Rock Gardens, Surfing & Rough Water Rescues
Surfing and playing in the ocean's rock gardens is an exciting, demanding activity that will open new dimensions to your paddling. It is not without exposure but can be done safely, especially if you take a few minutes to prepare for what will happen. So Prepare, Plan and Play.
Check all boats for proper flotation, loose lines, possible snags, outfitting and its effect on rescue methods.
When surfing shallow rock ledges use a helmet.
If a large beach, post makers out to ensure group location and management- (a rescue device or food spot are useful markers).
Surfing Skills- Things you need to know
Be clear on the necessary strokes and the timing for using them:
Strong forward paddling is essential.
Keep the paddle and center of gravity low when punching through a wave.
Use effective sweep strokes, edges and low brace turns for quick turning.
Stern rudders on the downside of the wave to keep the kayak tracking down wave.
Emphasis us of low braces for support.
If a kayak is coming towards you, get out of the way quickly or capsize so they go over you.
Don’t paddle out directly behind anyone. If they are surfed backwards…
Stay within the session’s routes and boundaries.
If you swim, try to hold onto your boat and stay to its seaward side. If it is too heavy, let go and swim/float in.
Organize parameters for the group to work in. Don’t play where others are, as kayaks heading towards you can skewer you and are hard to get out of the way of once broad side on.
Ensure all clients and guides understand the risks of rips, long shore drift, unsteady weather, tides, beach morphology and common surfing injuries, using systems that actively reduce them.
Use the buddy system where appropriate (especially good to use on beaches with beginners).
Use Surf Etiquette to prevent collision and to promote a good atmosphere with other surf users.
Use all of your people resources to be in perfect rescue positions and/or placed in front of danger zones to warn clients away.
Use the right size surf for the ability of the group. With a low-level group on a big surf day the soup is an excellent area to play and practice- not out the back!
Don't overestimate your clients’ stamina and strength. Be prepared for hypothermia and have a warm environment and drink ready for use.
Sort a signaling system for left, right, come to me and everyone out of the water before going surfing.
If surfing offshore ledges, ensure markers and safe areas are set, so no one drifts away.
Be wary of dumping waves as these may case spinal injuries and broken arms.
Ledge surfing/rock hopping
Great rides can be had on short quick runs over ledges. I strongly recommend these places for learning since if/when you go over you will likely end up in deep water. You can study a wave's formation and dissipation, get a feel for how waves move, how tides change waves, and when you end up upside down you're in the relative safety of deep water and a simpler rescue.
The take-off and bongo sliding
For beginner surfers catching their first few waves there arises that critical move - that moment of truth when your down wave, shore side stern rudder no longer keeps you perpendicular to the wave...when you are starting to broach/bongo slide. Suddenly and quickly it is time to rotate your head, body and then paddle from that shore-side rudder across the boat to face the wave, and lean into it with a saving low brace. This quick decisive move is a crux move for beginning surfers.
This is all about tuning and timing; tuning into the rhythms of the water ebb and flow and matching them with your movements.
Study the marine environment. Notice the reflecting waves, the surging and backwash, study the up and down motions - the vertical dimension - note where you can accelerate and where you might be sprinting uphill.
Timing is everything. Plan escape routes and safety spots. Study the water depth, note barnacles or kelp. Utilize your draws and bow rudders to line up for the maneuver or to escape a wave. Think about controlling the bow of your kayak, placing your draws and braces to hold or direct your bow. Be able to combine draws with braces and acceleration. Always keep an eye to seaward to note set waves. Have a partner/safety boater/spotter. Note that you can easily receive skull/spinal injuries. Characteristics. Non-linear. Littoral and rip currents and surges that have a rhythm. Less predictable.
Be aware of being side surfed into rocks. Hit rocks with your hull . If you lose your boat - swim out to sea for safety. If you have no choice but to get out on a ledge, remember that you will weigh twice as much, as you are carrying water soaked clothing. Ensure you get up high enough to be out of the way of the biggest waves.
Rescues are challenging! Be ready with tows and throws. Discuss holding onto gear and being towed out. Perhaps hook up a rescuer before she goes in to help someone (make sure she has a releasable towline). Think this out before hand.
Study any area you might play in. Learn the bottom. How the tidal depth changes different wave lengths. Drop in and feel the surge. Note the reflecting and refracting angles. Get use to the timing, the similarities and differences of different rocks. Find and note possible protection spots and go sit in behind it. Develop your Tuning and Timing.
Surf landing and launching
Are the waves dumping or spilling? If both, then analyze your timing. Think about your angle of attack, the effects of broaching, of swimming. What about a paddle in your face? Protect the shoulders by use of a solid low brace. What order should your group enter or exit the water? What other methods can you devise to control your boat speed when surfing into a beach?
There are 3 basic types of waves. Develop a sense of the energy in different waves. Understand the movement of a particle of water in a wave. Analyze the types of waves. Note the Wavelength, Wave height, period or length and a wave’s relative Duration-Velocity-Fetch.
Spilling. A classic, friendly beach wave that is formed on a gently shelving seabed. The wave will probably break along its face and give great rides.
Dumping. Found on steep, often rocky beaches. These waves do not spill, and release all of their energy very quickly. They are not recommended to surf. To land and exit good timing is needed. Land on the back or the top of the wave, not in front. These waves can easily cause spinal injury.
Surging. These waves occur when the wave ‘feels’ the seabed. This forms an increase in height that may include spilling water at the top of the wave. The wave then travels on and goes into deeper water and never breaks. These are good fun for short surf rides, but can be dangerous because if a large set comes through they may break and suck the rocks dry underneath you- are to be looked for when playing on rock gardens.
Basic Wave Theory
Swells begin to feel the bottom when the water depth is ½ the wave length. This is very relevant when we are out on the edges of our box.
When depth of water is 2/3rds the wavelength or less, swells begin to alter shape. They feel the bottom, steepen, and may start to ‘trip up’ over themselves. Winds and currents will easily vary this from 2 to 5 times.
As wavelength shortens, wave height increases, while the period remains the same.
A wave's energy is proportional to the wave height squared.
The longer the wavelength, the more energy is stored and therefore the more powerful the wave.
Rip currents are formed when water that has been pushed up the beach is travelling back out to sea. Water always travels the way of least residence, which is usually the deepest part of the beach or ledge. This will often mean that rip currents are found next to headlands, river mouths or sandier parts of a rocky beach.
Identification of a rip current:
The waves are smaller in this area and often have little ripples flowing out to sea.
Flotsam and jetsam will be travelling out in the rip.
The color of the water will be darker as the lower water picks up the sand and transports it out to sea.
There will be foam on top of the water that is floating out to sea in a mushroom or sea.
What to do if you get caught in a rip:
Swim or paddle with it until you are out the back and out of the main grip of the flow. Paddle to a part of the beach where the waves are bigger and catch a ride in. Or. Paddle or swim directly across the rip (at 90degrees to the rip) and then catch a wave on the edge in to the beach. Never paddle against it as you’ll get no where whilst wasting your energy.
This form of self-rescue is very achievable these days. If you are not able to roll., what changes must be made to your safety and risk analysis of what you can and cannot do with your group?
Rolling Problems generally arise from: Wrong attitude - Poor setup and poor paddle angle - Reliance on the paddle blade - Failure to hip-flick - Lifting your head or pulling your body up first.
Rough water rolling requires appropriate timing, coming up on the correct (wave) side, and use of the wave’s energy to increase the ease and success.
Effective, quick towing of paddlers and equipment is a crucial kayak skill.
Tandem or line tows, and Fan or husky tows
Practice, Practice, Practice and then do them a thousand times more. You need to acquire a working knowledge of the primary differences.
The effect that different kayak designs, equipment and outfitting have on rescue ease.
Recognize the differences of rough water rescues.
Exercises, activities, practices to increase your rough water skills
1. Dress up and go swim in the waves if it can be done safely and without being drawn out to sea. Perhaps you should not boat where you won't swim!
2. On a day of little wind and gentle swells, find a rock and float beside it. Feel the water's movement under you, the surging up and down, become that small system of water, relax, let your boat go, be the sea, develop your sense of what's going on around you.
3. Paddle as close as you safely can to any rocky shore or outcropping, surf line or current. Focus on the movement of your boat under you, work on your duffeks, bow rudders and draws, put your boat exactly where you want it with each roller and surge, visualize the edge of the breaking zone.
4. Practice receiving small waves on your beam. Use your low brace and feel your paddle's extra support from the wave. Reach over the wave's top with a strong draw while trying to maintain your position over the seabed. Then do it all on your other side. Notice the difference of a bow draw...a stern draw.
5. Go out into the soup and surf without paddles. Feel the wave underneath you and the amount of stability that a low brace has with your hands. Know how much edge is required for you to be stable.
6. Study the motion of the soup zone. Sit parallel to it and visualize how you will be surfed sideways, and how the forces are working on your boat. Understand what your boat's edges do and why you must lift your shore-side knee as you broach toward the shore. Remember what happens to a ‘windowshade’ or ‘power-flip’ when you quickly let go of the cord.
7. Practice rolling before a wave, feeling the surging around you while upside down, develop your timing of when things quiet down so its easier to roll up, sense which way is seaward - the easier side to roll up on.
8. Think about connecting with your boat. Remember the 4 B’s. You are the link - the conductor - of what is presented and how it is presented to the sea. Think of how your body, particularly your lower torso and knees change the hull's shape in the water. Be aware of regulating the pressure on the boat's edges, of the effects of leaning forward and back, of maximizing your hull and paddle's efficiency for power & support.
9. Surf with your eyes shut from catching the wave to bongo sliding. Feel what your body is doing and get the timing right without seeing when to do it. Start to form perfect habits.
So we want to go surfing or gardening today and want bigger waves. If you were listening to deep-water buoy reports before going surfing, do you want a 2' wave every 10 seconds or a 3' wave every 5 seconds? Why?
Study, learn, and know the wondrous power of the swells.
Be the Sea.
Rock Gardens are about tuning in and timing right.
So tune up and drop in – it could really hurt… or really be fun…
…and remember. There are only 2 kinds of boaters –
those that have swum... and those that are going to…
so are you willing to swim in the areas you might boat in.