Outrigger Canoe Tips for Padling In and Out Through Surf

Surfski Tips For Paddling In and Out Through SurfAt some point or another, you might enter a race where you have to enter through the surf to get to the start line. Or maybe you go for a paddle and want to beach along the way, but there is some surf to account for. This can be intimating to some. And others may not understand how a simple extra second can make all the difference. Here are some important Outrigger Canoe tips, dos and don'ts and lessons learned the hard way which may help you safely get to your destination and not have to worry so much about that upcoming race with a beach entry.

This is part of a multi-part series.

  1. Never let yourself stand with your outrigger canoe between you and an oncoming wave. The canoe is like a giant broom waiting to sweep into you when sideways. And generally the canoe starts perpendicular but with a litle loose grip or a slight wave, the current will turn your boat around to head back in to the surf. So keep a good grip and keep it to your side.
  1. Decide ahead of time what side of the canoe you want to enter on. Left or right Most folks will opt for the left ama side, and for good reason since pushing down on the left when you get in will not tip the canoe. Whereas getting in on the right could mean lifting the ama up and huling in the surf. Choosing the left also lets you lift the front of the canoe over waves (see next tip). Have your leash tied to the canoe and not dragging and not in the footwells or blocking the rudder cables.

  2. Grab the canoe by the front iako as your handle. And have the paddle either in your hands as well, parallel with the iako, or in your right foot well (left is more likely to get crushed when you get in. *Just be careful not to kick it out when you enter.
  1. Hold the front iako and lift the nose of your canoe over oncoming waves. While standing in the shallows, do not let the nose of your boat be swamped by the waves. Canoes are large objects (as I mentioned previously) and are not easily maneuverable, so don’t add to your hard work by allowing the waves to move the boat. By holding the boat by the iako and lifting just the nose of the boat over passing waves, you are able to control the direction the boat is pointed, and have better control. One by one, let waves go under the front of the canoe and then feel how the back lifts over the wave each time.
  1. The perfect moment to head into the waves is exactly after a wave has passed. And ideally with a long gap before the next. At this point in time you should be standing with water up to your knees to waist, and should be watching the time between each wave that hits you and the formation of the next. In most scenarios there will be a short pause between each wave that is the perfect opportunity to hop onto your canoe and start paddling before the next wave is able to reach you. However this period of time is not very long so it might take practice before you are able to head out through the waves in one smooth motion. Hop in the canoe, and immediately start paddling. Do not worry about your leash or your seat. Just get moving. You will adjust those once you are past the breakers.
  1. Punch the waves. Standing on the beach looking at the sets rolling in can make the waves seem a bit daunting to beginners and experienced paddlers alike. However, in the midst of paddling out through the waves any slight hesitation will place you back on the shore before you can get through the first set. The advice I give to any cautious paddler is that in order to get through the wave you must push through it. A paddler is able to “punch” through the wave by increasing stroke rate and not losing momentum. Don't be passive and get pushed around. The more speed you have, the more stability (think like a bicycle) and the less you will be pushed backwards.

  2. After the nose of your canoe hits, get ready for the ama to then absorb impact. This is often the real threat as the second force can spin you, or make the ama lift, or even sink. So just be ready for it. And be ready to keep paddling the second you are clear. Keep your feet on the rudders to help keep your line straight. Always be perpendicular to the broken wave.
  1. Do not get stuck in the impact zone (i.e. where the waves are breaking into whitewater). This happens when you become too ambitious and try to punch a wave that is going to crash directly onto you. A wave hitting you directly will hinder your forward momentum and could lead to some serious damage, so it is important to know when a good time to “punch” is and when is a good time to hold back and wait for that perfect moment. After waiting for the impact zone to pass make sure you aggressively paddle up and over the white water. It is important to note that studying the waves and identifying impact zones before heading out into the water will enable you to be in a better position to get the timing right.
  1. When a wave hits (and it will) DO NOT stop paddling. Forward momentum is an important part of heading out through the waves and you do not want to lose ground. The typical response to getting hit by a wave is to stop and re-balance, however, by taking another stroke; you will regain your balance as well as be prepared for the next oncoming wave.

  2. Once you are outside, keep paddling. Don't let a sneaker set erase your hard work. Once you are well past the surf lineup, catch your breath, get your gear dialed in and attach your leash.
  1. Heading back into shore requires a lot of patience, a quick burst of speed, and composure. There is a sweet spot of where the canoe needs to be positioned in front of a forming wave so that the nose of the boat won’t bury into the water, and you are not bypassed by the wave. If you do find yourself burying the front of the boat, lean back as far as you can and do your best to hold your line pointed straight to shore using your rudder. If you find yourself becoming unbalance while riding a wave, the best course of action is to continue paddling. If that still proves too risky, stick your paddle out to the right side of the canoe and use it as a brace to keep your ama from coming up too high. As scary as it sounds, when you push down on the right with your paddle you create a secondary ama and it can help keep you upright.

In conclusion always know your limits, as canoes are fragile in the surf with a lot of joints holding the stress of each impact. Be prepared to get wet, and as always- safety first!!!



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