Mike and Rikki's Surf Page
The following instructions were posted on the Kayak Techniques pages by the "Insane Diego" duo. I seldom have the opportunity to need the advice but wanted to capture it for the next time I go somewhere with real waves. To begin the page, the last line is very appropriate:
"Something to always remember:
A wave is a mass of water.
Water is heavy.
A big wave is incredibly heavy and represents incredible amounts of energy.
Our yaks are thin shelled.
Our bones are weak.
Mama Nature always wins."
This is what Mike is writing about below. The pictures are his from California, taken from a 'yak.
First, I'm going to talk a bit about waves in general just to share what I
know and provide a basis for any terms or semantics that might be different
from what others have heard or used, all based on most of a lifetime playing
and surfing waves and learning the lingo from the locals.
A wave is a pressure wave moving in a direction. At sea the thing is an up and
down movement with little horizontal movement. As the wave approaches the
beach, the bottom of the wave is slowed by the bottom however, the top portion
is still moving and takes on a horizontal component...in other words, the wave
is getting steeper and developing a vertical face as the top portion of the
wave is moving forward. When the height of the wave hits the depth of the
water it is moving in, the wave curls over, "tripping" on the bottom. At that
point the energy of that wave takes on a complex series of vectors, better
known to all of us as getting "maytagged." The wave, the entire length of it,
can and generally does have a direction of the break, in other words, as the
wave is curling over, it is doing so moving in a direction, breaking from
right to left (a left break) or left to right (a right break). This is caused
by the angle of the wave to the shore. A wave can hit the shore directly which
causes a wave to break it's entire length (this is called bad news)...but more
on that below.
Waves come in sets. Usually it's 3-6 (or more) waves with an interval between
each wave of so many seconds. That said, there are always exceptions to the
rule. The first wave or two are hitting a relatively uniform water surface
along the shore. These waves will be steeper and curl over with greater force
then the following waves. The reason is that a mound of water is "piled"
between the waves and the shore. Subsequent waves will be of relatively less
force then the first couple as they are "pushing" against this mound. I'm
going to call the second half of the wave set the "following" waves to
differentiate from the first couple. The following waves will tend to tumble
down their face, which will be somewhat less steep, too. Now the higher the
waves, or shorter the interval, the more pronounced is this effect. Body
surfers who want to ride double and triple overhead waves catch these waves,
and only if they have a direction to the break unlike surfers who have the
speed to get out in front of the curl. Finally, the higher the waves, the more
water is piled up by the set...which all wants to drain back to deep water.
That is called a "rip" tide if the entire vertical component is moving out, or
an "undertow" if it's moving out on the bottom while the surface is relatively
still or moving the opposite direction. In my experience, I've only
experienced something like an undertow only where the waves are really huge,
and really it was no big thing. Actually rip tides are your friend if you're a
body surfer, makes for getting back out easier.
Contradictions to what I've just described are many! Really...rocks cause
point breaks, uneven bottom really tweaks the wave patterns and timing. A
couple waves can catch up to each other and make for a real honker (I just
learned that those are called 'convergent waves,' we just called them 'bigger
waves'). Here's one, a wave going back out! You see that and don't even think
about trying to land there; conditions are too varied to make any sense of.
Landing in a yak:
Style points are everything. So is living to an old age and dying in bed. A
sedate landing is the number one priority. In my book landing is composed of
distinct stages, but first of all, the strength of the group is defined by its
weakest member either physically, in experience or mental state of readiness!
I really want to emphasize this point; nobody gets hurt.
Observation Stage: this is the time where everyone hangs out in a group, in
deep water well outside of the waves and observes the wave sets, noting the
height, direction of break of the waves, timing and characteristics of the
waves in each set as well as the length of time and sea conditions between
each set. Look for rocks, swirls in the water, water movement patterns, etc.
Look around and outside for foam "trails" indicating an "out" channel of
water. This time is also very important to honestly talk about everyone's
abilities and confidence at that point in time, to discuss everyone's take on
the situation, and the means to make a landing. This is also important because
one must prepare themselves, their gear, their clothes and their mental state
for a whole different kind of kayaking. This is also a time to look for an
alternative place to land if the waves are just not comfortably possible to do
or anyone in the group is not sure or feels confident in the landing. Far
better to paddle another bunch of miles then risk the energy and safety of
anyone. That said, let's say we're going to do it: waves are 5 feet at a 60
second interval, coming in groups of 3-5, beach is 200 feet wide, left break,
and there's suspicious early break of the wave halfway in, all this after
watching at least 10 or more sets. The moves are to lift your rudder if it's
down, paddle cautiously in till on the right side of the beach and you're
outside of the waves in pronounced up and down swells. Why there is because
there's that suspicious early break and you want to come in with that safely
to your left, to maximize the beach landing area once in the surf, and because
the waves are left breaks for this scenario (left break meaning waves are
curling over from the right to left). Look outside and watch for the sets as
swells. As they're rolling under you and heaping up in front of you ease
further in, always looking over your shoulder for the next one. Okay, the last
dude just came by, start paddling in, look over the shoulder...all
clear...paddle like hell in after the surf. But let's say you're paddling in
and over your shoulder is a swell. Well, say it, "oh, s---!" then either back
out as perpendicular to the wave if it's not curling or if it is curling or
going to curl over when at your location, then you're going to go surf the
wave in. The wave is going to push you forward then in a direction. You want
to control that direction. The angle of the yak to the wave will be about
30-40 or so degrees, bow pointing to the left (remember we said it was a left
break, meaning breaking from right to left). Doing nothing for your direction
will have the wave push the yak forward, the bow will dive, the yaks reserve
buoyancy in the bow will resist that dive, forces combine that will turn the
yak one way or the other, and the wave will impart a force to the yak wanting
to roll it along. Turning to the right means getting rolled in a heartbeat
(remember it's a left break). Turning to the left allows the yak to be pushed
along by the wave. You're in a loaded yak, reaction times are slowed and
forces you need to apply are greater to achieve a given result. The wave is
breaking behind you, you're moving forward, lean into the wave face, using
your left side paddle blade to brace BUT, it's a 5 foot wave face, you can't
brace over the top of the curl...it's as far away as the moon. You have to
trail the paddle back, twisting your upper torso to the left, looking forward,
maintaining the CG to your left somewhere around the left coaming. Hopefully
you're moving along on the bottom of the face, the wave breaking behind you.
If the bow is diving, lean back to put the CG backwards and still off to the
left of center. Remember I said to have 30-40 degrees and to start from the
right? You got all that room to play with, and if you're still up, you've
missed the suspicious area, are in 4-6 feet of water below you, and most of
the way in when the wave breaks on you. Now very quickly lift and brace up and
into the surf and let it push the yak mostly sideways in. Keep an eye out for
any hidden rocks, and when the forces lessen, paddle hard with your left side
to straighten and head to shore. Ya did it! If you have the skill and ability,
you can avoid the broach surfing by lifting your paddle and planting it on the
right side using the blade held in a vertical position to turn the bow towards
shore and catch a little bit of a ride in.
Now let's say you got rolled by the wave. No worries if you were pointed to
the left. Let the force of the wave and a hip flick roll you up again, and
start paddling in hard and as straight to the shore chasing the surf.
Let's say the damn wave turned the bow to the right. Well, unless you're real
lucky, you're going to get rolled. Same thing, roll up, and paddle after the
surf, but paddle to the left as well as in. You want to avoid the suspicious
area in our scenario, but you don't want to paddle off into the right and land
on anything but the 200 feet of beach in our scenario.
Alternatives to surfing:
Using our scenario, and if the water's warm, and the bottom isn't a jumble of
rocks, I suppose that a sea anchor could be used. I wouldn't because I'm
terrified with the idea of a line out there off the yak ready to wrap around
my neck in the first wave that breaks. If I had the least doubt of surfing in,
I would bail and hang onto the front toggle Why the front toggle? Because I
have a rudder and the rudder and rudder cables can cause some very serious
injuries in the confusion of a breaking wave! Here comes the wave, hold your
breathe, duck your head down and sink below the kayak as you hang on the front
toggle with both hands, arms extended way out to keep the yak as far from you
as possible. This is very important about doing all three moves: ducking your
head, sinking below the yak and extending your arms. The yak without you in it
has a lot of lifting forces which will lift the bow rapidly as the wave hits
it. If your head is anywhere near that pointy bow... The other reason about
sinking down is that you want to have the bow dive into the face of the wave,
and have the wave break near or past the stern. If the bow isn't diving
through the wave, it will want to lift up suddenly jerking the living hell out
of your arms, if it doesn't first whack your head, break your jaw, or
whatever. The bow will still want to lift, but not as severely, that's why you
hang onto that front toggle with both hands HARD!
WARNING: if the front toggle is a fore-and-aft handle, and not a toggle at the
end of a rope type, watch out! A fore-and-aft handle can, and will, INSTANTLY
SNAP YOUR WRIST if the yak twists. Also, thereís a real possibility of
trapping your hand in it, too. Far better to let the yak go and swim after the
yak, using you PFD and the surf to make your way in.
Back to it...the wave broke; the yak dragged you in a bit. Be a sea anchor and
let the yak and wave drag you in, remaining calm and enjoying the ride. Forces
ease, lift your body up with a kick, keeping that yak far from you, grab a
deep breath and look back outside. Anything coming? No? Then lay flat and kick
with your legs as you push the yak forward. Sooner or later you'll touch the
bottom or surf will come rolling in; the surf is there to help you in, but
remember to keep the yak as far from you as possible as it pulls you along.
Sometimes the yak will turn sideways, if that happens, don't let it run you
over, get yourself to the outside then and hang onto the coaming and let the
surf tow you along as the yak is pushed in sideways. In this case, don't let
the yak roll, you want to hang onto the yak pushing it along as you swim it
in, and taking advantage of being towed in with the surf. You're in.
Problem scenario part one:
First one...multiple lines of surf. Outside line hundreds of feet to hundreds
of yards from shore. This bugger looks scary as a whole but is easily tackled
in parts. What's happening is that the outside line is breaking in whatever
depth of water, and then it gets deeper, then shallow again at the next line
of surf in. The approach to this one is to time the waves and paddle as fast
as possible into the relatively deep water inside of the first line of surf.
Once there, hang out and scope out the next line of waves but MAKE SURE THERE
ARE NO SHALLOW ROCKS BELOW OR AROUND YOU (learned from that one). You want to
be hanging out in the center of the deep area, ready to brace and back through
any surf or swells. Point the stern out and at 90 degrees to the outside waves
while checking the next part of the route out, again backing through any surf.
The key here is to be in control, and you decide when and where to go. You
have all day and night. Go when you're ready and surf the last wave or just
paddle after the last breaking wave. A key point is that the inside set are
almost always with a lot less strength then the outside set...and the reason
why is...the bottom is shallow and the distance from one line of waves to the
next is too short to generate a force like the outside line of waves. Be
careful not to get rolled, you can whack the bottom, which is most likely
rocks or hard sand. If that's a beach you're landing on, then most of the time
it's a deep channel parallel to the beach and a sand beach in the shallows
with lots of holes. There is also a chance that the waves are breaking on rock
reefs... Be careful.
Problem scenario part two:
Waves breaking on a steep beach from deep water close to shore. This animal
can kill you! Classic example of this wave is the famous Wedge. Many have been
hurt on that wave, several killed. This wave will lift you up and throw you
down on the bottom. It will maim or kill. It is Godzilla and T-Rex combined.
Itís a homicidal maniac that wants not only you but your kayak, too. Handling
this one depends on the wave size and interval. You want to paddle like hell
in and don't even think to surf this guy. In fact, don't mess around with the
waves at all; look for another landing zone. I myself will paddle a long way
away from this dude to find a safer alternative, even landing on rocks!
Something to always remember:
A wave is a mass of water. Water is heavy. A big wave is incredibly heavy and
represents incredible amounts of energy. Our yaks are thin shelled. Our bones
are weak. Mama Nature always wins. Thus endeth my sermon. Amen. Aloha.
Flyfisher's Kayak Page