"Getting a good paddle out can really make life a lot easier. It will help conserve your energy which will keep your performance up. I personally find it best to hop over the waves, rather than duck dive under them. I don't like being upside down!"
Pete Blenkinsop, England Team Rider
On The Beach
Your paddle out begins before you've even put your spraydeck on! There is a great saying we use when coaching all types of kayaking which is "Never put your body where your brain hasn't been!" So spend time studying the surf, paying particular attention to:
- Where the waves are breaking?
- How the waves are breaking, are they barrelling or just crumbling from the top?
- How big is it?
- How long is it inbetween sets?
- Is there a rip?
- Where are the other surfers paddling out, and how are they getting on?
- What is the wave period? (the distance between the waves)
Your paddle out can make or break your surf session. Get it wrong, and by the time you make it out back you feel like you've been punished by a heavy weight boxer, get it right and peace and serenity await!
Paddle out strategies are different everytime you turn up at your local break, and indeed everytime you face up to a wave. Sadly, it's not as simple as just paddling forwards, but if you follow the simple tips below you should be on your way towards peace and serenity.
What we are looking for is the line of least resistance, this is the easiest possible route to get us from the beach to out back. This is much easier to see if you spend a little time just stepped back from the water, watching to see where the line is. This may lead you away from "car park paddle outs" where you paddle out in a straight line from the carpark - surely the line of least resistance can't be so convieniently placed? Take time to look up and down the beach to find the easiest place to paddle out.
Whilst you are making your beach assessment and deciding where the line of least resistance is, almost without doubt you will be able to see a rip of some description on the beach. As surfers, we have a love/hate relationship with them - they help us to get out back easily, but to swim in one is an awful experience.
A rip is water that is trying to seek its own level. Water wants to be all at the same height from the beach to out back, however the surf isn't allowing that by pushing water up onto the beach, so in an attempt to equalise, the water will find the easiest route back out to sea forming a rip. No surf, no rip. The bigger the surf, the stronger the rips.
Spotting rips is an essential skill, firstly, to keep yourself safe by avoiding swimming in them, and secondly, to use them to get out back much more easily.
There are four main types of rip
- Permanent - As the name suggests these are always here. They will flow out against a permanent feature like a headland, pier or rivermouth.
- Fixed - These are generally based around sandbanks and can be fixed for a few weeks until the sandbanks change, when the rip will move to a new location.
- Travelling - These rips move up and down the beach trying to find a route through. Most common on wide, flat, featureless beaches.
- Flash - These occur when a sandbank breaks and suddenly all the water can rush back out to sea through the new channel that's been created.
Out of the four types, it is fixed and permanent that we would be looking for to paddle out in. Think about your local beach and consider what rips it has, have a look at it on Google earth and see if the aerial view makes you consider it differently. The picture below clearly shows rips in Biarritz, France. Notice the surfers just south of the fixed rip!
To spot rips look out for:
- Obviously deeper, darker water.
- A rippling on the surface similar to that seen in a stream.
- Debris, foam etc. floating out to sea.
- Smaller less significant waves, generally not breaking fully.
When you read the above list you can see why rips are perfect places to paddle out. If however you find yourself swimming in one, swim at 90 degrees across it parallel with the beach until you arrive in the normal surf, then swim in. Don't try to swim against it!
Before we can paddle out we need to launch from the beach. This is actualy as simple as it sounds, however try to avoid "sand paddling" where you go through the motions of forwards paddling but without any water. 1. It doesn't work. 2. It isn't cool. 3. You'll damage your blades
The simplest way to launch is illustrated below.
- Hold your paddle in one hand and lift yourself and your boat forward by pushing down, which will take the weight off the fins. Once they're unweighted, slide forwards.
- Occasionally you need to launch from some inhospitable venues, the photo above shows paddlers launching between rocks at the side of a beach, saving a lot of paddling out.
Good, efficient paddle outs are all about timing. Quite often you can end up out back having had a simple easy paddle out whilst your friends are all being beaten on the inside! When you get onto the water your paddle out should be a controlled strategy, which may involve you sprinting then stopping and waiting, then paddling slowly then sprinting again, rather that just paddling away oblivious to what's approaching. Given that waves generally approach in groups or sets, you want to ensure your paddle out coincides with a lull in the sets. If it doesn't, pause, wait for the set to pass then go again.
The most difficult part of the paddle out is normally the impact zone, so we want to move through here as quickly as possible, ideally when there isn't a set coming - so your timing of your arrival here can determine the ease of your paddle out.
It's much easier to paddle over unbroken waves, and quite often we'll paddle really hard to get to the shoulder so we can go over the green wave. This is a great strategy provided you make it to the green part of the wave - if you don't you've just placed yourself where the whitewater has the most power! Only dash for the shoulder if you know you can make it. The inset photo is a clear illustration of this. If the rider can make it he would go left over the green wave, if he can't make the shoulder he would head right to go over the whitewater.
One of the simplest ways of getting your boat over the whitewater waves is to pre-jump the boat just before the wave hits you. This is the staple paddle out for surf-specific boats with plenty of entry rocker. This is all about timing, but once you've got it right it can feel almost effortless.
As you approach the wave, throw your weight forwards to push the nose of the boat down.
- The hull should skip up onto the white water and as it does, put another big forwards stroke in.
- As the bouyancy of the boat lifts the nose, lean your weight back and put in a big forwards stroke.
- Up and over the wave, and ready for the next one!
This technique is perfect if you're surfing either a longer surf boat with a low volume tail or a more general purpose freestyle kayak. The photos below show it illustrated in a short high-volume-tailed boat for which this technique isn't ideal.
This technique can be practised in a flat-water environment. Try chopping the tail of the boat under the water, and lifting the nose. Place something on the water like an airbag or a balloon, and lift the nose of the boat over it. Not only will this help with the technique, but it will also help you work on your timing.
- Paddling towards the wave, do a large sweep stroke so the boat is pointing more across the wave.
- The tail of the boat will be drawn under the water, lifting the nose in a sweeping motion across the wave.
- As the whitewater arrives at the nose of the boat, do a large sweepstroke, drop your outside edge and lean slightly back.
- the boat hops up onto the top of the wave, ready for normal forwards paddling to be resumed.
This is only used when the wave is critical and you've arrived just as it's breaking. The key to success in a punch through is speed! Paddle like you mean it!!!!!
- Attack the wave with a solid sprint. As the nose rises up the wave, throw all your weight forwards and bring your paddle to the side of your body to make yourself as streamlined as possible.
- As the boat passes through the wave, engage a stroke to keep pulling you forwards, and drive forwards with your feet.
This is sometimes referred to as duck diving, and is an invaluable skill to have if you're going to ride big heavy waves. Before attempting this you have to be completely confident in your roll, as you are going to be capsizing right at the point where the wave has maximum power. So being comfortable upside down in turbulent water is an absolute must.
The sequence below shows the dynamics of the skill. It would however not be applied to a wave of this size ordinarily, as there is no need! But this size wave is perfect for honing the technique.
- Paddle forward with speed. Offset the boat away from the side you're going to capsize, this is to ensure you enter the wave with the boat square on.
- Relax as the boat gets pushed up and down, you can see that the boat is square to the wave, if it's sideways it will just get caught by the whitewater.
- As you capsize pull your knees towards your chest which will pull the nose of the boat deeper into the water. The paddle stays in the roll position.
- After the wave's passed and everything becomes calmer, roll up and continue paddling.
Try paddling out keeping your hair dry -this will ensure that you try and hunt down the line of least resistance. If you've managed to do this a few times, make it harder by piling sand on your spraydeck and seeing if you can make it out back, maintaining some of the sand! This is perfect for working on your awareness and timing.
When trying to learn to roll under waves practice first on flat water, get someone to watch you and develop the skill of capsizing keeping the boat square to the imaginary oncoming wave, dependant on the type of roll you use you may need to offset your boat to make sure it's stays in line. Once you've mastered this work on pulling your knees to your chest so the nose of the boat digs in and the tail lifts.
When it all goes wrong!
Sometimes all the technique in the world won't help! Philip Watson finds himself going South on the North bound carriageway.
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