Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kayak Surfing Lesson

Kayak Surfing Lesson

Some of us rented a house for the weekend out on Cape Meares and when we woke up Sunday morning, the weather was looking nice enough that we figured we would try a session of kayaking in the surf on the nearby beach. OK, it was actually my partner that really wanted to go and since our friend, Bill, was giving a free safety lesson I pretty much had to go just to not feel like a party pooper.

View Bay Ocean Kayak Surfing in a larger map

Kayaking in the surf is sort of funny in that you start in surf that is so small that you probably wouldn't even consider it if you were boggie boarding or body surfing or something, but a 17 foot kayak gets pushed around a lot even by a 1 foot high wave and you can get flipped by just about anything that is breaking if you aren't ready for it.

Geared Up, Skirts On.

We started with just sitting in the sand at the ocean edge in our gear. Full drysuits, gloves, helmets. Yes helmets, don't want to roll your head into a rock or hard bash on the sand. Anyway, we just sat there and let the water come up and hit us. Cold water. Cold Cold Cold. You can feel it right through your dry suit as it hits you. And your head and hands are exposed if you don't have neoprene hat and gloves.

Next we waded out into the water. This was just to get the feel of the strength of the waves and to realize that this was the worst thing that could happen to us. That we flip and have to wet exit our boats and end up in the surf. Just like this. OK. This isn't that bad. A little cold. But you get used to that. Your hands get really cold. Bill says that doesn't go away.

Now it is time for the Kayaks. So we dragged our boats a couple of hundred yards down the beach. We were looking for a calm place away from the Rip Tides.

You see, all of that surf comes up on the beach, and when the water retreats, it has to go somewhere. Some goes back out the way it came, but many beaches in Oregon are shaped such that the current will run parallel down the beach a ways and then go zipping back out to sea. If you look at the wave patterns you can see where these rip currents are. They are often strong enough that they can carry a strong swimmer right out to sea past the breakers. In the cold and treacherous waters off the coast of Oregon, that can, and often is, the end of an unprotected swimmer. But for a kayaker in dry suit and PFD and other emergency gear, it shouldn't be fatal, even if you lose your boat. Still, if you can avoid being drug out to sea.....

Not that much rip where we are. As I said, the waves were small and so were the currents. So let's get out there. In a kayak, you are not really ready for breaking waves and such until you have got yourself into the seat and sealed your skirt to your cowling. Depending on the skirt and the boat, this can take a few seconds. And you don't want to be bobbing around in the water getting hit by every little wave when you can't balance yourself with your paddle and can't stop the water from gushing in with your skirt. So you plant your boat facing the surf but dry on the sand. In a place where you expect a big wave for float you in the next couple of minutes. Then you sit down and get in and seal up. Ok. Did that. Now you sit with your friends in the sand in your kayaks. And you look pretty silly. 

If you did it right, however, pretty soon you get some water, you might rock to break your seal to the sand, and then you float back on the receding water and out into the surf.

The following is more fun if you hit the play button:

Actually being in the surf is pretty thrilling. I didn't really know what to expect, but once I got out there I found that I didn't have any trouble keeping my balance as long as I kept my bow aimed at the waves. I could crash right through a breaker pretty easy. Even the really big ones that would completely engulf my boat and cold soak me did not threaten to tip me over. Ok. However, every time you power through a wave you are getting further and further out to sea. Bill warned us about that. Don't want to get out to where the really big waves are just starting to break. Too easy to get thrown or flipped when you are out in deep water. Not good for beginners. So I would keep my bow faced at the waves and paddle backwards away from them. Forward and back. But I can't do that forever either because the parallel beach current is sucking me away from my friends.
Notice how there aren't any pictures of our faces?

Time to try and side surf. To do this, you let a (little) wave hit you on the side and you lean into it and low brace to keep your balance. Then you try and ride the wave a little toward the beach. When it passes you, you paddle forward, up the beach toward where you want to go.

I did OK with this but eventually noticed that my friends had both flipped and bailed into the shore. So I went in to join them.

This whole process takes a lot out of you. Did I mention the water was cold? My next time out I decided that I needed to work at doing the harder stuff (like surfing a larger wave) until I lost it. I needed to flip over in these small waves so I could understand what the threat there was. You know? If you set your mind to it, it is really very easy to loose everything and flip over in the surf. Ah. Cold. And Sand hard. And now I remember Bill's final instructional words to us: “When you are out of your boat, don't get between the boat and the beach”. Why is that? Because the boat is now full of water and it is HEAVY and a wave will push it into you so hard that it could break something or knock you over and smash you into the sand. Stay oceanside !! Hold onto the rescue straps (if it isn't dangerous) and ride the surf in with the boat. Until you can standup and dump the water out.

Didn't get many pictures of my Partner as she left the camera too far down the beach. 
Need Hawaii-50 Theme Music Here

So OK. Did that. Not too bad. We all rest for awhile and then head out again. But now I find that since I have learned how to flip over, I can't manage to stay upright. AHHHH. Each time you flip you have to go back to the beach and reset. That is very tiring. My partner does well though. She stays out a while and has a couple of good little rides on the waves. (backwards, I thought she did that on purpose).

But we finally ran out of juice and had to drag our boats back to the car. It was great fun through. Can't wait to try it again.

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