The Benefits of a Surfski when Launching Off the Beach into Surf
Below is a great testimonial from Will Wyman a long time sea kayaker and recent Surfski Convert. I’ve never been a Sea Kayaker so don’t have this perspective and cannot speak to it, but I trust that what Will describes below is very true and common.
Making The Transition – Getting In
You caught one of the most under publicized issues that make the surfski easier and more trouble free than the sea kayak; ease of boat entry and exit (I.e. donning and doffing your boat).
Why make the transition? Because the challenge of launching in waves goes away with the surfski.
As a long time sea kayaker, let me expand a bit on the problem and how the surfski solves it.
When there are waves, even 2 footers, getting launched can be a problem for the sea kayak. I have known and taught many paddlers for whom this barrier has killed the enthusiasm for paddling in the best conditions.
Let’s say you are on a lake with sand beach launch (best case scenario). The waves are coming at 5 to 6 second intervals. If that’s the ocean, the waves are 10 to 12 seconds apart, at most. To get a good launch, you must get in the boat, snap the skirt over the cockpit combing, and shone off directly into the waves before the next wave hits. If you don’t get the skirt on in time, you get the next wave in the lap and, at best, launch with your cockpit somewhat swamped. If you get the skirt on but can’t get or hold the boat perpendicular to the waves, the next wave shoves your bow sideways and you become a victim of getting side slammed by the next wave.
Very few beginner to intermediate paddlers are agile or fast enough to launch in the water in the waves; mobility, conditioning and speed all stand in the way. So the most common solution is to back up the boat so that the high point of the waves on the shore is just hitting the bow. Then you get in, snap on your skirt and do a hand walk/slide into the waves, with the challenge of staying perpendicular to the waves, especially as the waves grow larger. You will note that the high point of the waves varies in any set, so you may be waiting a while for the next high point or hand walk a ways into the water. This is hard on heavier paddlers; those who are less conditioned or older; and is hard on your boat.
I have watched sea kayakers get so frustrated with this that they simply don’t go out on wavy days, which are the most fun of all for downwind and surfing. Where’s the fun in that?! In fact, when the spot you use is usually wavy, I have known people who dread the defeat, embarrassment and frustration so much that they leave the sport. The surfski makes this go away.
There are problems for beach launch even when it goes well. First, if you have a retractable rudder or a skeg kayak, these often get jammed by sand and stones as you hand walk/slide into the water. Now you can’t deploy your skeg and, on a wavy day, you may need it, especially when you go downwind. If your skeg is cable operated, as most good ones are, if you force the issue, you will kink the cable and your boat is in dry dock. If the beach is not nice sand but rocky, you get hull damage while sliding into the water. Why scratch or gouge up your beautiful boat? Furthermore, where the drop-off is steep or there is a bank or insufficient beach, the beach launch does not work well if at all. When you watch the professionals making a seal launch into the ocean, down a heap of rocks, remember that they are riding in a sponsored boat that will be trashed at the end of the expedition.
With the surfski all this goes away. Wade into the water, thigh deep, turn around and sit down. You’re in! Or straddle the boat and sit down. In surf this is great because your most stable position is with your legs out. If you want to be like the pros, jump into the bucket, holding a seated position and paddle off. No worry about swamping, side blast or hull damage. For fast dropoffs, just jump in next to your ski and do a remount.
I watched my brother’s confidence and enthusiasm for the sport take off when the barricades were taken away on his Epic V6. My sister, a beginning sea kayaker, took on 4 foot waves one of her first times out on her Epic V8 without mishap. She tipped over later, but no problem with the launch or landing.
As an experienced sea kayaker, I tried incorporating surfski launching methods with my best sea kayak in waves (about 2 footers) and surf (about 3 to 4 footers), I tried the straddle and the sit down mount. Balancing was more difficult, especially when it came to getting my legs in, but the killer was time. I ended up with a cockpit full of water every time. Back to the beach. I also tried backward launch from the beach to keep stones and sand out of my skeg notch but launching backward through the surf is difficult evev for the initiated. With the surf up, it’s really hard not to broach before you can get turned around.
Not an issue for the surfski!
I remain mystified that it took me so long to add surfskiing to my paddling portfolio.