FRESTYLE KAYAK WORLD CHAMPION Ruth Gordon
certainly knows her way around a standing wave in her whitewater
boat, and recently applied her skills to a few ocean swells
while working with Alex Matthews and the folks at Heliconia
Press for the book Sea Kayaking Rough Waters. Though she
probably won’t be throwing any airscrews in her long boat,
Gordon did impart some secrets of her playboating prowess for
sea kayakers looking to rip it up at the local break—or simply
make more graceful surf landings.
Have a reliable roll and the ability to paddle out through
Practice riding offshore swells you encounter while sea
touring; these waves usually dissipate slowly rather than
breaking, and they can give you a welcome push. “That’s the
neat thing about surfing,” Gordon says. “It’s fun but also helps
you get where you’re going.”
Look for a mellow beach break with a sandy, gradually
sloping bottom. Paddle past the “impact zone,” where the
waves are breaking, and watch a few sets roll in.
Timing is everything. Choose your wave and paddle aggressively
toward the beach—take three to five hard strokes, trying
to hit your maximum speed as the wave reaches you and begins
to pick up your stern.
Angle your bow away from the breaking part of the wave to
avoid the whitewater and get a longer ride.
Lean back. “We all learned the hard way if you lean forward,
your bow’s going to go under and you’re going to piton; it’s not
going to be pretty,” Gordon says.
Use a strong stern rudder to keep the boat straight. “I’m
used to edging and making a lot of turns in my whitewater
boat,” Gordon says. “But once you put the sea kayak on edge,
that’s the end of it.” Alternate pry strokes on both sides to steer;
rotate your torso and plant your paddle deeply to use your core
strength and protect your shoulders.
Edge away from the beach by lifting one knee and putting
more weight on the opposite butt cheek, and brace off the foam
pile with your paddle. “At some stage, the bow is going to take
you in one direction or the other,” Gordon explains. “Anticipate
where it’s going and don’t be afraid of leaning into the whitewater.”
Play nicely with others. Chances are board surfers and other
paddlers have stumbled upon your surf spot, and were likely
there first. Remember this general rule in a crowded line up: the
surfer who catches an unbroken wave first, and is closest to the
breaking curl while riding the green face, has the right of way.
Catching a wave that a surfer is already on is known as “dropping
in,” and it’s a major party foul.
Read more about Ruth Gordon’s adventures at www.ruthgordon.ca.
Sea Kayaking Rough Waters is available at www.helipress.com.