Turning around in waves

Hello, new member here. After three years of paddling a Folbot double, this year I got a CD Caribou, I paddle on the Hudson in upstate NY, about a dozen times so far. No formal instruction. I’ve generally been out in calm conditions, and have done some experimenting with technique, such as knee hanging and carving turns, so know what that’s about, to a novice degree. One day it was a bit windy, with waves up to 1.5 feet, which I had no trouble or tense moments with, going up, down or crosswise in. I’ve never felt in even remote danger of capsize with this boat, so far.

This last Saturday, however, it was a bit more windy, I’d guess 15-20 mph sustained down the river valley. Waves were around 2 feet with whitecaps off the cove where I put in, and the tide was going against the wind 1-2 mph. I got out there and was having a grand old time plowing upwind into the waves, making good headway because of the current. Much fun.

However, I began to find myself upriver a bit where the wind was stronger, the shoreline more straight, and the waves getting closer to 3 feet (not smoothly rolling, but abrupt and whitecappy). It was fine boring ahead, but was beginning to get past my comfort zone when considering that at some point I was going to have to turn around. As it ended up there was a bit of a hollow along the coastline where the waves were less so I veered over there and got turned around ok. The rest of the day I avoiding getting that far up the river.

After that introduction, my question has to do with just how are you supposed to turn around in that sort of water? I’ve got a couple Hutchinson books and have looked at others in the bookstore and none seem to go into this much, they just cover going in a straight line either with, against, or across. The Caribou is certainly fond of pointing into the wind, and requires some horsing around to get turned the other way. My concern would be that having the boat edged over and flailing with the paddle over such an uneven surface beneath could well find me off-balance, and over I could go.

Do you perhaps use some ruddering with the paddle to kick the back end around? Do you perhaps come to a stop basically and do some reverse sweeps on the downwind side in addition to forward on the upwind side?

Any advice, and techniques to practice when it’s a bit less rough would be much appreciated.

Oh yeah, I already know I haven’t practiced self-rescue enough, so we don’t need to go there…


turning strokes in wind and waves

– Last Updated: Jul-29-04 3:36 PM EST –

bow draws and hanging draws, both with a good lean, will effectively turn your boat in the waves. these are best done on top of the wave so the hull offers less surface area to the water.

reverse sweeps will work less effectively for a few reasons ... one, you're working behind you which is a more precarious position for one who is still uncomfortable in the 'big stuff' ... and two, turning strokes such as reverse sweeps have an effective radius which is only the first third of the stroke. about 70 percent of the turning function occurs within this first third and after that the effectiveness falls off dramatically.

this is why most beginners lack proficiency in sweep strokes ... they fail to bring the paddle all the way to the stern during forward sweeps, and fail to begin the stroke all the way at the back of the boat during the reverse sweep. you're doing it right if the paddle is in a position such that you can drop your paddle into the water at the beginning of the reverse or at the end of the forward sweeps. "half" strokes may work on the lake but they won't work in the ocean.

to accomplish this, naturally you've got to have alot of torso rotation ... the third component of why reverse sweeps are less effective in wind and waves. if you're uncomfortable in the big stuff, you're much less likely, if at all, to get that torso cranked all the way round to perform the stroke effectively.

finally, here's a tip to work on your technique. this may surprise you, but paddling strokes are NOT a function of pulling the paddle through the water or pulling the paddle towards the boat. rather, think of pulling the boat TO THE PADDLE. on paper this may sound like so much 'theory' which makes no difference in practice. in fact, it makes all the difference in successful hanging draws, bow draws draws to the boat and efficient forward strokes. try this. sit in a swivel chair that has no arms .. like a computer or desk chair. hold your paddle the way you'd use it in your boat. now put your right blade on the rug out to the side of you (you need a rug to do this properly). now lift your feet off the floor (hold them out in front of you like you were sitting in your boat) and turn yourself in the direction of the paddle. your outstretched legs should swivel towards the paddle. feel that? feel those torso muscles working? now hold that 'feeling' and go do it your boat. THAT'S proper paddling mechanics.

sorry if this has become a novella but turning strokes are very technique oriented and doing them in wind and waves is that much more difficult.

sweep as the wave passes under you
That is my favorite.It’s all about timing. The wave passing under you will shorten the waterline and gravity can also help.

Unlike many paddlers, I do not find the caribou all that wasy to turn, (I weigh 225 and the boat is deeper in thw water for me), though I think it is a fine straight tracking boat that handles a quartering rear sea quite well.

I share your fear
"My concern would be that having the boat edged over and flailing with the paddle over such an uneven surface beneath could well find me off-balance, and over I could go. "

I once heard a rather experienced kayaker said “edging during a turn works only in flat water”!

Then one day, I saw this fine demonstration of a boat on edge so far that the croming is under water. And mind you, the water was far from flat! But the kayaker was perfectly balanced in the wave, boat on edge. And the boat went around a buoy so tight he could have touch it with his shoulder. I knew then and there, I’ve got a long way to go as far as edging skill goes.

On small to mid-size swells, it’s a simple matter of timing the turn on the crest of the wave. But I do find choppy wind waves with irregular pattern quite a bit harder to handle.

Were you trying to turn your Caribou with the skeg up or down. It is much harder to turn with the skeg down in flat conditions, not sure when in the higher winds and waves… GH

The Feeling In The Gut

– Last Updated: Jul-29-04 6:57 PM EST –

is telling you that you might have taken on a little too much. 2-3' chops can be intimidating if you haven't practice your self rescues. You were alone... You made the right decision to find a more sheltered spot to turn around.

Take it slow, practice some self rescues. Go out with others. And then play with your boat in increasing conditions to see what works best. To do this well, you need to feel you have backups in case you go over.

Edging, turning on the top of the wave, sweeps, bow rudders all work to varying degrees with different boats. But if your mind is on the edge of healthy caution/fear, you're not gonna explore them that effectively.

Best place to learn how to work in waves alone is to pick an easy beach break with 1-2' waves and an onshore wind. If you make a mistake, it's pretty forgiving and you can get yourself to shore fairly easy. That's how I started out. Last weekend I was playing in chops in an open bay. I went over trying to do a cross bow draw to turn into the waves. I came back up with a roll. No biggie since I have had about 3 years of playing alone on beach breaks and was absolutely confident I was not gonna get into trouble.


great advice, sing
"You were alone… You made the right decision to find a more sheltered spot to turn around.

play with your boat in increasing conditions to see what works best. To do this well, you need to feel you have backups in case you go over."

The best, clearest advice I’ve see so far on balancing when to push the limit and learn vs. when to back off to be safe!

I shall keep this in mind as I go along.

That is where I love my rudder
The combination of the rudder, a lean, and a sweep, and I am reversed before the second wave has a chance to do me in.

Cheers, and stay happy,


Good info here, thanks. I need to study up on many of these other strokes, certainly. Up to this point I’ve just been enjoying getting out there and covering distance. The river valley is spectacular in the area I paddle (Hyde Park - Kingston), with lots of places to explore along the shoreline. I went out this last windy day on a bit of a whim, thinking even before I started it might end up being a little extreme for me. Had to try, though…

Regarding the skeq question, yes, I’ve frequently been known to “cheat” and drop it to help get the bow turned downwind. Was using it that purpose this last trip and also to ensure the boat stayed tracking straight on some brief following wave rides. I not sure it would be much help for the first portion of the attempt to turn off the wind, thought it might slow the turn down a bit.


We did need another rudder thread…
just kidding…

Wave sizes
2-3 footers are usually enough to lift most of the hull out of the water and let you spin it around on the wave top more easily than turning in flat water once you get the timing. No hurry, let the water do the work as much as possible. Wave does same thing for you that edging does on flat water - so you may not have to edge, or not as much, for same effect.

3 footers are also at head height or higher for most seated paddlers (so seem much bigger). That high, maybe the advice to back off a bit should be your first course.

Smaller stuff 1-2 foot, particularly chop that size, can be more of a pain for turning (particularly with the wind that’s generating them still blowing) as the wavelets tend to be very close together. That means the hull is affected by several at once and is not released to help the turn as it is in a little bigger waves. In some chop, timing won’t help and you just have to horse it a bit at the sticking points (usually when you’re in the trough taking the slop on beam and trying to get the rest of the way around).

As Grayhawk said - watch the skeg. Use it to adjust for cross and tail winds, and rear quartering to following seas - but not for stability in chop or general “tracking”. It will make turning more difficult. From your description of conditions - I’d recommend (guess) no skeg on your upwind leg, and probably full skeg going back downwind (less for cross) - but turn before you drop it.

Good luck with your Bou. I find mine is OK in flat water but wakes up and wants to play hard as the chop picks up. It is very tempting to get in over your head. Best to learn self rescue just in case. Then trust the boat it should take care of you.

I have just foamed mine and if interested Eme it was very easy… GH