Into the Sea: Launching Your Kayak in Surf

Take your Florida kayaking experience to the ocean with these tipsFor many Florida kayaking enthusiasts, the flat-water is enough. There are many serene waterways and rivers waiting to be explored on Jacksonville kayak tours, and you may decide that these peaceful places are as far as you want to go. After all, once you’ve mastered a few basic strokes, learned some safety maneuvers and acquired all the necessary kayak equipment, these flat-water environments make for easy, relaxing paddling.

But as you become more interested in Florida kayaking, you may find yourself quickly wondering about the different possibilities that Jacksonville has to offer. Though Dutton Island and the Ft. George River will give you some relaxing views of local flora and fauna, what about giant body of water that’s constantly surging, crashing and beckoning to us from the eastern horizon?

Kayaking on the open ocean presents many more challenges than flat-water kayaking, and the first is simply entering the water. Though the waters of Jacksonville’s beaches may often look calm and inviting, at other times you may find them rough and intimidating. Here’s how to start tackling the challenge of an ocean entry.

Pick Your Spot

Before you take your kayak out to sea, get to a high vantage point on the beach, a spot that lets you see as far as possible in both directions. The wooden walkways that often arch over the sandy dunes at the beach’s edge may be a good bet. Look down the beach and see if there are any spots where the waves are breaking, anywhere with a less pronounced aquatic barrier to your entry.

What you need is a channel, a place where an outflowing current forms. You’re looking for a place where the bottom is deeper than the average depth of the beach. Of course, your chances of finding a perfect channel are slim along Jacksonville beaches, but you can often find a spot where the crash of waves seems less prominent than others.

Size Up the Waves

Breaking waves are known as dumpers. As they roll along, they pick up energy that eventually curls them into a crash towards their bases. Their less-volatile cousins are spillers, which collapse in on themselves when their crests are pushed back by the wind. In good conditions, spillers will serve almost as swells, with a nearly nonexistent foamy-white crest.

Waves come in many different shapes and sizes, but they also tend to come in sets. Between each group of waves will be a lull: your perfect time to charge into the water. Remember that the key to a successful launch is to avoid the breaks. It will be easy to manage the breaking swell of the surf, as well as the trough and crest of each wave—it’s coming in contact with the face of the wave that can spell trouble.

But with so many waves, having to punch through one may be inevitable. The best way to stay stable is to keep moving—any boat in motion will be much steadier than one at rest. Sometimes, all you need is a well-performed forward stroke to get you over the crest before you come in contact with the face, and maintaining this momentum should be a priority.

Because launching in surf can be a challenge that requires some practice and instruction, your best bet in mastering these skills is to take an advanced Surf Zone Kayaking course at First Coast Outfitters. But regardless of how you make it out to sea, you’ll need to make it safely back to shore again. To find out more about accomplishing this feat, continue to Back to the Beach: Landing Your Kayak in Surf.


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