Finding the Takeoff Spot

I got started in Kayak surfing during the shooting of our recent video production: In the Surf. I was lucky to have some expert assistance, from folks like Dan Crandall, Doug Schwartz, Rick Starr. These tips are distilled from some of their advice.

My first attempts at kayak surfing were met by a good pummeling, probably because I didn’t understand how to line up for the best part of the incoming waves. It's a strategy game of choosing a wave to surf, then figuring out how to line up and get the best ride. This takes a combination of positioning and timing to find the powerful part of the wave, called the pocket. This is where the curling whitewater meets the smooth part of the wave.

An important question to be asking yourself is, "Where do you take off on the wave?" The answer to that varies, but in general you are looking for the peak of the wave, since that is where the pocket will form first.

The peak is the prime take off spot on the wave. The problem is that the exact spot changes from time to time, as the peak shifts around depending upon swell direction and the type of the bottom. Paddle out, find a peak, and set up yourself with reference points on the shore so you can come back to that spot quickly and then make small adjustments as the peak shifts around from there.

To help you return to your favorite take off spot after each ride look for markers on the shore, chimneys, cliffs, or trees and use these to establish reference lines. Try to find something that gives you an exact line marker, so that you may return to the ideal take-off spot quickly after each surf.

To identify where the waves have been breaking you can also look for a white foam line from the previous wave. You can set up right alongside that foam line-it is a good for where you want where to be when setting up to catch a wave.

Once you are actually sitting in that great spot that you determine to be the ultimate take off place, the next trick is getting on the waves. Catching a wave is a commitment, as it requires aggressive paddling to get your boat moving in order to get up to hull speed. Once you are gaining the wave, it will feel as if the wave is picking up the tail of your boat. Begin leaning forward with your body weight to shift your weight down the face of the wave. Next you will want to quicken up the pace of your strokes by taking shallow strokes.

When you are sprinting to catch a wave use a quicker windmill-type stroke and keep your boat running perpendicular to the wave. Even if you start too early, try timing your paddling so you reach top speed exactly when the top of the wave will hit the stern of your boat. Then, remember to steer! If you are far from the break, drop into the wave and angle towards the break, so you can tap more power of the pocket.

If you drop in close to the peak, your first turn will take you down the line of the breaking wave; this first turn is called a bottom turn. It is your ticket to hours of enjoyable surfing.

Anywhere there is an accessible surf zone it is likely there are going to be other people out there enjoying it. It is a Kayaker's responsibility to learn some of the rules of the area so that everyone will stay safe and have more fun.

Pick a place to surf where you have absolutely no possibility of running into people that are playing in the same area. Try to be respectful and as courteous as you can to everyone you encounter. A lot of board surfers are irritated by kayaks because kayakers have such an advantage, and the ability to catch swells well before they break. You have to kind of realize the advantage you have and try not to take too much advantage of it. In other words SHARE. Kayakers can expand the sport by finding surf that requires a little bit of a paddle to get to; these areas rarely have a crowd.