Paddling with "waves"

I was paddling on our local lake/resevoir Saturday. Wind picked up, started making itsy-bitsy whitecaps. Wind at my back. What’s the best way to time your stroke in those conditions? Just keep paddling like a madman (or madwoman in my case)? Paddle between “waves”? It seemed like if I hit the “breaking” wave it wanted to push my paddle the wrong way and other times, it seemed like I was paddling through air, not water. I realize this all sounds dumb to those of you who paddle in real waves and ocean swells. But actually the few times I’ve been on Lake Michigan or Superior with a following sea, it seemed easier to manage than this choppy stuff.

The essential sea kayaker
by seidman is ne of my favorite books.

in short keep a paddle in the water pushing whenever you can. paddle hard when the stern lifts

Becoming one with the water
The best thing to do is to go out and paddle in those conditions as much as you can, aim for the tops or the backsides of waves at first, brace with your trailing paddle, keep a paddle on the surface of the water to brace or draw or stroke while timing your next stroke, but they should flow smoothly and rythymically; slowly you start to perceive the pattern in the chaos and the rythyms of waves even as they seem to be in some disharmonic interference. You dance with your boat on the water merging you, your paddle, the boat and the waves. The paddle will go where it needs to go to make the boat do what you want it to do…

sometimes we become too united with the water and have to roll up or swim.

Not All The Same
Ocean swell are gentel and don’t require much in terms of control as you go over them or they slip under you from astern. Chop is generally steep in comparison and will tend to knock you around a bit more. Just let the boat move around your hips and use your paddle as a stabilizing contact point. The biggest thing that will help is to spend time in that kind of water.

Happy Paddling,


Just keep paddling…

– Last Updated: Sep-18-06 9:29 AM EST –

Especially if true chop rather than regular well formed waves - really no need to alter your paddling stroke. Just keep doing what you'd do, at times you'll find that a stroke is less effective because you are grabbing more air and less water because of the dimension of th water. So make the next stroke a corrective one to turn you back on course a little if needed.
But allover, there isn't any need to go crazy adjusting your basic stroke. It's just that more of them will be corrective strokes than if the water was flat and/or the wind was less strong.

Don’t be mad, be mellow.
Just place the paddle blade all the way into the water before you start to pull back (“air strokes” are a common cause of capsize). As others have said, let your hips go completely loose, and trust the boat to know what it’s doing. If you feel the boat is wobbly beneath you, focus on letting your lower spine bend side to side (so that when viewed from fore or aft, it would be a J) in such a way that your face stays above the boat. Basically, in most boats, as long as your face is vertically above the boat, you can’t capsize.

Enjoy the feeling! Before long, you’ll figure out how to use a little rudder at the end of each stroke, or edge your boat slighly while paddling, or take a slightly broader stroke on one side, or extend your paddle slightly (or some combination of all of the above, varied according to conditions and how you feel), that controls the boat’s direction and keeps you headed straight.

As others have said, too, small wind-driven waves often give more trouble with steering than larger ocean swells, in part because the wind contributes to changing your boat’s direction. If you feel the boat’s turning into the wind or away from the wind beyond your control, you may need to have your seat adjusted forward or backward, or rearrange how you pack any heavy items you might have with you (generally, the heavier end of the boat will turn into the wind).

Nothing feels better than arriving home at night, lying in bed, and feeling as if you’re still bobbing in the waves…


Agree with Sanjay completely
Everything he mentions is stuff a local paddler imparted on me when I started with the artic tern.

While I’m not doing the BIG water out in Lake Erie with Ness or Clarion I don’t have that ‘going over any minute’ feeling any more.