Rough Water

if you stay close to shore

– Last Updated: Oct-09-11 12:16 PM EST –

you wont need a roll right at first, since its hard to roll in very shallow water anyway. You can practice leaning and bracing in 1-2 foot waves in 2-3 feet of water. As soon as you start venturing out into deeper water and bigger breaking waves, you'll want one. Its important to remember to tuck when you capsize in shallow water-not only for protection but also so you can get out of the kayak. If you happen to be leaning backward when you capsize in shallow water, you will have to lean forward anyway in order to free your legs (unless your kayak is very poorly fitted). Getting into the tuck underwater can be more difficult in very shallow water because the bottom interferes, so its best to make sure you capsize in a forward tuck in shallow water. You can still get into the forward tuck if you must but it can cause some unsettling feelings if you have to try, so its best to avoid it. ;-) You'll definitely want to have your wet exits well practiced before doing this sort of thing.

rough water rolling

– Last Updated: Oct-09-11 1:09 PM EST –

is there much of a difference rolling next to a seawall with large waves reflecting back than flat water rolling? i can roll pretty reliably in flat water but have never tested my limits in large waves. from what i've heard it's best to roll on the breaking side of the wave to help bounce back up. is it the same in confused seas and waves bouncing off one another?

Yes …
It’s very different when everything is swirling around like a washing machine, it’s easy to become disoriented, the paddle does not go where you want to go and you may not have any support from the paddle because the water is aereated from the chaotic breaking waves. Best to do this first in water shallow enough you can walk away if you want and waves small enough that they are not going to hurt you … two or three foot waves … do your roll with friends nearby to help and gain confidence, or even someone just standing in the water to help.

in reflection

– Last Updated: Oct-09-11 8:41 PM EST –

Yes, there is a difference in rolling flat water and in large reflecting waves. I think you will find the latter more interesting. ;-) What exactly that different is might be difficult to predict. As seadart says you should probably start in smaller ones to find out, as when you come up it could be disorienting to find yourself in big confused waves. Best to start in non-reflecting waves. And due to the presence of the wall be sure to have someone capable standing by ready to pull/tow you out if you try that too. The wave is essentially coming from 2 directions. Theoretically, I guess it should be equally easy/difficult on either side because the motion is somewhat symetrical, assuming you are smack dab in the middle, but I haven't tested that theory. I tend to practice staying upright more than rolling when in confused waves like that. ;-)

And yes, in non reflecting waves if you roll up on the side
that the wave is coming from it will help you up, and vice versa if you try on the other side. In really big steep waves I will sometimes capsize downwave on purpose and then roll up as it passes. Some people can't tell which way is which once they are underwater in an unplanned capsize. I can tell by listening and by feel of the waves on my boat. I think anyone can learn that with enough practice. If the boat (I mean wave) is pushing you to one side, roll up on the other if you can get set up for it. Sometimes you don't have enough time/breath for the luxury of choosing, particularly if you've just flogged your way out in high winds, you are winded, and the last big breaker dumps you.

Rolling is the easier part
Once you manage to stay in the boat to wait out the sinus flush of a breaking wave - and I found that very disconcerting for a long while - the larger problem of rolling in waves is staying up. It’s a very common pattern to feel some good support under that blade and roll up only to find that you don’t adjust quickly enough to stay upright on whatever side of the wave you come up on, and get knocked right over again. You really have to come up inside a brace somehow, and much by feel. So far I have been lousy at that part.

head games
Rolling in waves, current, and rough water is definitely a bit harder, but I think at least half the problem is in our heads. If you have a solid effortless roll in flat water, then you CAN roll in crazy messy waves and slop . . . that is, you can roll if you remain as calm as you are in flat water. Personally, I miss rolls sometimes in rough water because my mind is elsewhere. If I can calm down and do it right, I can roll in anything I’ve been in so far. But it takes discipline to be calm when you’re in over your head.

To Celia’s point about staying up after a roll, I’d add that this is one problem with deep layback type rolls. When rolling in rough conditions, I think it’s a lot easier (for me at least) to roll up in an active paddling position. I’m more aware of what’s around me, I can get back to the low-braces that are saving my butt 95% of the time, and most importantly, I’m ready to take a forward stroke.


Head Games II
Aside from rolling and bracing, stay relaxed! Kayaking in rough water can quickly turn into an exercise in forced relaxation. If you tighten up you will lose the ability to control your boat and then you’ll definitely need to roll.

A fun spot in San Diego …
This is actually where the waves are usually the smallest along the coast but at higher tides / or big swells waves rebound off the of the sea wall. The dominant swell when these pics were take was actually very big and the sets were breaking about 1/4 mile off shore, these are pics of us playing on the inside; waves were small but powerful and bouncing off the sea wall. I’m floating on my wave ski taking pictures of my friend Thom surfing back and forth … in on the incoming and out on the outgoing waves. You can see where incoming and outgoing meet it makes some fun explosions that will throw you several feet in the air …

rolling and companionship
Once I learned how to roll, my confidence in various conditions went up and paddling with others when you practice in some waves or chop is a tremendous ease on your nerves which will allow you to be looser and more relaxed.

Learn to scull so you can lean on it a bit. I find that’s a powerful technique for me with turning my boat and edging it.

Every paddler gets into some scary water once in a while - it’s part of the growth process.

Rough Water
Make sure your kayak is outfitted properly so you fit like a glove with contact points at your knees, butt, and feet. but of course not too tight to not get out if needed.

in rough windy conditions. keep paddling - paddling thus momentum is stability. Use shorter strokes (also good in tide rips). and relax!

if you have time, take a whitewater kayaking class which will help you learn to brace without thinking and see ‘rough’ water more comfortably and even as fun or a benefit to help you get to your destination quicker. cheers.

I would work
on perfecting a sculling brace if you are going to be paddling rough water. It allows you to come up when you want. You are also in a more powerfull postion then having to depend on a low brace.

Not harder, just different
I found rolling in waves not any harder than rolling on flat water. But it does feel different. Still, a good roll will come up.

If you find yourself on the wrong side of the wave and fail to come up, you feel it right away. The next time you come up, you kind of know what to look for.

Wave may prevent you from rolling up but time it right it can help you too. Just get the feel of that “right” moment. It’s impossible to describe but almost impossible to miss when you’re in it.

The general advice is “try it, and if it fail, try again”. In 3 tries, I bet you would end up on the right timing just by accident. But chances are even better that by then, you found the right timing.

try it . . . and then
I’d amend that to say try it, and if it fails try the other side.

In waves or current, I don’t always know which way I’m rolling, but I can tell when my first roll was on the wrong side. So you roll one way, and if it doesn’t work, try the other side. That usually works for me.

river vs sea
In a rapid (especially stuck in a hole), yes, try the other side which is usually the easier side.

But in ocean waves, it’s mostly timing. If you’re on the down slope with the wave against you, it’s pretty hard to come up. But wait a second for the crest to pass, you’re now on the “right” side of the wave, a half-hearted hip flick will come up with the wave helping.

Turning in waves is less of a problem than turning in winds. The stronger the wind, the harder is will be for you to turn. Get up to Force 7 or 8, and you will tend to just go broadside to the wind and be unable to turn away in either direction. That leaves you with going forwards or backwards.

The key skill for these types of condition is avoidance - read the weather, stay off the water.

In breaking waves, the biggest problem is staying upright.

Strong winds -> use thy skeg/rudder
It is amazing what a well trimmed kayak can do for you in strong winds, provided you use the skeg/rudder wisely.

Drop the skeg down, and you go downwind with virtually no effort (and if you must, paddle backwards to speed-up the process, but even just sitting still you will turn downwind). Wanna turn upwind? Stay in place or paddle forward with the skeg or rudder up - the kayak will turn itself upwind in no time at all.

Your kayak does not do that? Then it is not well balanced…

The above is very easy to do in mostly flat water (small/not exceedingly steep waves). With waves that leave half your boat in the air, things are more interesting as it is not possible to balance the hull in the water against the wind all the time - the balance changes with your position on the waves, so you have to be more creative and use the waves to your advantage…

Did you try a cross-bow rudder?
I agree with the comments about time and experience helping, but if you haven’t played around with cross-bow rudder, try that (in easier conditions first). I like it better than regular bow rudder; it feels like I can get more torque applied to turn the boat because it is physically more comfortable for me.

Same application as with regular bow rudder: Use it to turn UPWIND by dropping your downwind cheek to edge; then do the cross bow rudder on the upwind side.

Lessons and Practice
There is the saying that there are no advanced skills, but rather a basic set of skills that can be used in varying conditions. As you get more and more challenging conditions your skills break down.

I’d find a good coach who has experience in the conditions and see about building up your confidence.

I know some guys up in Bayfield who were at the Gales Storm Gathering who were awesome paddlers you could work with.

so then

How much rough water did you have at the gales?

that is good advice—a few years ago I was caught in a squall off Stonington and try as I might I couldn’t turn to windward (wind was blowing about 30 knots) eventually worked my way out of it–later learned that combination of forward sweep strokes on downwind side alternating with a bow rudder/forward stroke on my upwind side (and putting my skeg all the way up)does the trick–for a year after I practiced every windy day I was out.