Quarter into waves or take on beam?

Does it save more time and energy to quarter into waves and then quarter back with them to stay on course or take them on the beam having to use a low brace every 5-10 strokes then having to quarter into them as they carry you off your course.

depends a bit on angle and size
Mostly I would just go the direction I need to go. I have found that going slightly into wind big, steep wind waves that are almost beam seas can be a challenge (one case I find a rudder better than a skeg). For that case I like to paddle directly into the wind waves for a while then take the beam seas hopefully aiming a bit upwind of my destination in case the wind picks up more.

If you can get beyond needing the brace, that likely changes some things. If you are parallel to the waves, getting pushed off course, then quarting into waves to get back to a point where you can return to parallel and get pushed off course again, there’s an obvious navigational solution there. You plot your path, and aim your kayak the direction it needs to be aimed to take the most direct path. It sounds like that means slightly into the waves. Of course, I don’t know what the conditions were and how they effected you in your kayak. Nothing is static. Different paddler, different boat, different weather and wave conditions, different speed, it all alters the answer. Ideally, you are able to point your kayak in the direction it needs to be pointed at the speed you are maintaining to take the most direct path. If unable to do that, you shift to what you are able to do.

How big, what is the period?
Good forward impulsion and edging can take away any need for bracing in waves depending on height and period.

Waves just big enough and breaking
that when I leaned into them I needed to throw a low brace to keep my balance. I had planned on paddling a straight route and not follow the contours of the shore to cover the most distance in the least amount of time. I had picked out a point in the distance (heading south to north) and tried to paddle as much of a direct route towards it as I could but because of the wind out of the east I was unable to paddle a straight route.

Go high and get blown back?
Just a thought - the straight route isn’t always the fastest. Sometimes it is easier to shoot above the intended mark then let wind or waves blow you back.

But I can get pretty lazy heading home.

‘Tack’ just enough to counteract drift
As you gain more comfort paddling in waves from any direction, you’ll find that paddling a straight line usually requires the least overall effort and distance paddled. Sailors don’t mind tacking since they aren’t actually working for their miles :slight_smile:

Rather than pausing to brace against a big beam wave, try timing your strokes so that you can use a bracing stroke on that side just as the wave arrives.

If you understand leeway, you can also paddle a heading that is just 10-20 degrees upwind of your intended destination, to counteract the drift caused by beam wind and waves. This correction will vary depending on the strength and relative direction of the wind, and on your own paddling speed.


One problem with paddling too far upwind, then turning to paddle downwind to your destination, is that you then have to paddle the last leg with waves on your stern (or quartering), which you may find even more disconcerting than on the beam or slightly forward.

Here’s a little bit regarding kayak weathercocking:


Good luck!



Learn to dance and bunny hop

– Last Updated: Jun-21-11 1:45 PM EST –

"try timing your strokes so that you can use a bracing stroke on that side just as the wave arrives."

Expanding on this idea is learning to dance with the waves, use their energy to your advantage, don't fight the waves, loosen up your hips, dance with them and hop. The more you practice this the less you need to brace.

In stead of leaning into a wave coming at a diagonal,lean and tip your boat the opposite direction at ~30 -45 degrees and show the wave your butt, let the wave start pushing your bow, lean back a bit and then stroke with bow sweep (opposite of the wave face) and pop up and over the foam, then lean forward and glide down the other side -bracing if needed with a rudder stroke. The more you practice this the less of a bracing stroke you need and you can paddle through small breaking waves without a thought. The first couple of times you try this you will get knocked down but once you catch on it will make your paddling a lot more fun.

Waves abeam

The more I learn the dumber I feel.

I’m new and my boat has incredibly soft chines (or none).

I’ve just been doing straight line crossings and rolling over the waves that come at me from 90DG (or there abouts - is that considered abeam).

I’ve found that having a paddle in the water helps, so does a forward stroke but I’ve never felt compelled to actually perform a brace.

That’s not to say I haven’t had some exciting moments (i.e. near capsizes).

If I’m doing something really wrong please share your collective wisdom.


you’re doing it right.
Any bracing, reaching over, etc. would be for waves steep enough to start breaking a bit. Softer chines seem to work better in these anyway. But I think the OP was more talking about the case where you were paddling not quite parallel to the waves. Waves steep enough that they start to break tend to push a boat that is almost parallel to actually be parallel which can cause some issues.

Excellent articles
Thanks for posting

Get kinda Zen …
Learning all the strokes, braces, and other paddling techniques individually can be very instructive. But, as seadart points out, the next step is learning to combine them all into a smooth and seamless motion on the water, perhaps even using the water to your advantage.

A paddler can learn a lot by watching how a seagull or other marine animal gets around on the water, bobbing up and over breaking waves five times taller than itself, ducking out of the way to avoid trouble, all while going about the business of eating or just getting around.

Most of us are able to hike along a wooded trail without giving much calculated thought to avoiding all the rocks, roots, steep parts, and other rough stuff, even while carrying on a conversation. My goal is always to achieve that same sort of comfort on the water.

Good luck!




– Last Updated: Jun-21-11 10:50 PM EST –

I never measured it precisely enough, but going parallel seems fastest to me as long as I don't have to brace too often (e.g., if the waves are "nice" they don't matter much). Going up-wind a bit then going almost directly downwind maybe preferable depending on how steep and short the waves. There isn't that much of a penalty going against the waves actually, if they are "compatible" with watever kayak you are using - half the time you are hidden from the wind b/w waves, and you can actually surf on the back of the wave upwind - since the back of the wave is longer than the face, you could actually build-up speed, then put a stroke or two to climb over without losing much of it, then surf the back again. Kind of cool feeling and your speed is not much slower compared to flat water or going with the waves from the side.

Going downwind with quartering steep seas uses-up more energy IMO and probably will not be much faster all taken in account (since you had to go upwind first and cover a longer distance), then due to the inevitable tendency to zig-zag as the waves go under the kayak you cover yet more distance and waste effort, ... unless you got a rudder or an extremely stiff-tracking and well balanced kayak that is -;)

So many variables
A couple of years ago on a Duckhead trip to Assateague (in February) we encountered high winds from the west and we had to paddle south. Most didn’t make it it to our designated camp site at Pine Tree. Only Mike McCrea in his Monarch and me in my kayak were able to make any headway.

Assateague is shallow and in some areas I found myself bouncing off the bottom with a fully loaded kayak when paddling with the waves abeam. The wind was blowing so hard that I’d quarter the waves and winds for half an hour, paddling deep in the the bay, then turning and surfing further south, the repeat.

Made for some real interesting paddling. I used my skeg extensively.

Here’s a sample of the wind that weekend…


great stuff delphinus