Getting Comfortable in Waves and Surf

by Sherri ~ May 9th, 2011. Filed under: Events, Paddling Safety, Skill Development.

IMGP0464It doesn’t take most people very long to get comfortable paddling a sea kayak on an inland lake.  The boats, despite the seeming narrow width, are surprisingly stable once you get the feel of the balance.  Where most paddlers run into some problems is when you start introducing the variable of waves and breaking surf.  This is an environment which most of us are not very familiar with, yet if you want to paddle on the ocean or larger bodies of water, it is something you will inevitably have to deal with.  Most paddlers just want to be able to stay upright with ease and confidence.  Others want to actively seek out the surf zone as a play spot.  Either way, there is a body of knowledge and skills that need to be mastered.

For most of us, the best way to begin getting comfortable and confident paddling in these more challenging conditions is to find a more experienced and skilled paddler who can accompany you as you gradually venture into waves that push the limits of your comfort zone.  Another important aid, though, is to understand the physics of what is happening in the water around you.  You can certainly take one of my “Next Step” classes on paddling in surf and waves, but if your budget is a little tight or you can’t wait for my first scheduled class, I’m giving a free presentation on “Managing the Surf Zone/Paddling in Waves” at the Laacke & Joys store in downtown Milwaukee this Thursday evening, May 12th, starting at 6pm.  The presentation should last until about 7:30pm with plenty of time for questions.

I plan to cover topics such as how waves are formed and what happens when a wave breaks.  We will discuss techniques for paddling in deep water waves and the breaking waves that you encounter in the surf zone including landing and launching strategies.  You will learn how to read the surface of the water to avoid danger and find the best spots for surfing.    You’ll also get suggestions on skills and drills that you can practice on your own when you are able to get out in your kayak.

If you can’t make it to my presentation, I can suggest an excellent instructional DVD.  Wayne Horodowich does a great job covering the topic in his University of Sea Kayaking (USK) “ABC’s of the Surf Zone” DVD.  It’s Volume 4 of the USK In-depth Instructional Series.  I also highly recommend that you look for a copy of the book, “Waves and Beaches” by Willard Bascom.  Unfortunately, it’s currently out of print and the few copies available on are priced ridiculously high, but you should be able to locate a copy in a library that you can at least read for free.  You could also ask your local used book seller like my friend, Jeffrey, at Have Books Will Sell in Wind Lake to see if they can find you a copy for a more reasonable price.

With some knowledge of how waves are formed, what causes them to break, and how those forces will affect your kayak, you can make better decisions about where to paddle and how to control your boat to your best advantage.   You will still need to get out and practice your skills on real waves, but you are more likely to experience some success if you have some idea of what you should be doing to accomplish your goals whether that is an exhilarating ride in the surf, or just staying upright in a patch of rough water!

I hope to see many new faces on Thursday!


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