn broadside to the wave and you will need to lean into the wave and lay a brace on the wave to keep upright. It is very counterintuitive to do that. But if you lean into most small waves you will stay upright and the paddle on the moving water creates enough force to hold you up. Most importantly keep your elbows in and don't lift your bracing arm up high in the air, if you extend your arms to much you can dislocate a shoulder if you get worked by a big wave. There are many sites on the web that show these techniques. There is a video called "In the Surf" from performance kayaking that teaches surf technique and is OK. Getting a good lesson is the best way to go (it's hard finding people that really know how to surf and can actually teach you how to do it), or watching some people that know how to surf. Finally it looks like your boat is well designed for going out through small waves, but it has a pronounced keel. The keel will catch once you get turned from perpendicular to the waves and will really want to broach. I have a long SOT with a similar design and it can surf like a bullet, but when you reach a critical spot the boat becomes very hard to steer on the wave. You might want to try an inexpensive surf SOT like a Wilderness Systems Kaos to learn the basics of surfing. (Warning surf boats are addictive, I now own several different kinds, and keep moving towards shorter and more high performance, waveskis are the best for really sufing.)

Finally here is a Video Clip of Byron Olsen from Oceanside CA, he is one of the best surfkayakers on the West Coast and designs his own boats and skis. Watch how he uses his paddle as a rudder. You will not be able to come close to this but it will give you an idea about how to finesse your boat in the surf.

Wave dynamics
The reason for broaching is actually quite simple once you understand the way water flows within a wave. In a non breaking wave (swell), the water on the front of the wave moves up toward the peak and that on the back side of the wave moves down away from the peak.

In a spilling wave, the water at the front of the wave moves upward toward the peak, where it collapses and runs down the wave face

In a dumping wave, the water at the front of the wave moves upward toward the curl, where it is thrown forward.

What each of these have in common is that as the wave is pushing the stern forward the water that the bow is in is pushing the bow backward. These opposing forces conspire to rotate the boat whenever they are even slightly off-axis. This action gets progressively stronger as you go from a swell to a spilling wave, to a dumping wave. The natural orientation that a kayak will assume is parallel to the waves, aka “broached”. When broached, the forces on the boat are in balance and it will not tend to turn.

However it will rotate about its axis if
you lean towards the shore.

Among our local paddling group, we give a “kelp award” to the person who had the most spectacular crash and burn on a surf landing.

The victims bow is draped with as much dirty kelp as we can find on the beach.

Kelp awards have also been awarded for falling into the water immediately after getting out of your boat and also for having the paddler get dragged back out by the rip while the boat stayed on the beach.

Does the water move?
I think I paddled for a time before I realized the water doesnt move forward or backward at all in an ocean wave. It moves up and down. The wave shape itself moves but the water is very much stationary unless it is catching air.

It is that stationary water that gives a paddle blade an unbelievable amount of drag when you are cruising over it at quickly.

When I first started surfing I quickly realized that in order to brace in a broach I could lean my boat way into the wave and stick my paddle down into the stationary water which gave me lift against the speed of the boat being pulled by gravity. I very quickly learned that I could free myself from a broach by nearly tipping over and grabbing a brace against the still water beneath which slowed my forward progress down and let the wave pass. I learned how much I could commit to a brace. In a broach I could easily roll over into the face of a broached wave and still come back up as long as I kept moving with the wave. I could feel when the brace was loosing effectiveness by the amount of pull on my paddle. When the tension is approaching 0 it is time to surface again. Wait too long and and I would have to set up for a roll. But I also learned that when leaning onto my paddle like that, the boat would lean with me and the boats edge would catch the stationary water real hard, causing added drag against the face of the wave making the boat turn when I didnt really want it too and force a harder broach almost immediately. A pretty negative effect when i wanted to surf witrh the wave. Makes for great practice but really short rides. It took me a very long time to understand that if I kept my boat flat to the surface of the water, (way harder to do than one might think if you dont practice it) especially on the face of a wave, the boat would tend to not dig into to a turn nearly as much and this allows much more flexibility to resisting broaches and increasing manueverabilty to turn the boat towards shore even while in a broach. The flat underbelly of my boat would tend to skip and stay loose when the boat is flat to the surface of the wave while if I leaned the boat the edge of the boat would tend to cut rigidly into the wave. So keeping the boats planning on a wave allows for more manueverability. Only problem being that it is a balancing act and it seemed awefully unnerving to put my weight so close to a beach side lean. A hair too far and the stationary water would stop me like a brick wall and force a quick face plant on the beach side. It took a little while but I learned I could still brace into the deeper waters on the ocean side (relative deeper waters with a wave right there) without leaning the boat to the ocean side. Now broaches were a lot more controllable and not necessarily emminent. Now I find myself leaning to the shore with a hard shoreside rudder to keep from broaching. It is a fine balancing act but beautiful when it happens right. I am really not very good at it but I am getting better. It is the thick stationary water all around me that helps me to surf better. The staionary water behind me, on my sides, and in front of me. On the downside is the ocassional seaweed and beach sand sandwich topped off with a broken paddle. Obviously I am talking about less than shoulder high waves while paddling a touring boat. Very large powerful waves have too much going on to allow the surface of even a very large blade to be effective.

Waves As A "Learning Tool"
that’s what Scott is telling you. Boats are different. But get yourself on a wave with yours, learn its characteristics and develop the skills to work 'em, and I think you’ll end up being a better paddler in rougher conditions.


Thanks for all the descriptions-they were fun to read.

Water movement and waves
Water circulates within a swell, but you’re right that it really doesn’t change position much. That is, if you’re sitting in a spot and a swell rolls under you, you’ll still be in pretty much the same spot after it passes. You can sort of think of a swell as rolling along under the surface of the water. It’s this circulation that make bracing into the face of a wave feel so solid and bracing on the back side feel so feeble.

As waves get steeper, you’ll tend to move more, since your boat will slide down the wave faces to some degree.

With spilling waves and dumping waves the water is obviously in motion, in addition to the normal wave action.

As usual, you are all right!
Open water waves travel through water, with very little water motion, and what motion there is is circular in the water column.


Watch the yellow dots. Compare to things you’ve seen floating offshore.

When the waves come inshore things change as they interact with the bottom, steepen and spill or break.

Cool Graphic!
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words

Cool Graphic!
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

To be honest, I know the feeling well, but too lazy to try and describ it in writing.

spin-off effect
Just wanted to let the guys who posted on this thread know that you helped an art student yesterday. Ryan, my son’s roommate at college, is in his second year of Computer Animation and was working on illustrating a project of a bag of (beans?) in a vessel floating on waves, so I showed him this site. He really picked up on the graphic-thanks Greyak and was going to read the variety of comments. Maybe his waves will be famous someday!It’s amazing how much physics…and history and anatomy, really how all comprehensive learning computer animation is.