Back to the Beach: Landing Your Kayak in Surf
Once you have your kayak out to sea and have thoroughly enjoyed your Florida kayaking excursion, what do you do? Getting your kayak past the breaking waves to explore the ocean waters to begin with has challenges, but getting back to dry land may have even more.
Just like when you launched, you’ll need to search for a channel that will make it easier to paddle back to the beach. However, you need to be cautious: a too-strong current can impede your progress or send you into the waves you were careful to avoid.
When you find yourself ready to head in, the closeness of the beach may call to you, making it seem so easy to rush quickly to the shore—but this could be a mistake. If you’ve practiced your rolls, strokes and braces enough and all your kayaking equipment is secure, you may be able to handle surfing back to shore, paddling atop the face of a wave for a ride back to the beach.
But attempt the feat unprepared and you may instead experience pearling. Pearling happens when your bow digs into the water in front of you, sending the stern up into the air. This will stop your front end, but keep your rear end moving, potentially spinning your kayak into an overturned position.
For the safest surf landing possible, follow these steps:
- Don’t rush in. If you can’t find an easy stretch of shore to head for, wait beyond the surf zone and assess the situation. It can be difficult to evaluate the force and span of the breaking waves from a low vantage point behind them, but use your best judgment and observe the breaks as best you can. If you’re with a more experienced paddler, you may want to let him or her go first, then follow.
- Get behind the crest. If you don’t have someone more experienced along, you’ll need to blaze your own trail. Find the calmest channel, then aim for the back side of each wave, paddling in the area just behind the crest that will keep you moving forward before eventually letting you go.
- Back paddle into the next wave. When each wave releases you into its trough, you’ll want to start back-paddling to get up the face of the next wave before it has the chance to break. Then get behind the crest once again to paddle quickly through the surf impact zone.
- Commit. Once you reach a certain point, you’ll need to commit to a wave or risk getting stuck in the surf zone and capsized. You’ll feel a surge as you commit to riding a wave towards land, and soon your kayak will likely want to turn its side to the shore. This is the time to use your high brace.
- Brace. With one side to the shore, the incoming waves on your other side can easily capsize you. Once you turn, you’ll need to plant a forceful high brace into the top of the next breaking wave. Hold this brace until you find yourself in the foam, fairly close to shore. Get out quickly on the ocean side of the kayak and pull your kayak to safety. However ungraceful your landing may have felt (or looked), you made it!
One of the best things about Florida kayaking is that we never have a shortage of places to explore. For beginners, the rivers, lakes and waterways that dot the Sunshine State are perfect paddling, but others may be ready for the challenge of the sea. Just remember: each kind of kayaking has its own challenges—don’t jump headfirst into ocean kayaking if you aren’t prepared for what awaits you. If you have any doubts about your skill level, be sure to take the Surf Zone Kayaking course at First Coast Outfitters.