rolling under breaking waves?

The thread on launching in dumping waves reminded me of something I once read in a book (Derek Hutchison maybe) and then tried in real life with total failure. The advice was that if you are paddling out and see that a big wave is about to break before you can crest it, roll under, let the breaking wave pass over you and then roll up. In exactly that situation, I was very pleased with myself for remembering the advice and rolled under, being careful to keep my bow straight into the wave. The breaking wave immediately broached my boat and pulled me violently upside down for quite a long time, ripped expensive prescription sunglasses and restraining strap off, etc.

Is this technique ever actually useful? I ended up thinking I would have had a better chance meeting the wave head-on rightside up and trying to punch through, although the wave was big enough that I might not have made it anayway.

had roughly same experience
my first surf combat roll I decided to do intentionally so I had all the elements of a combat roll except the surprise. The wave more a spilling wave about halfway through breaking and I flipped ready to roll. My intention was to wait a second or few and roll. But because I broached and had my setup on the surf side I automatically rolled up and found myself side surfing. Fun, but not what I hoped for. I suspect I didn’t have enough speed before flipping, but still this technique seem questionable. I’m guessing this technique isn’t so much to help you get out as to maybe avoid getting overly bashed in when the wave is particularly menacing.

Try it. It’s a timing thing.
When I know I’m not going through upright I roll over at about the 1/3 point up on the face and am absolutely perpendicular with my blade along my hull and me tucked as small as possible. This doesn’t guarantee your not doing an extended submarine tour or going ass over tea kettle, but in my experience it “usually” lessens the beatdown. Nothing lost as I would have gotten my tail kicked anyway.


It works if you know how …and are lucky
Longboard surfers do this all the time. It’s called turning turtle.

I’ve never tried this in a seakayak, I doubt it’s very effective. It will save you from getting your back hyper extended and your face rearragned. With a shorter surf boat or waveski you can drive the bow down, and the wave will wash over you, and then roll up. Every once in a while though you get owned by Mother Nature. I only do this if I have no hope of punching through, riding over, or doing a paddle out take-off. What usually happens is an even bigger wave takes me out as I roll up.

On a waveski discussion board folks were talking about “cork screw rolls,” so you maintain your angular momentum on the way through the wave. This was being taught by Caroline Angibaud, I don’t think I could pull it off but I would certainly let her try to teach me.

The only time I turn turtle
is if the wave is literally going to KILL ME.

Otherwise, just keep paddling as hard as you can.Most of the time, you CAN make it over.

I agree Doc, I don’t do it much. But…
when I do it is another thing to keep me from certain ugliness.

A couple more points on the 3 or 4 surf threads here:

First, if you have a kayak with a high rear deck, do not put yourself in a surf situation where you can get “firehosed” over the rear deck. That could break your back. And then you drown. End of story.

Second, go to your home improvement store and buy a sheaf of non-skid outdoor tape. Add a 3x5 inch piece to each side of the back deck in comfortable hands reach behind the cockpit rim. The traction you might gain may add a second (from keeping your hands from slipping) but that second is rich when getting out on a dumpy beach, or in and the deck on while going out on a dumpy beach.

Last: wear a friggin’ helmet already. I see too many kayakers in surf or sea paddling close to rocks with no helmets in sight.



– Last Updated: Oct-20-09 4:32 AM EST –

I normally try to paddle as hard and fast through. Sometimes when it starts to curl over me and it really doesn't look good( and I am wishing to god that I were in another spot), I'll turn over and reach as forward as possible with my body (hamstring flexibility helps). Doing this, I am trying to keep the waveski nose as down as possible to the minimize the ski tip from getting caught in the upwelling and breaking and getting pulled along. I think a lot of time it works in getting the wave to pass over me. And, sometimes, it's a just a beating.

Gotta pay to play sometimes.


breaking waves
In my experience the best way to deal with this situation is to paddle as hard as possible into the wave and not capsize until you have stuck the bow well into the wave face. If you capsize too soon you will feel the full effect of the breaking wave and as you found out you can caught up in it.

I don’t understand why roll …

– Last Updated: Oct-20-09 8:25 AM EST –

That's a question - not trying to argue against it. I realy would like to hear an explanation as I apparently can't visualize some of how this rolling straight into a wave works.

I can certainly see the purpose of a roll in surf when you already have broached or are surfing mostly parallel to the wave and it begins to break over. I've done that in 2-6 foot waves and it works - avoids being side-surfed and you just pop-up on the back of the wave upright.

What I'm not sure what difference does it make if you roll before a wave going straight out. I have not been in waves big enough that I could not just bend forward an punch through. Or may be my boat's bow is low enough volume that it will not lift-up and try to somersault me on my back on steep waves but will slice-through and help me get through the wave. Now, if the wave is so high that I can't climb it and it starts to break,how will rolling help? I guess having my torso in the water at the last moment lowers my center of gravity and somewhat minimizes the chance of flipping back, but is that enough to prevent that from happening? Or are there other benefits?

That’s what the Eskimos did, apparently
From Fridtjof Nansen’s book “Eskimoliv” (“Eskimo Life”) published 1891, poorly translated by me:

“A kayaker, who has perfected his skills to get upright again, can defy almost any kind of weather. In the event of a capsize, he will immediately recover.” … “In rough sea, he will broadside his kayak, hold the paddle flat against the deck, bend forwards, and let the wave roll over him. Or he will throw himself sideways towards it and rise when it has passed.” … “The most beautiful manoeuvre at sea I know of though, is the one they told me that some hunters use against large broaching waves: As the wave breaks over them, they throw their kayaks upside down, catch the wave with the kayak hull, and recover once it has passed. One can hardly imagine a more superior way of handling oneself at sea.”

I agree.

– Last Updated: Oct-20-09 12:46 PM EST –

I've punched through breaking waves as high as my head. I usually paddle hard into it and just before it hits my body, I tuck forward in the rolling set-up position to await my fate. For those who haven't experienced this - if you are in your paddling position, the force of the water can smash your paddle against your body (or face) very violently. Even an upright body can be jolted back very hard. You have to tuck and grip that paddle.

If I broach while surfing and anything around chest height is is going to hit me, I learned to not side surf because you can end up face down in that bracing position a lot longer than you can hold your breath. Around lower chest height I usually can side surf it OK and stay on top and breathe.

As said, surfers do this all the time. I think the two main elements are having a heavy anchor (you) hanging and dragging and also having the rounder hull to let the wave pass over. But it does seem like it would only have hope when breaking through the top third or so of a just breaking wave that you have no hope of clearing otherwise (big and steep).

A different scenario is where you were caught in the wrong place and have no hope of getting up the wave in time (were too slow, etc.). In this case it could save you the direct hit of a large dumping wave. With such a wave you would likely flip regardless and either way the force of the broken wave can help you roll back up after. Ideally better timing and better speed will help you avoid most of these situations.

Watch this …

and you might get a feeling for why you don’t want to be sitting there upright when a freight train hits.

The lower you are in the wave the less turbulence you experience because you may end up in calmer non moving water. Also if the force of the wave is expended on your boat hull (thinks pounds per square foot) and your body is underneath, it’s less punishing. (getting dragged upside down is not fun however.)

Is have found that tipping into the wave and letting it side surf me like a rag doll usually works better than the last second roll. But I suck at rolling when I can’t breath.

My feeling is why not tuck and punch,
if you are unsuccessful you will likely end up upside down in a tuck position which is what the alternative is that we are discussing here. I don’t think I have been in waves big enough to injure me (from the dumping impact) in a tucked position. What is the size of wave that requires turtling, or does your fight or flight instinct kick in? I used to run into and tackle big breakers for hockey and lacrosse training. It was a good way to meet superior force without getting injured. It would be my preference to meet any wave heads up as it is part of the thrill, but I could also imagine rolling in fear or if injured. How big are we talking here? I will assume at least six feet? Finally, for my weight (235lbs) I usually paddle boats at the upper limits of their load range. Does this weight to boyancy ratio make it harder for the wave to throw me around? My feeling is that it does, almost in the way that a sail needs to be sized for the wind conditions. If you are going to go bigger, you better have the ballast to counter the force. Using up your boat’s effective load range sucks for tripping, but can help in other ways. BTW- I like this thread and find it helpful to hear others thoughts. Bill

Du er flink til å oversette.
I wonder if the high bows and sterns on real greenland boats helps keep the bow plowing under when upside down. Never thought of that before.

The ocean does not care if you weigh 235
Technically it takes more force to throw you around but any wave over about 5 or 6 feet has so much energy the difference between a lighter boat and paddler is negligible.

That’s what a “surf zone” is -;). Never been in one so big, hope not to be in one any time soon either -:wink:

Looks like a roll helps protect you a bit there, but some of the waves are so huge that they still tumble you about no matter what - not the kind you can roll “under” and let it pass over you…

That pretty much sums it up. nm

Because some waves will kick the
crap out of you when you are on top more than on the bottom. I’m usually blasting out and giving it all til the end, but there are times when you look at facts and know you are toast, so I time a roll and let the wave go over me. I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept for some. This was a hot topic in Sea Kayaker Magazine…

in the early 90’s.


Seadart, That was a very instructional video.

Watching some of those guys go over the falls I now see why you would want to be parallel to a wave when rolling.

I guess the real answer is rolling is a weapon in the quiver but not the only one and not the only answer (or even the first answer).

I occasionally roll under to avoid dumpers, but mostly just because I feel like it not because I have to.

One important thing to remember is water depth.

You need to have enough water under you so that you aren’t rolling into an environment more violent (and infinitely harder to breath in) than you were “escaping”.

I qualify this by saying this is in water Sing would define as “maybe worth getting wet for if it was a slow month”.