Sidesurfing is a great way to play on the river, and to get an understanding about holes. The goal is to sit sideways in a hydraulic, using the wave shape to hold you in position. You will be free to move if your balance comes from posture and knee lift, rather than a heavily weighted paddle, which will make you feel stuck.

kayak sidesurf hole

Easy sidesurfing holes resemble waves with shallow entry angle on the upstream side. Even a tall wave can offer a gentle ride if its entry is shallow. Initially, avoid such holes as pourovers in which the water moves smoothly back upstream. Where the water falls steeply, a smooth ride is unlikely. In addition, a steep entry angle requires a strong boat edge resulting in a weighted paddle. The length of the backwash is a factor in evaluating a sidesurfing hole's strength. The longer, the stronger, and the more dangerous.

The best sidesurfing is done with the boat edged, the head and body balanced over the boat. Unfortunately, many paddlers instinctually place the paddle far away from the boat for outrigger type support. The flaw to this approach is that the blade keeps sinking. The more the blade reaches from the boat, the more the head and shoulders move off-center, and the more paddle pressure is needed to stay upright.

kayak handsurf

Simply find a balance point where pressure on the blade is unnecessary. Use just enough edge to keep the boat from flipping upstream. Stay loose in the hips for the ride. Tight muscles tire quickly, balance is lost. Don't allow tension inside your boat. Your body should feel relaxed and balanced over the boat. Remember to breath! Hand surfing is sometimes easiest, since the paddle in both hands tends to tempt you off balance.!

For safety, your arms should be held low, elbows well below the shoulders and in front of your torso. Shoulder dislocations are infrequent, but the most common injury in kayaking. They are caused during extended arm positions. During torso rotation your elbows should remain in front of your shoulders and close to your body. Be especially careful to avoid upstream braces in shallow holes. Instead, tuck your head tight to the cockpit as you flip. If you feel stuck trying to move the paddle around while sidesurfing, you are probably leaning out over the water, stiff, like a bell buoy. Instead, move the blade closer to the boat to center your weight.

For balance purposes, only use gentle pressure on the paddle. Also try moving forward and backward in the hole. Use the blade in high brace or low brace positions.


Riding a hole sideways is called a sidesurf. To stay upright in a sidesurf, you must keep the upstream edge of your boat clear of the green water falling into the hole. If this edge catches, its an instant flip. However, if you tilt the boat too far downstream, you'll look to the blade for constant support, then you won't be able to maneuver effectively. Steep ledge holes force lots of boat tilt, so it is hard to stay balanced.

Your goal is to find an ideal balanced position, so you can use normal forward, or reverse strokes to move your boat. If you don't have enough balance for pure forward or reverse strokes, you can sacrifice power and incorporate a brace. The high brace combines easily with a small forward sweep to propel you forward. The low brace works nicely with a reverse sweep to move you the other direction.

You've got one more stroke option for moving around in a hole: stationary strokes. These take advantage of the current under the pile to pressure the blade. You'll use a combination of these propulsion strokes to get out of a hole. In a deep hole, you are literally climbing out, so a little momentum will help. Sometimes you have to back up, and get a run at a good exit.