Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kayaks. In the ocean!

At last Randall and I made it out to Half Moon Bay to do some kayaking again. Today we came armed with kayaks (borrowed) and some instructors/experts (Matt, Marcus, and David). Today was the day we would conquer the ocean.

We suited up on shore. Keep in mind this is January. It's "cold". David said at one point "I've been trying to convince people to come out here, but everyone complains about the cold water. I've found a solution: Get some Canadians!"

We're pretty easy to please. A January beach where the water is still liquid? We're there!

Matt outlined what we've be learning and went over some safety info, then split Randall and I up so he could work with one of us while Marcus helped the other one. Randall and I climbed into the kayaks, shimmied out into the surf, and tried to make it to "the soup". This meant getting past the first set of waves.

Randall heads out first
The rest of us catch up
The next step was learning to hold a position (because obliviously drifting into shore or out to sea was no longer good enough). This was learned at the same time as another important skill: not flipping. Stage 1 of Not Flipping was balance.

While that was important, it's not much fun to look at - though it's really satisfying when you manage to get over a wave properly. More fun is bracing. This is when pure balance has failed, and you need to lean on something. It's simple: You put the paddle on the sea-side of the kayak, and lean on it (lean away from shore, towards the wave). Like so:

Apparently this is something that requires practice.

Something to keep in mind is that once you've flipped, the kayak is full of water and weighs about 400lbs. If you've got a giant heavy log floating around, you never want to be between it and the shore that the waves are pushing it towards. Ankles and knees break when you forget this lesson.

When you flip, you end up under water and still stuck in the boat (unless you can roll back up, which is still magic to me). One of the safety skills is learning to solve this problem. Pulling the skirt (the elastic cover on the cockpit) off is difficult, so you learn to find the handle with your eyes closed. When you're upside-down and under water, you can find it, pull, and free yourself from the boat. After that, you head to shore, climb back in, and fight your way back out past the waves.

Eventually our bracing improved, and we could handle the fiercest of waves that this calm day could throw at us.

While bracing is fun, and lets us side-slip along a wave, what we wanted to get to was true kayak surfing. We stopped for some lunch and talked about this next step.

Refueled and with a plan and more information on identifying types of waves and how underwater topography creates them, we headed back out. Past the breakers, we grouped up and started getting used to the timing of the waves.

David provided a nice example of how surfing a wave can be. It was such a good demo, I had to jump out of the way.

After a few misfires...

"Oh god, there's kids on shore. Turn. TURN! HOW DOES THIS THING WORK" *flip*

...we were surfing waves too.

The day ended with us tired, satisfied, salty and hungry. We stowed the kayaks and gear, and went to get burritos and toast our defeat of the ocean... 

unless there was anything but perfect calm weather, but what are the chances of that?


  1. You and Randall should feel great about what you did yesterday: both of you had nice rides and were showing excellent judgment and ability. Everything you learned on these waves will apply to bigger, faster waves. I think you guys are ready to head out to Pillar Point!

    -Matt Krizan

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