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Are You Ready to Try Kayak Surfing? Here's All You Need to Know

by Pete Danylewycz

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Combining the precise control and sharp maneuvering of whitewater kayaking with the speed and excitement of riding waves, kayak surfing is an exhilarating experience. Getting started as a kayak surfer, however, can be a little daunting. It's so different from regular kayaking that it can be difficult to know if you're ready to get out on the waves. 

That's where we come to the rescue. To get started, you'll need to have a basic understanding of kayak surfing techniques, know what kind of kayak you'll need, and what gear you'll have to bring. Don't worry if that all sounds a little overwhelming; just stick with our guide and you'll be "charging the green room" in no time!


Three strokes you must know in order to get started




As with any kind of kayaking, the best place to start is by mastering the fundamental paddle strokes associated with kayak surfing. Once you are confident with the basics, you can get out into the surf to practice and use that experience to learn more advanced techniques.


1. The Stern Rudder

The stern rudder is the primary steering stroke for kayak surfing. Paddling with the stern rudder helps the ‘yakker to slow their kayak down when on the face of the wave, allowing the crest to catch up and helping to avoid “broaching.” It also allows smaller surf kayaks with a higher rocker to carve turns across the face of the wave, much like a surfboard.

To perform a stern rudder, rotate your upper body to the right until your paddle is parallel to the side of the kayak. Then reach back until your right arm is almost straight at the elbow. Keep the left hand only a little higher than the foredeck. Finally, rotate your right wrist to set your right-hand paddle blade at your preferred angle, and set that blade down onto the water. For more tips on how to use the stern rudder paddle, check out this video:



2. The Brace

Bracing is an excellent way to steady yourself if you feel your kayak starting to roll. To perform a brace, reach out and put your paddle blade horizontal on top of the wave. The rotational forces within the wave will prevent the paddle blade sinking, and you can lean on it if you need to. So that your kayak doesn't roll when the wave shoves you sideways, you must edge your kayak towards the wave and if necessary, lean into the wave. Watch this video for an excellent example of how to brace your kayak on the wave:



3. The Recovery Roll

Being rolled over is a part of kayak surfing, and swimming in the impact zone is not advisable, thus making learning how to self-recover when you are rolled a vital technique. Learning how to roll properly will allow you to bring your kayak quickly back to the upright position without having to perform a wet exit. Remember, unlike ordinary kayaking, you may have to wait a few seconds for the wave to release its grip on you before you roll back up. Check out this video that covers a range of rolling techniques: 



How Does It All Work?



Photo credit: The.Rohit via Flickr

Kayak surfing is a fantastic sport and, while getting involved in it might seem intimidating, you are only a little research and practice away from being able to take on the waves. All that is required is the mastering of a few basic techniques, such as the stern rudder, the brace, and the recovery roll. Once you've got those techniques under your belt and have coupled them with the right kayak, gear, and a little knowledge of the environment you’re going to be in, you'll be more than ready to get out on the waves and begin your kayak surfing adventure!


Learn Your Waves



Photo credit: Stefan Schmitz via Flickr

The best way to kayak is by keeping safe, and the best way to stay safe is to understand the environment you're going to be kayaking in. Kayak surfing is distinctly different from any other form of kayaking, so it is well worth doing your research on what the different surf zones are and how to safely interact with them. There is no substitute for personal experience so, if you can, always take the time to talk to other kayakers who have surfed in the area you’re planning on visiting. Listen to what they have to say and learn from it.


Learn the Lingo

Like all extreme sports, surf kayaking has its own language. Learning this language is part of joining in with the sport, and knowing the terms can make it easier to decode advice from experienced surfers. No one wants to look like a "barney" because they don't know their "backdoor" from their "barrel."


Get the Right Kayak




You can surf in just about any kayak, but for the best results, you'll need a purpose-built surfing kayak. Surfing kayaks can be differentiated from other kayaks by their short length, planing hull, and low rocker, allowing them to glide across the surface of the wave. For a full buying guide and reviews of some of the best surfing kayaks, check out this article from Kayak Advisors.


Bring the Right Gear




As with any extreme sport, there is an element of risk involved with kayak surfing. Bringing the right gear with you can help to mitigate that risk. The need for items like gloves and wetsuits depends on the environment you'll be surfing in, but the gear listed below represents essentials that every surf kayaker should have with them.


A personal floatation device



Photo credit: Isabelle Puaut via Flickr

When buying a personal flotation device (PFD) for surf kayaking, it is vital to find one that fits snugly while not restricting your movement. A properly fitted PFD will allow you to freely move your upper body and shoulders, all the while being snug enough so that there is no danger of it being ripped loose during a wipeout.


A whitewater-rated helmet



Photo credit: The.Rohit via Flickr

Not all kayaking helmets are rated for whitewater or kayak surfing. When looking to buy a helmet, and you will need one, make sure that it is correctly rated.


A Reinforced Paddle



Photo credit: Henning Leweke via Flickr

Most kayaking paddles are not built to withstand repeated impact with the surf line. When buying a paddle for surf kayaking, look for the reinforced paddles used with creek boats or playboats that are designed to be impact resistant.


There are many ways to surf, some of which you may have never even thought of. Once you’ve mastered kayak surfing, why not give SUP surfing a shot on a fun-filled stand-up paddling camp?

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