Rudder/skeg down/up when surfing?

In some open canoe threads over the years, there has been some marginally informed discussion as to whether it’s better to have a more or less turnable open canoe hull when surfing ashore on ocean waves.

It occurs to me that sea kayakers are better experienced to answer this, perhaps in the context of whether, when wave surfing ashore, you would drop your rudder or skeg or keep it up.

How much is it worth?

Skegs and rudders
Should be retracted when surfing. There is no guarantee that the bow will be first when you approach the shallows/shore, so that can eSily be destroyed by contact with the bottom.


after getting beaned with a rudder
when I made Popham beach nose first and butt up and pilloried in the sand then whacked with the rudder…I would vote for 1. Helmet

2. Rudder nowhere in the vicinity.

Some conjecture

– Last Updated: Jul-27-14 6:03 PM EST –

What would p-net be without conjecture. I hope my brand of conjecture seems logical. It seems logical to me.

I find that surfing wind-driven waves in my guide-boat feels exactly the same as surfing a stationary wave in mild rapids in a medium-tracking canoe (and the guide-boat handles much like a medium-tracking canoe). What feels the same is that such a canoe surfing a standing wave easily gets flung off its heading and the paddler can find it impossible to muscle it back again before the boat has veered too far sideways to do anything about it, and off you go, downstream with the current, pointed sideways (if you haven't been rolled during that initial moment of sideways acceleration, at least). On steep, wind-driven waves, the guide-boat does the same thing - it really wants to veer sideways and lose its travel speed and suddenly match the speed of the water (in this case, that means stopping, but the hydrodynamics are the same as suddenly matching the speed of the current in a river and drifting rather than surfing, and the boat could easily flip for the same reason as on a river).

The guide-boat's long oars are a huge advantage though, and one oar can be dropped into the water right alongside the stern to act as a rudder, which prevents what would otherwise be a very quick broach, which at 12 or 13 mph could be catastrophic. In the absence of this very powerful corrective steering ability, I'd expect the same thing that makes a canoe easy to control on a river wave to be an advantage on a moving wave, and that is, some rocker. A rockered boat is a lot less likely to "grab" the water passing by if it gets a little off-heading, and much weaker steering correction is required to make it behave when water is streaming by the hull at high speed.

So in answer to the question, I think a skeg or rudder would help a lot (ever seen a surfboard without a skeg?). But as others have pointed out, there may be things to consider other than optimal handling.

I think so also
I usually ride waves with mine partly extended. Especially offshore on following seas because I can hold a course. I can still change course with a simple lean and a stroke.

Refining my question
First of all, I am obviously not asking about rudder vs. no rudder. I’m trying to ask whether deploying a kayak rudder/skeg in a surfing situation can assist directional tracking control.

None of my three kayaks has a rudder or skeg, so I have no practical experience myself.

However, upon quick reflection, the surfing of breaking shore waves is probably not the analogy I’m looking for with respect to (rudderless) open canoe hulls. There are practical reasons not to deploy a kayak rudder/skeg in shore surf. On steep shore waves an over-the-stern kayak rudder will probably be out of the water. If broached in a breaking shore wave, a rudder or skeg could hit bottom and bend or break.

So I probably should be asking about the deployment of a rudder/skeg in open water downwind wave surfing.

I occurred to me, as it did to GBG, that surfboards have rudders. So do the best open ocean surfing machines, surf skis and outrigger canoes. Of course, all of those are under-stern rudders, not over-the-stern rudders. Kayak skegs, however, are under-stern.

So, to restate the topic, does deploying a rudder or skeg help a kayak surf downwind waves in open waters?

For now, I don’t have to use the paddle as a rudder and can focus entirely on getting the boat up to speed to milk the bumps.

as long as there is sufficient force on the aft end to allow the rudder to “bite”

Anectodotal experience only… Mad River Monarch with rudder… much faster downwind with less correction needed compared to same length sea kayak ( Wilderness System Shenai) without rudder or skeg. Lake Superior breaking waves last summer