Surfski Tips For Paddling 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 surfski 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.

Tips for Surf in a Surfski, brought to you by Sammie Barlow of Epic Kayaks San Diego

  1. Never let yourself stand with your surfski between you and an oncoming wave. Experience has taught me this never ends well, considering a surfski is approximately 23 lbs. and is 20.2 ft. long. This scenario commonly arises in the process of turning your boat around to head back in to the surf, but is also easily avoided.
    Surfski Tips For Paddling In and Out Through Surf
  1. While you are waiting before heading out through the surf, it is best to be comfortable with the side you are standing on. Personally, I like to stand to the right of the boat with my left hand holding the boat and my right hand holding my paddle. This way I am able to get into my boat and be prepared to start paddling on the left side. (This is important as you will most likely be falling to the left side of the boat and that stroke will balance you).
  1. Hold the nose of your boat above oncoming waves. While standing in the shallows, do not let the nose of your boat be swamped by the waves. Surfski’s 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 foot strap and lifting just the nose of the boat, you are giving yourself a lot more freedom that would have otherwise been focused on keeping the boat under control.
  1. The perfect moment to head into the waves is exactly after a wave has passed. At this point in time you should be standing with water up to your knees, 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 surfski 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.
  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.
  1. Do not get stuck in the impact zone. 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.

 Surfski Tips For Paddling In and Out Through Surf

  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 rebalance, however, by taking another stroke; you will regain your balance as well as be prepared for the next oncoming wave.
  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 surfski 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 pull back on the foot strap. If you find yourself becoming unbalance while riding a wave, the best course of action is to continue paddling. If that still proves to risky, stick your paddle out to the side of the boat and push down on that side this will keep you upright (Be warned this will not give you much control on where the boat goes).

In conclusion have fun, don’t be scared, be prepared to get wet, and as always safety first!!!



This article was brought to us by Sammie Barlow and Epic Kayaks San Diego. Epic Kayaks and Surf Skis have been available in San Diego and Southern California since 2006 and can be enjoyed throughout the state on flat-water or in the surf.

Sammie's paddling passion emerged when she was just about 2 after her father and a friend made her a little kid style boat. Sammie was just a little one, and so a cement block was needed to weigh the boat down properly for use. Dedication and ingenuity to be on the water! She is a Dual Athlete (water polo and Kayaking) however her main focus at this point is training to become a top Kayaker. Sammie has her eyes set on the 2020 USA Olympic Team. We think she has what it takes! Already crushing it in Kayak, she is posting some impressive 1st place marks in K1, K2, K4 at Nationals as well as 2015 Athlete of the Week Union Tribune/Hall of Champions and the 2013 USA Francine Fox Award.

Enjoy more great writing from Sammie at

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