The paddlers' plan is to transition from the protected area behind the reef to the open ocean beyond the incoming wave.

The paddlers’ plan is to transition from the protected area behind the reef to the open ocean beyond the incoming wave.

Words, photos and videos by Bill Vonnegut

Hiding Places

As we discussed in a previous post, rock gardening requires constantly looking towards the horizon to see what what the off-shore swell is doing. At the same time, be sure to keep an eye out for places to hide if needed. Large rocks, reefs or coves can offer some protection from that unplanned wave rolling in; it’s nice to keep them in sight. And knowing where a rescue can be safely performed if needed can, literally, be a life-saver.

The best rocks to hide behind are obviously BIG ONES! The shape of the rock is also a factor to consider. As waves pass by land masses they grab on and swing around, like a pendulum on its side. If the corner of the land mass is sharp, the wave energy will have less of a chance to keep hold and will dissipate. A rounded corner allows the energy of the water to hold its grip all the way around the rock, allowing the wave to wrap around both sides and slap together, which can result in your kayak being shot into the air.

Snivelers Row in Moss Beach, California (shown in the video below) is very exposed to the open ocean. Finding places to hide is a must!

Transition Zones

As you paddle between the safe zone of rocks and reefs there will be some gaps called transition zones. A reef may cause the waves to break farther out, but as the waves move across deeper water they’ll lose their piles. These zones should be approached with caution because there is a chance that the gap will constrict the oceans’ energy into a stronger force unlike open areas where there is more space for the energy to disperse. Fortunately, before entering these areas you can normally wait in a nice hiding spot and watch what the ocean is doing. Wait for a window to emerge, time your run, and paddle out to deep water.

The group of paddlers wait in this zone for a gap in the sets of waves, called a window.

The group of paddlers wait in this zone for a gap in the sets of waves, called a window.

Once they see a window, the group quickly paddles through the impact zone before the next set arrives.

Once they see a window, the group quickly paddles through the impact zone before the next set arrives.

–Check out MORE ROCK GARDENING SKILLS from Bill Vonnegut.

––Bill Vonnegut is a sea kayak instructor at California Canoe & Kayak and member of the Neptune’s Rangers paddling posse. See more from the multi-part rock gardening series where Bill discusses the techniques, skills and gear needed to enjoy coastal whitewater.