Rough Water

How do most people handle themselves in rough water? I found myself recently in a situation that was maybe out of my skill level and was just wondering what are some of the do’s and don’ts. I was caught off-guard by a sudden change of high winds that began building waves across my route. The waves were breaking around chest and shoulder level with winds strong to put me in a standstill. With that sudden of change of direction, waves were barreling towards each other and creating a mess to turn. What are the best strokes for quick movements and turns in situations like this? I tried edging my sweep strokes but found it led to more near capsizes and brace strokes. I had the loose hips part down but I would have been out of luck if I needed to make a quick turnaround to someone in need. Thank you for your input

Hard to Say
So much depends on the boat design, the paddle type, wind direction and strength, whether the waves are on the bow, aft, on the quarter or amid-ships, or what one offshore longliner fisherman I know describes as “…heaps and holes”…and of course, paddler strength and experience.

For me, I find quick powerful sweeps followed by sharp aft and opposite rudder stokes (prys) using an extended GP can spin the nose of my hard-tracking VOLKSKAYAK into a stiff wind pretty quickly, but I’ve managed so far to stay out of the big wave stuff - how it’d react to wind with shoulder-high waves is another question entirely, and one I hope not to investigate anytime soon…lol…

Time in it
Seriously, overall the same stuff works when you are in over your head (literally) than in lesser conditions. You just have to deploy it with more confidence, and that takes time to acquire. The one thing that you might have to add is, in steep close waves, edging into the wave face at times.

some thoughts…
First, look if there are any rough water symposiums coming up in your area since they often have some classes in rough water where they cover strokes.

I’ve found when turning into a stiff wind reaching far and low to the bow and doing a bow pry will move me where other strokes have failed me. Some people have good luck doing reverse sweep strokes until they finally come around to the direction they want.

If you have a little speed and need a quick turn a bow rudder can help.

In beam seas if a wave is breaking over you it can help to reach over (if wave small enough) and do a draw stroke while edging into the wave.

If you get lucky and ride downwind on a wave a stern rudder can be your friend.

Sometime I alter the timing of my strokes a bit to the rhythm of the waves so I’m planting my blade on tops of waves. Sometimes feels a bit like skiing moguls ;).

Places with surf make it easier to get the braces and such more automatic.

Use the waves don’t fight them
You can use the waves and wind to turn your boat. You can spin your boat on a wave crest when there is very little resistance, you can use the wind to help bring the boat around. Learn to dance with the waves, let them push your boat the way you want to go. Relax …keep breathing, sing to your self … “On a rolling sea, Jesus speaks to me, on a rolling sea as she rolls …” I too think of picking a path through the chaos, much like skiing moguls.

Find a seawall that reflects fairly good sized waves when there is a bit of a storm up and go practice every chance you get, the only way to handle the waves is to do a lot of paddling in rough water.

UP Michingan
"The Gales" event is this upcoming weekend

As to the nitty gritty of rough water paddling - as seadart said below, try to take advantage of waves - there usually is a system to the madness :slight_smile:

Other than that - can’t comment on any of your strokes without having seen on the water. Typically, rough water paddling is where mechanics of any stroke become really important - no torso rotation, no foot peg force transfer will be a real downer on the sweep strokes, forward stroke is less efficient as well. Bigger conditions is where confidence of being on the edge helps quite a bit.

Turning in strong winds

– Last Updated: Oct-05-11 8:51 AM EST –

Folks have given good tips on turning in waves. Wind creates it's own challenges though. In strong winds you need to think about which end of the boat you are anchoring to the water's surface.

If you want to turn upwind you need to anchor the bow so that the stern blows downwind. Therefore use strokes at the bow to turn upwind (bow rudder, forward sweep, etc)

The opposite is true for turning downwind. To turn downwind you need to anchor the stern, so that the bow can blow downwind. Therefore use stern rudders and stern draws to turn downwind.

Waves basically just take seat time to get used to. One tip that helped me early on in short-period beam seas was to try to stick your paddle in the crest of the wave. As a wave approaches from your left, you time your strokes so that you paddle on your left as that crest approaches your left side, and then paddle on the right as the crest passes under your boat and emerges on the right side. That way you're generally putting the paddle on the "uphill" side, which gives more stability (and less likelihood of tripping over the paddle).

To practice, launch from a gentle beach with wind blowing you back to the shore, so that if you take a swim and fail to self-rescue, you'll have a safe place to wash up.

OK - less casual now

– Last Updated: Oct-05-11 3:49 PM EST –

Sorry if the other was too brief. I reread things.

As to turning in waves, most of the above suggestions mention one thing that works great, similar to skiing over moguls if you ever duid that. Take advantage to the top of the wave to turn, and learn to wait that extra 2 or 3 seconds if need be to catch it.

The other way to get to someone quickly in waves (or flat conditions) is to skip trying to turn around and go backwards to them. That is often a much faster response than trying to turn around, and as far as I have seen it is way under-utilized. I see people who could have backed up to someone within several seconds kill over a minute trying to turn around.

Granted going backwards in waves takes some practice to be reliable. Until then it may only produce a second opportunity to retrieve a swimmer. But it is well worth the time.

good suggestions

– Last Updated: Oct-05-11 11:39 AM EST –

I just want to expand upon what Celia brought up. "You just have to deploy it with more confidence, and that takes time to acquire." In my own experience, and paddling with others, basics can get lost as conditions make you feel challenged. One of the first indicators is that forward speed drops off, seemingly because of conditions, but in reality often much more to do with a lapse in better forward technique. There is definitely a lot of reality in waves doing what they want, and powerfully so, with your kayak, along with the wind. So finding ways to use the waves, and minimizing the work against them, becomes quite important. But the additional point I hope may be useful here with turning strokes is to not lose focus on the other end of the lever. When a person is relaxed, they plant the turning stroke, and in a natural flow, twist their torso and hips, apply foot pressure, perhaps knee pressure, in the direction that makes them rotate in relation to the planted blade. I think even more so than forward stroke technique, this "other end of the lever" turning technique can get lost in the excitement. Just a thought of an area to keep some focus.

what seadart and celia said
The more you get out in conditions the more you can get comfortable with using the waves as seadart describes.

I think the only way to get to that level of comfort is to paddle the surf zone. I do not mean 7ft+ surf to start.

Get a helmet and go to the beach on a calm day. Paddle the foam first then padde paralel to the waves and brace into them. If you bail out hem you will just stand up, dump water out and get back into he boat. Catch some small waves too. Paddle into the river outlet where it meets the surf. 2 hourz per session, weekly, repeat in bigger seas as you feel comfortable. Best of all have fun just being there. It is a welcome change from ‘destination’ trips.

The confidemce and comfort from this will amaze you.

these are some of the best tips
i’ve heard, thank you everyone. just reading these posts makes me want to get back out there

with the winter coming
you should have some good wind and wind-wave to practice in.

Like some others said. It takes a lot of time spent in waves and surf to gain confidence and the ability to remain poised and relaxed enough to stay in control of things. I prefer a Greenland paddle, especially in wind and yes even in the surf.

Start by going out in the near shore zone on a gradual sandy beach, and stay there. I’d start in 1-3 foot waves. Stay away from 4s at first. 1-2 is best but the lakes dont always cooperate. Have you boat well fitted/padded.

Practice being parallel to the small breakers and leaning gently into and bracing into them, on both your left and right. Keep your elbows low to protect your shoulders-I prefer a low brace. Once you are comfortable sideways to small breaking waves, practice turning the kayak around in them, sweeping, leaning and using the crests as others have mentioned. Keep your rudder/skeg out of the water, unless you want it broken off, and it will help you learn to turn easier. You will be amazed how quick you can turn on the crests. Then practice having them at your stern-you can backpaddle to keep them from surfing you before you are ready. If they are too steep to prevent it, choose another day, a more gradual sandy beach, or get closer to shore. Once you are ready to get some rides or practice paddling in following seas farther from shore, then you can deploy the skeg or rudder some. But its best to practice with out it, in case it doesn’t work some day. I may have left something out but gotta go to work.

If you can’t roll, and you really should for this, this will inspire you to learn because you will swim now and then and it will get old. So make sure your wet exits are well practiced before trying.

If you are in northern WI shoot me a note and you can come out with me this fall near Duluth when the wind blows.

that’s the truth
"If you can’t roll, and you really should for this, this will inspire you to learn because you will swim now and then and it will get old."

too bad though
the “gales” will be hot ones, out of the south.

absolutely it is!

"U can do eet!"
I figure if a klutz like me can paddle in conditions, almost anyone can figure it out with practice.

Just think
Sometimes I am in conditions that push me, and I respond. Sometimes I am in conditions that I should not be in, and I leave. If I could roll I would stay out more often, but for now, it is what it is.

Great thread - I have followed with
interest. I am learning to paddle a sea kayak for the first time just this fall and I am really enjoying the process. I’m at the point where I am anxious to move from quite water and mild river current where I have been learning to feel and use edges and gaining confidence about how to make the boat do what I want it to do without mishap and how the boat and paddle respond to various paddle strokes and water pressure. I like the suggestion that newbies in this stuff find a beach with small waves coming in a play around. I am going to try to find a spot locally where I can do that - but unfortunately it will have to be fresh water and there are not too many spots. I also agree I need to get a decent roll. 20 years ago I learned to roll a C1 so I think if I can find a couple of pool sessions this winter I should be able to get something serviceable in that department fairly quickly. I need some warm water and other people around so I can really spend some time working at it safely and without freezing my butt off.

This is a great thread and it is inspiring me to do the things I need to do to progress in this department. The quiet water is great and I will always enjoy it but it will not hold my interest for the long haul.