Armed with a host of different crafts, man has found diverse ways to ride ocean waves out of necessity or for pure amusement. I don’t think we will ever determine who was the pioneer of the sport of kayak surfing1 or what was their craft of choice, whether it was reed boats, sealskin kayaks, or redwood canoes but suffice to say I for one am glad they founded the sport. It’s an ever growing and evolving sport with changes in boat design enabling faster, longer rides that frequently incorporate sick aerial moves.
With easy access to the ocean for residents of coast and Willamette valley, kayak surfing has emerged as a growing pastime for the Oregon paddling-inclined, and rightly so. Many stunning beaches that line the coast lend themselves to easy access hikes and effortless boat launches. At some beaches visitors are even spoiled with luxury facilities such as flushing toilets and fresh water showers. So it is unsurprising that more and more polypropylene clad individuals are taking to the ocean waves to get their weekly dose of whitewater wonderment.
However, we cannot possibly expect to have it all our own way and nor would we want to; we frequently share our love of the waves with board surfers. Board surfers often lay claim to greater traditions and a lengthier history than any other recreational wave users. This fact alone can sometimes be a bone of contention between the two distinct groups of wave riders. To debate this claim would fill many pages of this newsletter (wasting beautiful Oregon trees) and is not the focus of this article. My point is to highlight that certain board riders tend to feel that the right of passage on a breaking wave is a task best fulfilled by themselves- exclusively. With this in mind, it is possible to understand why there may be some banter (sometimes harmless and sometimes aggressive) between board and kayak surfers, without even considering the differences, dangers and etiquette of catching a wave using two very unique crafts. Whilst surely not experienced at all breaks, this can translate to fierce competition between kayakers and surfers attempting to surf the same waters at certain surf locations.As a kayak surfer for about 2 years now and with about 200 sessions under my PFD, I felt it was time to meet with a few very prominent local Newport surfers to realize an opposite perspective. My focus was to gain a handle on why some surfers can view kayak surfers not only as wave- stealing hogs but also as inherently dangerous creatures. My aim was to come up with a plan to help both parties feel unthreatened, safer and respected in the water. Of course, these are only generalizations as I would hope most wave users share a respect for each other and love of the ocean. Feelings and Concerns of a Board Surfer- Opposed to kayak surfing.
I met with locals in an attempt to understand their feeling towards our breed. The main objections towards kayak surfers were:(1) Not knowing the etiquette of catching a wave and paddling out.(2) Putting themselves on a peeling wave, but only surfing the whitewater i.e. going straight down the face of a wave into the whitewater and not carving.(3) Getting close to surfers and not being in control.(4) Catching and dominating all the waves they paddle for. (5) Using ‘river kayaks’ in the ocean.(6) Wearing intimidating protective equipment such as a PFD, and helmet. Now, we as kayakers may think some of these concerns are off the wall or trivial, but we should consider how to argue each of these points effectively, as they are sentiments felt by some highly experienced and respected surfers. The first three points, I believe are very real concerns. Each of us, who puts ourselves in the ocean, should be aware of them.
To address point (1), there is a great resource on the Internet about surf etiquette2 that we should be aware of in order to avert surfing faux pas’.In my personal opinion, when thinking about beginners and intermediates to some extent I agree with point (2). I feel we should teach beginners to roll, carve, spin, surf backwards etc in whitewater. A peeling wave is not required to do this. Once experienced and proficient doing these things, it’ll be fun for the beginner to advance to paddling out to the breaking waves. Once there, they can try to carve to stay on the face and shoulder of a breaking wave. At first they will be learning edge control and this should be practiced away from co-surfers. Later in time they may be able to put themselves in a line up, being careful and wary of other surfers and always being aware of being in control. My personal ethos is that even when I’m at the peak of the wave (so technically the wave should be mine to ride) and about to drop down the face, if I don’t have a clear line (in terms of surfers paddling back out) I let the wave go. For me, it’s not worth the risk, however small, of hitting someone, as there will always be another set coming through.In terms of point (3), coming close to another surfer, I think the most probable period this will happen is when the experienced and kayak surfer (1) unintentionally drops in on someone (2) is not in control of their craft (3) failed to notice someone paddling back out. Due the dynamic nature of a board surfer’s position relative to the kayak surfer (as they are always paddling toward the peak of the wave) it is extremely important for the kayak surfer to be continually looking around, trying to see and pick a clean line. Think of it as paddling through a rapid that has a lot of easy, ‘must make’ moves. It is a good deal easier to do this at a relatively people free break such as South Beach (dependant on day), Newport as opposed to say Pacific City or Agate beach that are prone to overcrowding on the smaller swell (< 6 ft) days.
For an experienced kayak surfer the occasion I believe they are most vulnerable to losing control is in case of capsize. When faced with this situation, kayak surfers are often unwilling to separate themselves from their boats. The reasoning is easy: a swim may lend itself to a particularly unpleasant experience, due to rip currents and large waves. Not to mention endeavoring to keep a hold of a large piece of plastic that could quickly become a danger to people further towards the shoreline. A kayak surfer often continues to surf when upside down, unable to carve, possibly rendering them a liability to others. It is therefore imperative to roll as quickly as possible- a task easier said than done, but with practice, a kayak surfer can use the wave’s power to help them regain control of the craft.Now, in addressing point (4) I tend to agree that kayak surfers often have a bad rap when it comes to hogging the waves. The nature of a set of paddles gives a greater surface area than a surfers arm, inherently generating more power. It is therefore normal that we would be able to catch more waves and with less effort than surfers. It’s up to us to use our discretion to know when it’s our turn in a line up.By point (5) I think the board surfer in question was referring to a play boat versus a surf kayak. I think he feels that true surf kayaks facilitate a much faster, cleaner ride- more like a surfer would have with the user pulling moves such as bottom turns and floaters with ease. The reasoning is easy; the surf kayaks have fins to allow more controlled turns and the increased length and different hull design over conventional play boats makes them faster. However, that said, I can carve very well in my extremely short playboat, keeping up with the shoulder on most occasions. In addition, these modern machines allow us to advance the sport of wave riding by throwing down maneuvers such as waves wheels, blunts, flip turns, loops, back deck rolls and more besides- a feet that is extremely challenging in a pure surf kayak. An additional thought on this is the cost of a surf boat, approximately $1800- ouch.Point (6) is a strange point to debate. I should hopefully not need to explain the need for a PFD, helmet and other safety equipment- we all know. But if we explain to our fellow board surfers why we wear them, and why they are not necessarily needed by surfers, maybe they’d feel less threatened.In conclusion, I’d like to highlight that I have considered the most extreme side of a board surfers view. My core surf buddies are in fact boardies and not kayak surfers, proving that we can live in absolute harmony in the ocean waves, provided we are safe and in control. I am interested in hearing your thoughts and views, whether they agree/ disagree. If anyone has questions for me, please don’t hesitate to email email@example.com. We’ll publish comments in the next newsletter. Quick tips for newbie kayak surfers. Buoy data2 will tell you the wave height, steepness, period- all essential for kayak surfing because size and steepness can be challenging if you are new to the ocean surf. Period will tell you how difficult it will be to paddle out if you are not using a rip (short period leads to more waves hitting you while paddling out; bigger waves). Check the marine forecast3 and NOAA buoy report4. The place you intend to surf will depend on this information. It’s possible to check real time swell height and wind speed and direction5. Places like Pacific City, Agate Beach and Otter Rock are all protected from the NW wind and work best with a W/ NW swell. It’s also important to check tides6 as different breaks work well at different tides. This can vary at different times of the year and can be to do with the sand bars shifting around during the seasons.I intend to run multiple ‘intro to kayak surfing’ trips throughout the spring and summer, limiting the places to2 to 3 people per session. My aim is to run as many sessions are there are people interested, so let me know if this is something you would like to be involved in. If anyone has questions for me, please don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Generally, kayak surfing pertains to using crafts such as playboats and river runners in the surf. Surf kayaking refers to the use of glass boats specifically designed for use in surf.