Barrels and Cover-ups 


"Controlling your speed and knowing how to position yourself for a barrel or cover-up is really important. If you know what you're doing they can look and feel really cool, but if you get it wrong you can be in for a painful if spectacular wipeout!"                        James Gossan, England Team rider

Barrels and cover-ups are one of the more difficult manoeuvres to perfect in surf kayaking. This is not necessarily because of the complexity of the skill, but more to do with the absolute accuracy of timing required.


The Wave


To be able to ride inside a breaking wave, the wave has to be steep. Waves that allow these manoeuvres would typically need to travel from deep to shallow water very quickly. This sudden change in depth makes the top of the wave "throw" forwards, leaving a hollow pit in the wave.



This type of wave can have significant consequences, and it's not impossible to damage boats, or to pick up an injury riding barreling waves. This is due to the shallow nature of the beach required to make a barreling wave form. Generally the further the wave throws forwards, the shallower it is. Manoeuvres in these types of waves should be approached with both caution and commitment, to avoid any unnecessary injury or costly repair bills...


Given all of that, riding in these types of waves can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences, and just a second spent in the tube can make all of the wipeouts seem worthwhile.




The idyllic version of a cylindrical barrel glinting in the tropical sunshine is sadly not always available. So we have to learn how to try and get the most out of varying wave shapes and profiles.


The cover-up lends itself perfectly to helping solve this problem. When the wave isn't perhaps throwing far enough ahead of the wave to allow you to position yourself in the barrel, but is still forming a small tube you should be able to perform this manoeuvre.


A cover-up typically involves tucking up to make yourself as small as possible, and having the lip collapsing over your beach side shoulder. Quite often the only route out of a cover-up is allowing yourself to be pushed out the base of the wave, then you can power round the whitewater to regain the shoulder.


The sequence below shows Sam Davenport tucking into a nice left-hander.


1. Hold the high line on the wave, this allows you to control your speed by dropping (accelerate) or climbing (decelerate) to ensure you arrive under the lip as it throws. 

2. Move your weight forwards and get your paddle onto the beach side so you can rudder if you need to. This rudder is vital on finless boats. 


3. Tuck up! Try to keep your eyes open and look at the exit ahead of you, stay small and try to just hold the high-speed line you entered with. 

4. Exit out of the cover up ready to bottom turn back up into the shoulder.




    Riding barrels means applying almost exaclty the same technique as cover-ups, however the margin for error is much smaller when dealing with barrels as the only exit that allows you to continue riding is out the end of the tube!


    The sequence below shows Sam Davenport at full speed getting a near perfect barrel.

    1. Full speed! You can see the track where the boat has come from accelerating down the wave face to generate maximum speed.

    2. Adjusting the boat angle to set the boat on a straight line along the wave face, with a wave side rudder.

    3,4,5. Weight forwards to maintain maximum speed. Look at the exit and try to control the speed to stay ahead of the barrel. Beach side rudder ready.

    6. Accelerate out of the exit and back out onto the wave face.

    The Set Up


    Looking at the sequences above, the skill appears quite simple. The act of riding inside the barrel actually is, you just control your speed and hold your line (and nerve).

    However, setting up to get into a position to be able to ride through the barrel is where the skill really comes in. You need to be able to read the wave ahead of you, seeing what form it's taking and how much it's rearing up. Establishing where the barrel may form and how quickly it will move are all skills learned by riding pitching waves. You need to catch as many of these types of waves as you can, this will help you start to build up a bank of knowledge about both the wave, and the capabilities of your boat, so that as you look down the line you can see where you need to be, and what you need to do to get there.


    There are two basic set-ups for getting barreled.


    The Back Door


    Back dooring a barrel basically involves taking off behind the peak, or approaching the barrel from behind. The advantage of this system is that you can sort your line and set yourself up whilst on an open face, the disadvantge is that you are starting from the back of the barrel so you need to be going flat out just to get inside. Both the sequences above show Sam using this technique to set himself up.

    Below, Aidan Brackenbury back dooring a sizeable left-hander. The technique requires an accurate set-up on the approach, and absolute boat speed to be able to make it through to the other side.


     The Stall

    This technique is trickier to get set up for the barrel, but puts you closer to the exit allowing greater control of the boat once inside.

    1. Bottom turn around, to position yourself close to the shoulder where the barrel will form.

    2. Release the pressure on the inside rail, and slow the boat with a rearward lean and pressure on the paddle if required.

    3. Return your body weight to a neutral position and keep looking at how the wave is forming.

    4. Apply the accelerator. Lean forwards and re-engage the inside rail, allowing the lip to throw over your head.


    The sequence below shows the stall to move into the barrel and surfing out onto the wave face again. This technique requires practice, but you can do this on non-barreling waves to try to get a feel for the stall.


    Staying safe 

    Given the power and pace that barreling waves can produce it's important to make sure that you protect yourself as best you can whilst learning in this very dynamic environment. 

    Decision making

    Once you've made a decision, stick with it. Nothing puts you in the wrong place faster than changing your mind just as everything becomes critical. Once you've committed... COMMIT! 

    Safety on the inside

    Inside the barrel is actually a lot calmer than you'd imagine. If you find yourself unable to make it out of the barrel just hold your line and let the wave break around you. Avoid turning up or down the wave as this will mean you either go up the wave and get drawn over with the barrel, this is known as getting "sucked over the falls", or if you go low the full weight of the barrel can break on you or the boat acting like a guillotine!

    When It All Goes Wrong!


    Hmmmm where do I start.... I could fill an entire website with photos of some of the world's best surfers getting thrown about trying to get barreled Here are some from one session alone..... Chris Hobson, Sam Davenport, Aidan Brackenbury, and Marc Woolward are slapped about by an angry left hander.



    Photo's by

    Denzil Pearce 

    This page is possible through the kind donations and support from 

    Lisa Deziel

    Bill Wilson