Surfing Waves with a Sea Kayak

My first try at surfing waves in a 17 foot sea kayak was quite fun, but I thought something was missing.

So I need some suggestions on how and in which direction to steer and whatever else you might think of.

I’ve seen some instructional videos on surf entry and exit and I think I got that in practice. Question is mostly on how to move down/side on the waves.

Here’s a short clip of me trying this out for a first time.

Keep in mind I’ve been in a sea kayak for a relatively short time - picked-up the hobby more seriously in late April and have really mostly paddled calm waters and have may be 2 hours in standing waves on the Potomac and another hour or so in large boat wakes on the Chesapeake. The Assateague waves on the Atlantic were my first “real” waves -:wink: Combine that with my inability to roll yet and you can see why I seem a little stiff at the beginning -:wink:

On the positive side, I had ample opportunity to practice self-rescue in rough conditions (second two days were with somewhat larger waves than you see here). Re-entry and roll (with paddle float) seems the easiest, FYI -;). I was surprises that on my first day I managed not to capsize at all even when broadsided by the foam. But with the larger waves (not shown) I did tip over, mostly when the breaking waves cought-up with me.

My main problem was steering the boat while surfing down the wave. If the wave was nice and did not break on me and if I deploy the skeg - I could go perpendicular to it and surf for a long time. But more often than not, the boat would turn right or left and I would end-up broadside and climbing back over the tip of the wave (breaking wave or not). How do you steer best? Do you use the skeg or not?


using the skeg

– Last Updated: Jul-07-08 10:48 PM EST –

you have a Tempest 170 right?---what the experts recommend is to deploy the skeg halfway down when going down wind---that gives you the best compromise between tracking and manuverablitly. You should also be leery of beaching the boat with the skeg down as this can kink the wire that pulls it up and break it. When going upwind pull the skeg up to minimize lee cocking.

ps just read what paddlemore said about keeping the skeg up---he is correct, particularly if you are surfing onto a beach--you develop your bracing and ruddering skills quicker if you don't use the skeg---and when you do use it, only put it halfway down.

2 things
1. Take a forward stroke class while you are still fresh to paddling

2. Edge, edge, edge

And, while we are at it - long kayaks, surf, and swimmers do not mix. Find a more deserted location to surf.

a few things
try not to surf near swimmers (especially little ones) you could break them

When paddling over a wave, don’t raise your hands and paddle over your head - keep paddling!

The first to runs looked good. The last run you didn’t have enough forward speed before the wave reached you.

Generic advice… work on edging and bracing, forward stroke might be helpful (when surf most people’s forward stroke technique falls apart).

I wouldn’t worry about the skeg while surfing (keep it up). You want to maintain your forward direction as much as possible by using edging first, then a stern rudder.

Keep up the good work.

Early corrections
Make small corrections as soon as you start to get off line. If you wait until a large correction is required it is too late and you will be unable to prevent it going broadside.

Thanks for the suggestions
My forward stroke could use a lot of improvement and it did improve over the next couple of days compared to what you see here - I was able to relax more and thus pay more attention to it than to the water around me as the wave patterns felt a lot more familiar after a couple of sessions.

As for the swimmers - they are hard to avoid. But they are at the very edge where I only go in or out and I give them ample warning both ways - the surf is not bad immediately off the beach so I can stay there and aim where to land. It gets deep fast, plus the water is very cold and there are really no swimmers in the deep - just “wave bouncers” in the first shallow 10 feet or so and I don/t stay there at all…

Edging in calm water is easy - in rough water it works well too when not surfing or in some very limited cases while surfing for me. Going down the wave and when the boat begins to turn too much I had trouble leaning away from the wave to edge the other way (extreme lean that is, to change direction). And you are right - early corrections worked well and late course changes with stern rudder were nearly useless. I did find out too that half-skeg seemed to stabilize me enough down the wave to maintain a nicer straight line.

I did paddle intentionally in rather strong winds on the sheltered side of the bay where there was only about 2 feet of wind chop. Being my second time in this Tempest 170 I intentionally paddled it in all directions to see how it does and was pleasantly surprised at how well it handled the chop and wind from any direction. With some skeg it would go straight in cross-winds/waves, with less skeg it would tend to turn upwind and with more skeg it would go downwind. Surfing the wind chop was a piece of cake and took barely an effort to move downwind. I think this is just about perfect balance as far as I can tell since this way I do not need to overcorrect to maintain the general direction.

In the waves however, the dynamcs seem to be different (there was not that much wind, so wind-induced weathercoking was not an issue). I was able to do small corrections to the direction via edging (not shown in this clip) when I had a looooong run perpendicular to a nice non-breaking wave and that worked great - no need for ruddering with the paddle at all. But once the boat started to turn sideways, especially on steep waves that were about to break over me, my edging into the wave seemed to be of little use as was my stern rudder (more like a low brace really as I was not comfortable enough to do a real stern rudder). I think I should have tried as I said above to do an extreme edge away from the wave with a corresponding high brace/stern rudder away from the wave to be able to turn away from the wave - seen that done in shorter surf boats, but I did not have the time to try it in my Tempest 170 and I’m not sure if it would have worked or not.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts. I was not the only one surfing and I can tell you the quite a few sit on tops that braved it had a much easier time, especially at re-entry -:wink:


it’s coming…
so i’ll say it first. get a surf boat if you want to turn and run sidelong down the surf waves and shred the knar, with the dudes…

no really mate, you’re doing very well if you are that new to sea kayaking. well along the curve. even the most play/rough water/tempest/romany/whatever, sea kayak is highly limiting in terms of directional control in surf. you can develop further than what you did that day, but you had some speedy rides, and that’s about what you expect in a sea kayak. you may drag your way back into the foam pile in some conditions and change direction, but straight and fast are the hallmarks of any good sea kayak, and you look like you’re doing very well and having a good time.

ditto with the above
and start working on a roll—you will enjoy it a lot more if you don’t have to swim very often–btw the T-170 is an easy rolling boat.

Surf board/boat
I knew someone would suggest that -:wink: I thought of getting a SOT surf kayak for this trip and almost bought one used. But I thought that I would be in waves like this may be 3 days a year where I would be in relatively flat water otherwise and would not be enjoying that there. So I can better use my limited $$$ elsewhere…

I have a WW boat too (8+ foot river runner) and that might have been a little better for these waves but I’m not comfortable enough with it yet - so I took the sea kayak instead.

made a good choice
buying the sea kayak—unless you are a surf fanatic like Sing you will probably get much more use out of the sea kayak—you might want to try your WW boat next time in the surf–

This article may help

This article I wrote for Mid Atlantic Outdoors may help – it’s a primer for surfing with sea kayaks.

I see you’re in Maryland,you may want to consider coming down for one of our Surf Zone Strategies or Sea Kayak Surfing classes, too – it’s a great way to learn to surf in a sea kayak and get some immediate feedback to grow your skills. We teach several classes a month in the surf:

Also, here’s what to avoid… sliding down into the trough in front of the wave:

A few P-Netters have worked with us and the feedback has been very positive.

Hope this helps – Tom

Virginia Sea Kayak Center

another repeat
I know you responded to it, but I must also agree with the comment about not surfing so close to kids. That was the first thing I thought of when watching the video.

When surfing, it is very likely at some point you will be surfed up to the beach (often side-surfed, so no control). Or you will wet exit and your now flooded boat will make its own way to the beach.

Kids in general will run towards things that look exciting to them. No a pretty scene if they get taken out by a kayak.

Find another beach without the crowds, go at times (early morning) when they aren’t there, etc. Kayaks can travel, so best would be some offshore sand bar or similar, where you wouldn’t even have to worry about the board surfers…

Thanks Tom
The links are very helpful! I think we spoke some time ago about demoing some Point 65 N boats (the XP, when it was out for a gel coat repair), but I never made it down your way. I sat in a used XP for sale in the Williamsburg area and I thought the seat was a little on the narrow side for me - otherwise it was perfect, with plenty of foot room and looked great! Anyway, I ended-up with a Tempest and a P&H Outlander, so boat shopping is done for now. Will check out your class schedule…

learn the boof stroke. Rather than raise your hands as the wave passes under you, or worse, surfs you, plant the blade on the waves back if you can and stroke hard. There are more subtleties to it so find a good tutorial on it.

Get on a surfer site and copy the set of rules known as Surfer’s Etiquete. Don’t chat with them on the forum as almost all of them hate us with a passion. The reason they do is when you are being surfed (as opposed to surfing) you are an out of control 18 foot bulldozer headed to the beach.

Have fun!


I got a boat with a built in skeg
so it’s deployed all the time. :slight_smile:

I began surfing the ocean in a short ww boat but the sea is big and short ww boats have no hull speed=suck to go places in. To catch a wave in a short boat you have to be in it. Like wave being ready to break. A sea kayak lets you catch waves in there infancy and get longer faster rides. The speed is unmatch by shorter boats. I can sprint up to 6mph where a ww boat I can get probably a little more than half that. The difference is huge when trying to sprint out in front of a wave. I gave up on ww boats a very long time ago.

I can’t stand riding straight in. The only times I am perp to the wave is taking off with short powerful strokes timed to put myself in front of a building wave at the absolute earliest possible location. Usually when the wave is very small. Way way before a boardy has the slightest chance of attainment. After that I try to ride it at a 45 more or less to gain max speed with minimum effort. I steer with a combination of tossing my weight and paddling. It can be difficult to maintain a 45 without broaching. Naturally the boats wants to broach. I use a strong stern rudder on the beach side to maintain direction without broaching. If I begin to climb the wave face and start to loose the wave, I can throw my weight backwards and rudder harder while leaning slightly towards shore to toss the bow towards shore, bringing the boat further down the face. Another option is trying to outpower the wave by trying to pull off powerful forward strokes while edging to steer but that won’t turn me like dropping a stern rudder and leaning backwards and towards shore. Forward strokes make me go a heck of a lot faster though. I try to time the wave so that I can get my ride in before the wave breaks and pull out before the dump. Many days the foam pile is just too much fun to play in to avoid. Other days I have had tremendous fun and never come near the areas where board surfers would initiate an attempt. It all depends on the wave size and frequency. Bigger surf (+5’) is crazy difficult for me on broken waves but crazy beautiful in the glass. It has brought me to tears more than a few times. sounds silly but that is how addictive this is to me.

Getting out of a broach takes skill level that is magnitudes beyond simply surfing. The is where you can tell the difference between the experience of different paddlers. It takes body english to make a sea kayak do stuff in large ww. It takes microsecond timing and balance and a knowledge of where the slower water is to use the deeper slower water or the faster moving water on the face to gain slight advantages over the moving foam pile. At the bottom of the pile the forces are stronger at keeping a boat broached. The top of the pile is infinitely less sticky and a very slight change in the height of the bow or stern can open up an opportunity to change direction rapidly. Forward and backward motion at the right time can make the difference between popping out of a pile and ending up on your head in the sand. Under the foam pile the water is not moving. A paddle stuck in the deeper water can give you unbelievable leverage. This can be used for good or evil. :slight_smile: A paddle stuck in the slower water on the beach side can result in an untimely crash.

I try to jump off the top of the foam pile and get additional surfs by turning towards shore and surfing the pile face multiple times. As I get near to shore and I am running out of depth I try to get to the top of the pile, lay over to the ocean side, grab a deep brace off the deeper water to put the brakes on, letting the foam pile pass under my hips, sometimes with my head fully submerged in the wave to the ocean side, trying to cause enough drag to make the boat slow enough to allow the wave to pass under, trying to change the direction of the boat as I pass over the top of the foam pile where it is the easiest to maneuver. I can get the pile to pass under me or get the pile to push me harder by placing my boat higher or lower in the pile. Even switchbacks are doable and almost easy if the ends of the boat come up out of the water. Do nothing but brace and you will surely be washed sideways onto the beach. Brace and throw weight forward or back, towards shore or to the sea, and you can manipulate your position on the pile to make exiting or turning towards shore easier. It is very hard work but very rewarding to play where only a broach was possible as a beginner.

I spend a lot of time trying to get better at surf play in a sea kayak. It is difficult. After years and years of playing, I am still handed my head regularly.

I don’t bother trying to surf in difficult spots. It is too hard. I play at the same gently sloping beach that I began at in the early nineties and get my fix there without any desire to find rocks in other locations. :slight_smile:

There is nothing more fun than catching rides that the boardies would druel over. It is like long boarding on steroids. My first sea kayak was a Hydra seayak which I thought surfed wonderfully. Now I have a Mariner Express which makes the Hydra seem like such a huge assed pig. Both boats are 16ft. Both have integral rudders, fairly flat mid sections, and high volume bows.

I love watching video of other paddlers surfing sea kayaks. It may look boring to many but it is poetry in motion to me.

I am jealous as hell of paddlers that make sea kayaking in big water look easy. It aint.