You have mastered flat water, you can fish at drift, you might have even tried dropping and hauling an anchor. You have been careful to go out in calm conditions and you are becoming quite comfortable with this kayak fishing ‘lark’. You get a free afternoon, a window of opportunity and you intend to use it. The forecast is giving wind but it is light and onshore, shouldn’t be a problem. You arrive at the beach to find that there are three to four foot breakers hitting the shore. There is a light swell but it would be very manageable if you could just get beyond the breakers. What are you going to do?
Most people probably part company from their kayaks at some stage when launching or landing through surf. It is not a dangerous action if approached in a correct manner but it can be costly and painful if you get it wrong. I live on the Irish Atlantic coastline and fishing trips depend on getting to the flatter water beyond the breakers. As with everything practice makes perfect. Firstly, I would very much recommend practicing these launches and landings with an unloaded kayak. You probably will come off the kayak at least a couple of times and you don’t want to be losing your fishing gear when this happens.
The most important thing to remember when surf launching or landing is to keep your kayak perpendicular to the waves; if you let the boat get turned parallel to the wave then you will get rolled. Spend a few minutes watching the breakers and identify a smoother area to launch through. Keep the kayak alongside and wade out until knee deep. Watch the rollers and keep the kayak’s bow facing into the waves and pointing straight out to sea. When you feel the timing is right, very quickly jump into the seat of the kayak and start paddling straight into the breakers. Good, strong paddle strokes will take you up and over the breakers and after climbing and passing a few you should be beyond them and onto flatter water. When launching, most people experience the dreaded ‘wipeout’ because they do not paddle strongly and confidently through the breakers. They pause for a moment, the bow gets turned into the wave and they are rolling through the surf. Pick your spot and keep paddling!
Landing through surf basically requires the same intentions; pick your spot well, paddle strongly and confidently, keep the kayak in a straight line and perpendicular to the shore. Paddling towards the shore can see the wave turn the stern of the boat, particularly if you are not paddling fast enough. Let it go all the way around and you will roll. You can ‘surf’ the wave by taking the blade of the paddle and leaning into the wave. This feels counter intuitive but it is the only way out of this scenario. Surfing waves on a kayak is not something that comes naturally to many and it does require practice but it is time very well spent. Practice and play in the surf with an unloaded kayak to get a feel for the rushes and surges of the rolling breakers. Learn what you and you boat can do and then introduce the fishing gear.
There are a couple of factors to bear in mind when attempting surf launches and landings. Firstly, never have your paddle leashed to your kayak in the surf zone. If you do roll there is a great danger of becoming entangled in the leash and effectively being tied to your kayak as you get rolled in the waves. By all means attach one when you are clear but never in the surf. Secondly, if the boat does start to roll try to never let the kayak get between you and a wave. The force with which water can throw the kayak right at the paddler can result in broken ribs or a very nasty head injury. Finally, when launching/landing for real, make sure all loose items are tied or leashed to the kayak. The occasional ‘accident’ happens to us all and by having all gear, rods and tackle tied down it will mean all that gets hurt is your pride, not your wallet!
Article seen in Sea Angler