Surf Entries and Exits by Jay Babina

Entering and exiting the surf area can be a dangerous even in less than 3 ft seas. Most paddlers are able to land through surf, even if its a clumsy capsize in the sand as the water leaves you laying there looking embarrassed and helpless.
   Contrary to perception , the surf entree is where the greatest danger for the unaware paddler lies. Most paddlers push off in several inches of water and charge through the surf to get to the safety zone that lies just behind the breaking waves. The real danger is in what you do with you paddle as the breaking wave comes crashing against you. If you have done this before, you know that even a three ft. wave has an enormous amount of power as it hits you. The major mistake that beginner paddlers make is picking the paddle up, presumingly to avoid the wave. In this position, the wave can smash the paddle into your face, neck or chest and actually shove your entire torso back violently, injuring your lower back if you’re prone to back injuries. It can also knock the breath right out of you.
   Before you launch, scan the beach for the smallest surf area allowing for the easiest entree. No sense in assuming that you have to enter where you exited - that particular area might have changed into the steepest surf while you had lunch. A three ft. wave looks mighty menacing when you’re sitting in your boat and looking up at a wall of water coming straight at you.


   As you paddle forward and approach the breaking surf area, you want to assume the kayak roll set-up position as the wave is just in front your boat. Basically, you lean your head forward and down towards the deck with the paddle held tightly along side the boat. If you’re right handed, hold it along the left side of the boat. Either side is OK, but you might as well do it the way you’ll learn to roll from. You won’t capsize (nobody ever does) and you’ll find that the wave will break right over you with very little force on your body. At that point, resume your paddling position and paddle hard to the safety zone just beyond the breaking waves. You’ll only have to go through one breaking wave to get out. Make sure you enter straight into the waves. Entering from an angle will only make you broach or capsize.
   Generally most beginners luck out with surf landings and seem to come sliding up on the beach with not too much fuss. As you approach your landing spot or the area of smallest surf, you want to come in behind the wave. As you get to the point where the waves are breaking, back-paddle so the wave doesn’t pick you up and give you your first unexpected surf ride into the sand. As the wave is breaking in front of your kayak, you paddle in right behind it. As the water is pulled right out from under the kayak, you’ll be left there on the sand. Immediately jump out of the kayak and drag your boat up the beach before the next wave comes in and crashes on your open cockpit and fills the boat with two hundred pounds of water and sand. This can happen and you be left there with a boat that you can’t move. Trying to drain a boat while the surf is constantly pounding you is a real chore to say the least. If this happens, it’s best that a few paddlers gang up and drag it up away from the surf and drain it.
   During our warm weather months, it’s great fun to practice and play in the surf. Sea kayaks are not good surf boats because of their length, but in 2 1/2 ft. type of surf you can have a lot of fun getting occasional rides. You can also paddle right below the surf area if it’s not too big and let the waves crash over you as you brace into them. Playing along a sandy beach with small surf will teach you a lot about how your kayak will react to these conditions and will better prepare you for the time when you really need to land in conditions that would normally be challenging. Playing in your kayak like this is one of the best ways to become a better paddler and... you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing - having fun!

Outer-Island Kayak