My Introduction to Kayak Surfing

Whilst spending some time down at our local beach one day, a friend of mine was just returning from our local paddle shop. He was very excited to show me his latest acquisition. Fastened to his roof racks was a demo kayak. This strange orange/ red toy seemed to have his full attention. Once he had untied it, I helped him carry it down to the waters edge, as he was very keen to test it.

Being a huge fan of boats, not to mention a questionably unhealthy love of motorbikes, I must admit I did cast a very skeptical jaded eye upon this little plastic toy.

After a fair amount of convincing as well as loads of reassurance that this could infact be fun, I reluctantly gave it a try. It turns out that it would not be long before I became very fond of it, as well as open up whole new aspect of my life. It was light, around 20kg and was easy to carry but it was not for those reasons that I found myself later attracted to it. After paddling around taking turns testing out the stability, we discovered that it behaved in a very strange and unique way when entering the surf zone. For the moment that was great fun however all good things must come to an end, so I helped him reload it onto his car and off he went.

It turns out that it was his second craft of this type and it was not long before he very kindly offered to let me use the demo kayak when we went on our swimming adventures. As they were two identical crafts being both small and light it made perfect sense to incorporate them into our daily activities. There was even a little cargo area where we could stash our lunch as well as our mask, fins etc. We would set off to new areas that would be much harder to access from land. Lashing the kayaks together enabled us to create a base of operations where we could swim and explore a whole range of new places. When we got tired or cold we could simply pop back onto the kayak and paddle home. After returning from a swim we noticed that there were a small set of “foamys” breaking along the beach, we then elected to try catch them to surf in. That was day that sealed the next stage of the story.

Despite being molded into the side of the kayak, it clearly states that a Mission Flow’s intended uses are: Beaches, lakes and calm rivers. We never the less pressed on. Slowly but surely we attempted bigger and bigger surf, refining our technique as we progressed. Eventually loading the kayaks onto my bakkie, venturing out, expressly to find the perfect breaks. It became such an intrinsic part of our adventures at one stage we even embarked on a two week excursion, travelling up the East Coast of South Africa, taking the craft with us as a crucial part of our adventure kit. Between exploring new swimming spots, surfing, hiking and camping we even found time to paddle 15km up a river from the very mouth all the way till there was not even enough water in the stream to drag them anymore. A big part of me wished that we had packed a tent in our supplies so we could have spent the night alongside the river. We ate like kings, played hard and slept like the dead. One could not ask much more from a trip. Not being a fan of the surfing culture at all. I was very surprised to be enjoying this as much as i did.

Soon thereafter I bought my very own kayak. Fiona was the next to get involved, purchasing her very own green and yellow version. As I mentioned before, this craft was designed for calm waters, lakes etc so pushing it past its intended use was eventually going to bring about a few bumps in the road so to speak. After hitting my head whilst falling more times than I care to mention, Fiona very kindly insisted on purchasing a helmet for me, as she knew full well that I wouldn’t go and get myself a helmet. Strangely since that day I cant recall a time where I hit my head again. In the surf clip mash up u will see a clip taken shortly after one of my more spectacular wipe outs. I gave myself a black eye included in that a burst blood vessel for good measure, worst part being is that I managed to somehow break the aluminum paddle shaft on the back of my neck. It was a strange feeling to resurface after a huge wipe out with a very warm cheek as well as sporting a paddle as a necklace! As I am sure you will see I was feeling very dispondent as that was around the 8th or 9th paddle lost to kayaking at that stage.

Unfortunately after Fiona had been surfing some really scary Atlantic swells a few days prior, she made a fatal mistake, becoming a bit complacent on our last wave of the day. It is strange to think how a relatively small wave on a calm day would be the one that would shock us all. I saw her fall however I was not overly concerned as it  was a small wave, not to mention that when she fell it was in a foamy part of the water quite close to the shore. I paddled over slowly, on approach she was not looking very happy as she had gotten her hand caught up in the leash while being tumbled. Resulting in her breaking her thumb. It took a year including therapy to get full use of it again. She still reminisces when looking at the scar from the operation, where a titanium plate was inserted, which I may tell you has since broken…..quite the drama indeed. However it is a reminder for all of us who are into kayaking how quickly things can turn, and at the same time how very lucky she was that, that particular kayaking incident didn’t result in something more severe. Very bravely she still manages to muster up the courage to join me kayak surfing, however she leaves the bigger waves well alone. Understandably she is far more cautious and selective on what waves she attempts. She continues to keep me company on the back line.

These are some of the things I have learnt that are very important in my short time of kayak surfing. Get to know your environment in terms of the following: wind speed and direction, tides and swell height and direction. All these factors play a vital part in ensuring a great surf kayaking session.

Try to leave early, too many times I have wished that I was a bit more prompt on arrival. Once I have arrived at the location, take a few moments to absorb where you are and try be present as possible. After all we are lucky enough to live in such a pristine area surrounded by unique fauna and flora. I tend to make tea if possible, failing that I crack open a ready made flask. Count swell timing whilst looking at break direction etc. As I am often on my own in these endeavors, so I really have no problem in taking a bit longer than usual to make sure the conditions are ideal.
No matter how much fun I am having or how great the waves are, soon as I get complacent or too tired I get out. I am a firm believer in that there is always a next time.

At present I have three golden rules that have stead me well.
1.No matter if you are entering or leaving the water never ever, ever let the kayak get between you and the incoming surf. Even if you are ankle deep the kayak will    shoot up and hit you in the shins. At best you will feel very stupid whilst swearing profusely at yourself!

2.When you fall whilst in the surf line, the main thing that you need to do is get back in the kayak as fast as possible. No matter how out of breath you are or how much you just want to chill for a minute, it is imperative that you are up and ready for the next swell that is definitely on its way. It will not pause for you. It does not take long for a person to become exhausted, falling into trouble and rolling around in a big swell with a kayak flying around. Not pleasant nor safe!

3.The bigger the swell you want to catch, the faster you have to paddle. Bigger swells tend to run faster. One of the worst feelings is to get a tad lazy only to find    yourself staring over the precipice of a breaking wave. It will probably not end well.

Wetsuits are great to keep warm but I have found that you can’t have sleeves. This tends to restrict your movement as well as tire you out very quickly. Wetsuit booties are a must for me. They really make a difference to staying in the kayak as they make great grips, while surfing as well as making navigating sharp slippery rocks far more pleasant. Helmets are a needed for obvious reasons. There are a range of paddles available. I have found that the more basic flat spade type blade has much more drive. Aluminum shafted paddles are okay for most days however when surfing in colder water I find that the warmth is very quickly wicked out my hands reducing my ability to maintain a proper grip. Having the shaft slip your grasp, then having the blade hit you in the hand can throw you off balance as well as being very painful.
I have been told that grip tape will fix this however I must admit I have never gotten that far to test this theory. Whatever type of paddle I have used I have noticed that the shiny white blades seem to be far more attractive to two of our larger shark species. These sharks have seemed far more willing to test this type of blade.
I must say I have never had a persistent problem with regards to this yet it is still a shock when your paddle gets knocked out your hand when you least expect it.
I also have not had a problem with darker matt colours, hence I tend to prefer darker blades, either spraying them with a matt paint or sanding off the shine of the darker colours. This is not scientific nor has it been tested by a panel of experts, I just have found that it seems to work for me.

A leash of some type has proven to be a essential part of equipment. Falling off is a part of this activity and in turn swimming after your kayak with your paddle in hand can quickly become a bit of a faff. The kayak seems to be swept off all to easily. If there is an offshore wind you can look forward to a marathon swim into deep and unfriendly waters attempting to retrieve it. One time in particular springs to mind. I had my car keys safely secured in the kayak as an offshore wind blew it out to sea. I very quickly came to the realisation that I would never catch up to the kayak with the paddle in my hand. I then swam the paddle back to shore then ran up the coast trying to reduce the distance needed to swim as far as possible. Now only a spec on the horizon I prepared myself mentally for the swim. Long story short I eventually caught up, only when jumping back on, it dawned on me I was up the preverbal creek without a paddle. With a lot of doggy paddling and copious amounts of the what I call the push swim technique I managed to get myself and the kayak back to shore even though I landed some distance from where I set off. I was very happy that I could at least drive home. Needless to say this could have all been avoided with a simple leash. I have found that through trial and error a store bought thick longboard leash does the trick.

I can’t say THANK YOU sincerely enough to illustrate how grateful I am to all the people who either introduced me to this little craft or to the local businesses who always seemed very keen to assist me, with paddle shaft combinations to get me to the stage that I am at presently. Even those who very kindly went out and bought me exactly what I needed to keep me on the water. To all those people involved, a very big thank you. You know who you are.

The following is a mash up of a typical day of kayak surfing. As the inevitable wipe outs can be hard on equipment we elected to only fit the camera on selected smaller days. Unfortunately the truly special, as well as epic moments can only be looked upon in our fond memories.


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