Surf is up....Now what?

Is there a preferred way to learn how to deal with bigger water?

I was up in the Door County peninsula of Wisconsin this past weekend. What a beautiful place! It was unusually warm and quite windy. Wind speeds were rather steady between 15 to 20 kts causing Lake Michigan to produce 3 to 5 foot waves. We thought it would be cool to head out to Bailey’s Harbor and try our hand at surfing some of these white capped little suckers.

This was my first time in water this textured and I found it kind of spooky. Paddling out, perpindicular to the waves, was exciting as the waves would break over the bow and come rushing up and over the whole boat! However, turning the boat around to attempt some surfing was the point that really scared me. The first time went OK and I was able to do some nice surfing and practice some bracing on the way in. I routinely had to fight to keep my Impex Currituk from broaching while surfing though. Would some skeg help during surfing? The second time out was a complete disaster. I began turning my boat toward shore with some outside sweeps and a wave totally capsized me. I learned more in the next 10 minutes than I have in the last two years of paddling. My paddle float re-entry was bad from the beginning. The boat was nearly swept away from me after my wet-exit (didn’t even attempt a combat roll), my paddle float almost blew away after I got it inflated, and during my first attempt at re-entry, another wave came along and put me back in the water. I was humbled at how much work this was! At this point my paddling partner was able to come out and assist with a rafted rescue which, was anything but pretty…it got the job done though. Then trying to use a sand encrusted hand bilge pump was less than efficient at pumping out my very unstable, water logged kayak! I was pretty freaked out with all pride extinguished at this point.

Am I the only one to go through this?

It’s A Learning Experience.
thumbs up for trying. Sounds to me like you gained some serious knowledge and experience in that one session.

Pick perhaps a smaller day, good break, onshore winds and work your way up. Have partners. You’ll learn rough water skills that will increase your ability and confidence. If you are working on a roll, try to make a least one or two attemps before bailing.


more wisconsin folks!
It definitely sounds like a learning experience and I would echo sings comments regarding practicing in smaller conditions. 5 foot waves are pretty serious stuff to be playing in if you haven’t built up a solid skill base in rough water. Where in Wisconsin are you located?

“I learned more in the next 10 minutes than I have in the last two years of paddling.”

That’s a positive attitude there!

Really, kayaking can be a relaxing passtime. But it can also be an exciting sport. If that’s what you’re seeking, you just found it! I confess, ever since I started kayaking, I get excited just watching the wave coming one after another…

Now, work on your skill and pratice in less demanding conditions and work your way up. I think you’re going to have a blast!

Yes… and No…
There is only one way to learn- and that’s by getting in the water! As others have said, the best thing you can do is practice, practice, practice. Start in some calmer waters. As you learned, a paddle-float rescue in 3+ foot seas is probably not a good option. Do self-rescues and assisted rescues until they feel like natural acts. Then continue practicing in more challenging conditions.

It’s great to see some more Cheeseheads here. Let’s go paddle!

“Would some skeg help during surfing?”

Actually your paddle is the skeg that will help you out. You need to learn how to do a powerful stern rudder, using your body not your arms to generate force, think about moving the kayak like a tail. I learned in large boats laying way back to do this. Since I have been surfing mostly surf kayaks now I don’t do the exagerate lay-back. If you can control your boat with stern rudders, you can surf in the pocket of the wave without broaching for quite a while, dependent on the waves of course. I can do this in a 14’ boat with 5’ waves but it’s not easy. Longer boats I’m not sure how well it works. Start learning on days when the waves are 1 or 2 ft tall, practice broaching and bracing into the wave, then build on up to bigger waves. Surfinga seakayk in 5’ waves and 20 knot winds is baptism by fire. Also look for days when the waves have longer periods, a long boat with long period swells is fun, you can surf the wave for a long long way. Also you might think about getting a shorter boat more ammenable to playing in the surf like a whitewater kayak or SOT.

5-footers?? =:-0)
ouch. not the perfect learning enviro.

start with less swell. was the wind still crankin’? if so some skeg might help you catch and ride wind waves. surfing swells and beach break will require some serious stern ruddering, as stated.

sounds like you should ALWAYS look for ONshore winds if you are going to go pound your head against the wall, as described.

If you have the time and $$$ a surf class here in Oregon might help. :wink:


Drop the skeg half-way or so
This will give you better tracking and slow the broaching process so you have more time to compensate with the paddle. Once you get better at control with the paddle, you can ease up on the skeg use.

late summer is frequently the best
time to learn to surf on the great lakes. It is warm and the air is warm too. Getting broached in a sea kayak with 5’ foot waves is easy. staying upright, pointed downwave, and not pitchpoling is hard. Work on your roll if you want to surf. It will be the best thing you ever did. Learn to roll up from every goofed up position and on both sides.

Oh and buy a surf boat…