The subtle art of surfing.

-- Last Updated: Aug-16-04 10:40 AM EST --

I went out yesterday hoping Charley would send us some waves. At Nahant beach, the waves were 2 feet, with very occasional batches of 3 footers. This was perfect for trying to improve my beach-surfing abilities.

It's not easy! I don't mean staying upright, bracing, or physically paddling in breaking waves--I mean the more subtle skills that I see people like Sing demonstrate: guessing where a wave will break, understanding how they come in groups (sets), and knowing which waves has the right combination of steepness and height that I will be able to surf it all the way to the beach.

I can't do too many tricks in my sea kayak--just take an angled run with one turn, or peel out. I can never guess or figure out where the shoulder is moving. I love the feeling of leaning back to keep the bow from pearling, while ruddering hard to stay straight. Equally fun to lean forward, tip off the the top of the wave, and slide down the face.

Turning around gracefully in the swash is an interesting challenge too. With the Greenland paddle it seems to work best to extend the paddle shoreward and take a couple of forceful sweeps just as waves pass underneath--but if too large a wave comes along, it can catch me bracing in the wrong (shoreward) direction.

Learning surf skills seems more challenging to me than learning ocean skills, which I was able to do in a carefully graded manner over many years. Surfing seems to require just a touch of daredevilry. I'm still haunted by a bad experience swimming in surf (in lovely Sandbridge, VA) years ago, before I knew the difference between spilling and dumping surf. Unlike the west coast, surf skills are not really necessary in New England--there is almost no coastline without some sort of protected landing. But slowly, slowly, I'm starting to appreciate how much fun it can be.



– Last Updated: Aug-16-04 11:18 AM EST –

Come out and play, next time waves show and your schedule allows. It really is just a matter of getting on the waves and watching waves as much as possible.

Not all waves are the same. Not all breaks are the same. There is an interaction of the particular break, the swell direction and the wind that makes it a "great, good or so-so" day.

Also, while I would admit that the Mariner is as good as a "surfing" touring boat that can be had, it will not do the things that a short boat can and nowhere close to the performance of a dedicated surfing yak. The shorter boats really really let you begin to "dance" with the wave, rather than just having the wave do the "leading" all the time. The difference between a "tango" and a "slow dance." Both are nice but the former has a bit more spice.

I have the Acrobat that you can use. That is the same boat that ScottB used when we surfed together last time. I surfed with Scott more than several times now. I think he surfs his Mariner as well as anyone can in a long boat. But I saw him do some cutting back and forth with the Acrobat that I have never seen him do in his Mariner.

I really like the beach I surfed this past weekend in Rockport. It is a nice sandy beach with a steeper slope with abutting points that gives more character to the break. But the bottom is as forgiving as one is going to find around here. Let's do it when our schedules and waves coincide.


Speaking Of “Subtle Art…”

– Last Updated: Aug-16-04 11:30 AM EST –

this weekend I found out how useful a quick backdeck roll can be. Several times I pearled and flipped on some steep waves (this really can be avoided if you can get an early sprint on the wave rather than making last second decision). Rather than waiting for the foam to die down and then roll, I immediately went for a backdeck roll. Each and every time, I rolled right back up and found I was still on the wave and could finish out the ride. It makes sense because right at the initial flip, the boat is still caught up in and moving with the forward energy of the wave. As one sweeps forward with the blade (which is trailing behind), it just rides the energy and rolls one back up with incredible ease. However, in waiting, the drag of one's body eventually allows the boat to fall behind the forward power of the wave. So rolling up after waiting some seconds, you generally end coming up in between waves.


you two need…
to come out WEST for a little ‘Surfin’ Safari’!!!

Like what Sing stated, you need to spend as much time as possible in the surf to learn, understand and enjoy Mother Nature at one of her best locations, the coastline.

In our SurfZone course we spend alot of time just sitting in the soup zone pointed out or in and ‘treading’ water. This develops a good knowledge of the patterns of the swell, boat positioning, proper strokes, tilts and general boat control. Moving about in this zone readies you for the impact zone and beyond.

While I used to think small boats were better for training, I now find that the longer, harder to control, sea boat is a wonderful tool for teaching, as well. Then when you move to a more sporty model, the skills are generally hard wired.

Actually, both are GREAT! just go.


Steve, I thinking surfing with a long boat is simply “training” for surf with a long boat. Mastering the surf boat and its capabilities is a whole other ball game that long boaters can’t even comprehend until they sit in a short boat and begin to figure out what such a boat can do in the surf. That’s why I believe white water paddlers transfer better and quicker to surf than a long boater can. The ww guys already understand there is a whole range of manuevers that a long boater can’t even conceive of.

Using a car analogy, it’s like the difference of driving a 100 miles an hour down a straight highway with a Chevy vs driving a Formula One on a curvy race track going over 200 miles an hour… Yeah, they’re both cars but…


surfing, long vs short
We had some howling north winds last week on lake michigan, which gave a really nice set of breakers near south haven on wednesday. 4-6 footers. I surfed in my silhouette for about an hour and a half. I caught some nice rides, but the wind picked up and the surf started to dump. I then pitchpoled my kayak, pretty scary, fun but scary. No swims, or broken kayaks, but it started to get so that I was pearling out on a lot of waves. So we switched to ww boats. It soon became apparent that there are some pros and cons.

The whitewater kayaks, or (surf kayaks) are far less freaky when you start to get bigger surf, because if you do pearl and pitchpole it is in 8’ of plastic kayak, instead of 18’ of composite. And there is very little broaching maytagging going on. I could roll up and still be surfing half the time. It is pretty creepy though when you catch a really steep wave. The kayak will accelerate you down the greenwater pretty quick, so that it feels like you dropped off of the wave six feet straight down. Also it is really hard to break out past the initial line of breakers at the beach because you can’t get enough hull speed up to crash through. I was paddling a pyranha I:3. Jason the paddler I was with, gave me a good tip though, follow the rips, where sand is stirred up in the water.

I really dig being able to spin, carve up the wave face, and do stern squirts in the surf zone.

I’m hooked!!!

Welcome To The “Stoke!”

– Last Updated: Aug-16-04 5:33 PM EST –

Long boats will be better at catching sloppy, smaller waves. However when the waves get big and steep, the long boat with its sharp bow will actually dig into the water and slow down. Thus the pearling. With a shorter, rockered planing hull, once you go off the lip, you begin to accelerate at speeds that the long boat cannot match. That's how short boats can get ahead of the pocket on a rolling break, cutback to the pocket and then zoom ahead again. You can cut back up a steep wave face, get some air, and get off the wave. In a long boat, you're pretty much committed, or forced to commit, (if you have not pitchpoled and flip) to side surfing the foam wall all the way to the beach.

Then you have the major differences between a ww boat and a surf yak, the latter's sharp rails and fins. Without these, the white water boat will slip and, yes, sometimes drop and butt bounce to the bottom of a steep face. It just does not have all the hull features to quickly go into a diagonal run, or quickly cutback at the wave bottom. While some ww models do better (like the Necky Zip which have concave side walls and really sharp chines), most rely on the sharp thin chine at the stern for carving. On the other hand, the surf yak, as soon one pops off the lip, can build speed quick and be leaned into the wave to initiate carving with the rails. The fins also help to hold the boat to the wave face and transfer the energy from what would be slippage into forward thrust for more speed. This is where the surf yak begins to approximate ability of the surf board for the classic moves. Another advantage of the surf yak is the lack of rocker in the stern. This gives much more speed and carving ability than a ww yak. I couldn't get the speed and ability to carve back up a wave face with my white boats that I can with my Boogie. Now, I can only imagine the even greater speed with a stiffer and lighter hull of a composite surf boat...

In terms of rips, yup, they are a surfer's friend. Without that, practice your "duck diving" to avoid taking a major hit from a breaking wave and possibly getting sucked out of the boat like I did last winter.

I have surfed long boats but won't "surf" them anymore unless it is in the course of beach landing on a touring paddle. If I am to go surfing, then it will be surfing as optimally as I can. And that is with a short boat, preferably a surf kayak. I truly believe surfing with a short boat is a whole different, more complex, dynamic and exciting game than that with a long boat. There just is no comparison, at least in my mind.


the subtle and enjoyable art…
of vicariously surfing those waves through your posts is good fun. Thanks! Having body surfed most of my life, I can identify with some of what you say. I’d have to say body surfing ranks at the top of my list for fun things to do. Here’s hoping you have lots more good waves this summer and that you keep posting your wave reports:-) Cathy

Slightly Depressing…
Man, is it flat here! It is only 1-2 foot at Steamer Lane this morning. I haven’t seen an honest to goodness overhead wave since last fall…

Sheesh Sing, no wonder you don’t like
long boats. And I agree about the long boats limitations but I find huge advantages in using a longer boat as well.

My perception and yours differ greatly.

Some of my own observations from a decade of surfing touring kayaks:

I have found surfing in a longer boat to be much more enjoyable, giving me the ability to catch waves way farther out and attain speeds much higher than in a shorter boat. Much much higher. I let go of my Perception Dancer because it wasn’t as fast on the waves as my Hydra Seayak. Even that pig of a boat was endearing to me. The longer boat gave me the sensation of going faster. Far faster than any planning hull will achieve. And once at those speeds, the longer boat will glide far easier and maintain higher speeds easier. It aint the ww explosion kind of surfing that i know you like but the long fast rides outside the break that have me so frickin addicted to long boats. It is way different and not even comparable to anything I can do in a short boat. I sit in a short boat and I like the idea that one stroke can have me turned 180 degrees in a second but for me that doesn’t offset the severe lack of speed.

I find that when I am surfing a short planning hull, I tend to hop out of the water and skip across the water like a flat stone when I start to go fast. It is awful aggrivating.

For me, I have found that the shorter boats tend to go submarine a heck of a lot easier than my Mariner. Maybe because I am fairly heavy. The Mariner is super easy to pull out of a pearl. I just lay it on it’s side and she’ll turn lickity split.

As far as forced broaches go, well, therein lies the huge factor of skill, finesse, and boat control that makes or breaks a day at the beach. In my touring boat I can manuever in the foam pile. I can go forwards or backwards, up the face or down the face, I actually like to make my boat broach right when the wave dumps and as it does turn rapidly to the beach and speed off in front of the wave. I like to roll over just before a dumping wave and pop up inside it. It is something that I can only describe by calling it the art of surfing as Sanjay put it.

I wouldn’t even consider a short boat for surfing. I dont have as much fun in a short boat. I dont catch the really long rides in a short boat. I dont achieve the high speeds in a short boat. I dont have surfers tell me that the ride I just caught looked really cool when I am paddling a short boat. In short, short boats come up short on the ocean. A sea kayak feels better, faster, and I laugh out loud, sometimes with my head underwater, after catching a fun ride.

I can totally understand your perspective though. You are very good at playboating and I watch in envy.

I look at it as the difference between stationary spinning and going 12mph. Different boats do very different things.

I actually enjoyed taking my 20 foot ski out in the surf until it came apart. It was fun while it lasted.

Hey Sanjay
It’s good to see you posting. I have not seen you here for a while.

A Pnet Surf Safari !
Hey Flatpick I think you may have a good idea. Not sure how easy it would be to pull off, but maybe we could at least post pictures from the two coasts. I do know Sing and Sanjay are out west from time to time.

Maybe Santa Cruz in 2005?

You have not tried a short surf boat
Try a real surf boat or a waveski in the pocket of a big wave. There is no comparison whatsoever to surfing a seakayak. Whitewater boats don’t come close. Once you try it you will not want to quit.

Thanks, Seadart.
Mostly I’ve not been on pnet because I’ve been either out of town or catching up from work related to having been out of town. I’m sorry i couldn’t hook up with you while I was in San Diego–my brother’s there now, so I spent more time with him and his kids and had less time to myself than on my usual S.D. visits. Then had two weeks in Maine, where I learned to re-enter my surf-ski.

Nothing I’d like more than to watch you and Barracuda carve up the waves. I should be back in San Diego next April, though I may be in India instead.


Well, You Prove…

– Last Updated: Aug-17-04 10:45 AM EST –

and remind me again the truth in the truism: "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." Anyone who have watched you surf can't doubt your love in your boat and your stoke on the waves. I wish someone made a clip of Jayson Bowerman (Oops! not Jono Stevens) riding a 14' foot long boat on the steep 6' wave in Santa Cruz. He was laying back on his back deck to keep from pearling and from there stern ruddering effectively to do these long loopy cutbacks. It was quite a show! His ride was a thing of beauty, even for the non beholders! But, I think at a certain point in height and steepness of a wave, the long boat reaches the limit of its capacity, no matter the skill of the the paddler. I am not sure where the limit is of the surf yak but I've seen the footages of folks dancing on triple overheads with a surfyak where a mishap would be very painful in deed if not fatal.


Santa Cruz '05

– Last Updated: Aug-17-04 4:57 AM EST –

is a plan, if I can get my schedule in order. I trying to surf every opportunity I can to get ready for the intermediate class. It's not even about the competition but being there for the opportunity to watch, learn and ride with folks who are stokin on big, clean steep waves. It's a "gathering" or a "happening" among what is apparently a very small group of liked mind folks, relatively speaking, in the diverse world of paddling.

If I have enough money saved up, I'll probably buy one of the dozen used glass surf boats that folks try to sell of over there and ship it back to the east coast. I saw some great deals last year.


Have To Find A Big Boy Boat…

– Last Updated: Aug-17-04 4:52 AM EST –

to try. Maybe at RISK fall session coming up. Some of the RISK guys are pretty big (plus they can sure rip!). None of the local surf yakkers in northern NE I know is Scott's size or has a surf boat he can fit.


Absolutely correct
and dont get me wrong about where I am coming from. I think I was just trying to say that surfing in a long boat is not limited to pearling or broaching although I see many people trying to surf in long boats that just don’t turn and they seem to end up in some brutal situations. Some long boats will pearl in two foot waves. Some long boats will breach and stay that way until they hit the sand. Not all of them are like that though.

Maybe if I lived somewhere where waves are typically larger than what I see here i would desire a true surf boat but honestly I see guys paddling wave skis and it just does’nt look like fun unless the waves are big. Catching a big wave and playing in the pocket isnt something one can do but a few times a year over here. But the guys in wave skis are out in the smaller stuff, out of desperation perhaps, and they have to work very hard just to get on a wave than work very hard to stay with it for a few seconds before it’s over. Looks like a lot of work trying to make a short boat go fast enough to catch small waves. Typically the guys I see playing on wave skis are out for less than an hour before walking away in frustration. They need big waves to catch wild rides. That means big dissapointment around here.

Anyways I am certainly not saying a long boat is better for surfing but that they have attributes that short boats dont have. One big one is speed. How fast can you paddle an 8 foot boat? How long will an 8 foot boat hold it’s speed? Hence my preference for a long boat. It is just different.

And don’t get me wrong about what type of surf I like to play in. It is smallish surf sub-5’.

And I prefer my favorite beach that tends to put out waves that gentley break over long stretches of shallow sandy beach. Obviously I would get the crap kicked out of me in large powerful demanding surf if I were to try to put a sea kayak where it don’t belong.

Their is nothing like taking a sea kayak and surfing a large swell outside the break. It is a beautiful experience. This is where a long boat will prove to be better suited at taking advantage of available speed. Short boats are for inside the break. Two completely different things and styles of playing. Gotta love small boats. All of them.

I would never sya that long boats are better for playing in the surf. That would be stupid. Though they are undeniabley faster and better suited for ocean travel.

yeah, I agree
I was just talking about long boat learning/practice. Surfing in a surf specific boat IS another animal, all together.

I guess the thing that makes the long boat a bit more desireable for me is the traveling the coastline aspect. In a surf or WW boat the goal is generally out and in and out and in, where the long boat is out and down or up the coastline then in for a break then out to some rock gardens then… you see? The ‘journey’ is quite different in a 6’ flat bottom surf machine.


maybe we can
meet up @ SC. I might be able to arrange my schedule, something has always come up and kept me away from this gathering, tho I have surfed there before.

The board surfer attitude that comes with ‘most’ California breaks kills me, as well. Oregon is catching up but still not as bad. I know a couple great surf breaks where kayaks rule and they’re close to PDX.