Saturday, March 26, 2016

Don't Just Sit There, Paddle

Sea kayaks are not the ideal vessel for surfing waves. While the length of a sea kayak makes it easy to catch even small waves, they are not necessarily very maneuverable, and have a robust tendency to broach. Still, paddling a sea kayak in surf is a good way to improve your paddling skills, providing you don't cream yourself in the process. 

The south coast of NSW, as well as having lots of keen sea kayakers in the area, also has lots of beaches where you can surf a kayak. Once you get to know the local area a bit, it is relatively easy to find a good beach that will have just the right size and shape wave to get some practice on. Our favorites so far are Broulee Beach and Tomakin Beach near Mossy Point. Barlings Beach can also be good with bigger waves on a southerly swell. Local kayakers have told us that Cookies Beach at South Durass has friendly surf conditions. Close to us, a good swell often breaks at the river bar at Moruya Heads but the last time we were out there it was a little big for us, although the river bar itself provided some good rougher water practice and is safe on an incoming tide.

On Easter Saturday we launched at Mossy Point and paddled out of the bar and up to Tomakin Cove. A couple of weeks before we had been scared off paddling out this bar due to rough conditions, and had instead, gone south to Broulee Beach where it always seems pretty easy to launch and do a little surfing. But, with a southerly swell and light winds, paddling out Mossy Point bar was, apart from all the powerboats entering and exiting, quite easy. 

 Mossy Point bar in easy conditions

We played around paddling through some rock passages, which I enjoyed but Doug found quite unnerving. Kayaking is the one sport where having a squat body is an advantage as my centre of gravity is lower and my kayak more stable. After catching a couple of small waves at the north end of the beach, we ventured down to the south end, right near the river bar which is popular with novice surfers as a very regular wave forms which spills in to the sandy beach. 

Doug played around in the smaller waves inshore, but I hung out with the SUP'ers further out and had some quite thrilling rides on bigger waves. Some I managed with remarkable style given my skill level, others not so much as my bow would bury and I would come to a rather rapid halt. Occasionally, I even managed to do that neat maneuver where you cut out of the wave before it breaks but I think that was more good luck than good management. 

In fact, it was all going quite well until I made that fatal flaw when kayaking which was to have no speed relative to the water. I mistimed catching a wave and got caught in the breaking wave, which, would have been no real drama had I been paddling, forward or backward, but, I sat there like the proverbial deer in the headlights, dithering over whether to forward stroke or backward stroke, and, of course, capsized immediately, and, just as immediately fell right out of the boat and popped my spray deck. 

Wet exiting was then quite easy as I had pretty much wet exited the moment I capsized, and I began the process of swimming the boat in to shore. I was right in the break zone of the surf so setting up a paddle float and re-entering did not seem like a viable option. It took me a while to swim in as I would get sucked out with each wave that came by, and, with one hand on the boat, I had only one hand to swim with. After a while, Doug came along and gave me a tow for a bit, but that was somewhat uncomfortable as I would get stretched apart when he surged forward with a wave while my kayak was sucked back. Eventually, I made it into the beach, emptied my boat and re-entered. 

Nice morning at Mossy Point

It was a good learning experience and a bit like falling while rock climbing, good to do as it removes a lot of the lingering fear you may have that falling or capsizing is a terrible thing. I was glad to have a paddle leash on, to have nothing unsecured on or in my boat, and also I was not wearing sunglasses or a hat - a bit uncomfortable on a hot sunny day but two things I always take off and stow away if I think I might capsize. Swimming with just one arm is a bit slow, and, you need to take care not to get down-wave of the kayak. There are still places I would not want to capsize - off Warden Head near Ulladulla is a recent example - just as there are times when rock climbing when the "leader does not fall" should remain absolutely true, but, apart from being a bit sandy, I suffered no harm from capsizing. Of course, having a bomb-proof eskimo roll would be a lot easier way to recover from a capsize, but, I'm still working on that.

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