By Bill Vonnegut

When I ask students what they want to get out of a rock garden class, the most common thing I hear is, "I want to improve my timing." Timing a feature well by working with, instead of against, the ocean requires less effort and will be more fun. Good timing on features is also safer. If you move across a feature too soon and your boat gets in front of the wave, you might end up skidding into the rocks. If a paddler is late on their timing, they may run out of water and get stuck on the feature only to be hammered by the next wave. Finally, I think nailing the timing on a feature is one of the biggest satisfactions you can get out of a run.

Sean Morley needed some good timing to make it over this long ledge in Mendocino Ca. Photo by Bill Vonnegut.

Sean Morley needed some good timing to make it over this long ledge in Mendocino Ca. Photo by Bill Vonnegut.

It's tough to teach timing and even harder to write about, but there are several different ways I challenge myself on timing besides just making it through something without making contact with any rocks.

The best advice is to watch everything. Sit, observe, and plan your run. Watch other people move through a given feature and see how the wave interacts with their boat.

Visualize your own run before you go or try to plan someone else’s run for them. Then analyze it as they go and see what they may have done differently from what you planned.

Go surfing! Surf kayaking is a great way to gain an understanding of how individual waves behave without the risk of being smashed into a rock. Taking the time to watch what every wave does during each surf or rock garden session will really help you improve your timing on features.

Start easy. Take a few dozen laps through a small, safe feature until you’re able to time your boat perfectly with each wave. Take a moment to assess what happened after every run and then get back out there!

Timing is everything:

–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.