All about surf kayaking

Posted By: Mathew Lamont Published: 10/03/2020


Surf kayaking is exactly what it says on the tin, riding waves in a kayak on the ocean. This can be anything from catching a wave back to shore, to executing radial manoeuvres in the power pocket of the wave. Riders will aim to surf in the power pocket of the wave between the green face and white water. This is the steepest, most powerful section of the wave and allows the surfer to pull off more impressive moves. Surfing a kayak lets you feel so many things you wont normally find in a kayak. The speed you generate surfing across the face of a wave, acceleration carving a hard turn, when your whole body is skimming the face of the wave trying to hold on, the anticipation carving up to the lip right before you launch your boat into the air. Whilst I really enjoy white water and freestyle kayaking, I’ve never felt like this about it to the same extent.


When surf kayaking, the aim is to surf with speed, power and flow whilst executing dynamic manoeuvres. Manoeuvres are typically broken up into two categories, face manoeuvres and lip manoeuvres. Face moves are done on the breaking green face of the wave to change the height and direction of the rider. Here the aim is to ride from top to bottom of the wave, whilst staying in the pocket of the wave by changing direction. Lip moves are done with the boat either partially or fully in the air and involve using the breaking lip of the wave as a ramp to launch the boat towards the sky.


For myself, the ideal ride would involve a steep take off, dropping down the wave before hitting the lip and dropping through the air back to the bottom of the wave, I’d then want to follow this up with a huge slashed top turn, flowing on from here into a roundhouse cutback, making a point to get the nose of the boat above the wave on the rebound before releasing the fins. To finish this off, I’d want to hit the lip and do an air with some form of added rotation, either tweaking the boat towards an invert, where the hull faces the beach, changes direction and the rider lands facing the same way they took-off, or a performing a panam, which is similar to a barrel roll but with additional vertical rotation so that the rider lands facing backwards.


If you’re going surf kayaking for the first time, you should find some small, gentle sloping waves, away from the crowd. This will allow you time to pick up the basics of surf kayaking without worrying about colliding with other people in the water. When identifying the area you plan to surf in, you need to identify rip currents which will carry you and your boat out to sea and rocks, which if you hit at speed, are going to hurt a lot. If you do find yourself in a rip current, you should paddle/swim parallel to the shore to escape it. This is far more effective than trying to fight against the currents by paddling against it and much safer.


You can surf any kayak, but some will surf better than other due to a few key features. If you aren’t surfing a specialist surf kayak, you want to find a boat with hard rails and a planning hull such as a river running kayak, or old school play boat. These are both good choices as they are longer than modern playboats, which are much harder to paddle out through waves due to their short length. If you’re interested in surf kayaking more, the best way to do this is to find people nearby to surf kayak with. You can get in contact with most national teams through Facebook or national governing body websites, these will hopefully be able to point you towards a club with a surf scene, or small get togethers of local surfers. Competitions are also a great place to do this, as they allow you to meet new surf kayakers and see some of the world’s best riders in action.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and it’s encouraged you to try more surf kayaking, hopefully I’ll see you on the water soon.

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