Launching In Surf
Okay, so you’re relatively new to the sport of sea kayaking, and you’ve always gone out on nice days when the water was calm and the surf was down. Then one day you show up at the beach to find five-foot breakers crashing against the surf, and you don’t have a clue as to how you’re gonna get that boat of yours in the water without swamping it and yourself in the process.
Don’t worry, there are a few techniques that can aid in this challenging but certainly doable situation.
First, see if you can find a high vantage point where you can survey a long stretch of the beach. If not, try hiking a ways in both directions. What you’re looking for is a “channel,” or an area of the beach where the surf is less powerful. Because wave size is largely determined by the shallowness or depth of the ocean bottom, areas where the bottom is deeper will mean less wave action.
Now there’s no guarantee that you’ll find such a channel, and certainly don’t be afraid to turn around and go home if you’re not comfortable launching in those conditions — especially if you’re not paddling with a more experienced group. Live to fight (or paddle) another day, as the old saying goes.
If you do decide to go ahead and attempt a launch, just remember that maintaining stability in surf depends upon presentation and maintaining strong forward motion. The idea is to avoid the wave at its break (we know, easier said than done). If you can, punch through the wave and get over the hump before it breaks. The trough and the crest of the swell aren’t the issue here, it’s getting caught on the face of the wave that’s the problem.
If you do find yourself on the face of the wave, use one of your power strokes to draw yourself over the crest before it breaks. Practice on smaller waves on calmer days when you can, to see if you can get your timing down before you attempt a takeoff in rougher water. And if you’re with a more experienced paddler, ask questions, observe, and mimic the techniques that he or she is using to get their boat over that difficult stretch of surf.