Smeg did a top job describing the incident. It's worth noting how we'd gone out on a low swell that was forcast to be dropping, and a 2-2.5m swell appeared suddenly from no where, straight into Makara beach from around the top of the South Island. It caught the locals out too, and as Smeg said, a guy living right on Raumati Beach next day said it was the biggest swell he'd seen living there in 10 years, and "totally unforecast" (he's a surfer) - "tell me about it!" was my response. 3 hours after our experience there was still no app or website registering the swell - apparently it never happened!
For those of you that know Makara, we'd estimate that there was white water and breaking waves 100m offshore. The whole northern side of the inshore bay, with the reef and stream entrance, was a seething cauldron to be avoided.
Anyway, a few observations worth adding. When we set off paddling in we were instantly lifted up so high (my sounder had been showing a sphincter clenching 3 metre lift in 15m of water a bit further out) that I remember looking straight down at my bow (I've got a 4.7 Ultra), and then spray started flying off it as got up to speed and that spray was going over my head. The white spray reflected my powerful headtorch and was blinding, and I still can't believe my bow didn't submarine given the angle and speed. It was my first trip in the 4.7 and I hadn't adjusted properly, or got used to, the rudder properly, but I was amazed at how stable it was once we were up to full surfing speed - so much so that I went from shitting myself to thinking this is highly exciting and could just work! I remember turning to Greg's kayak and exclaiming how exhilirating the ride was when i saw how we were merging together about to collide. I felt so stable and in control that I lent over to push his boat away - big mistake as it took my concentration and balance. Instantly things went black, wet and very noisy. I should've just let them collide and carry on.
Suddenly I was alone in the blackness, and could just make out the halo rim light of the big waves going past me hiding the foreshore, lit by the headlights of a local who'd come down to light up the beach for us with his spotlights and headlights.
I made a self assessment between getting pounded by big waves. My brand new glasses had gone (normally I wear contacts, but this was as quick fish after work so hadn't worried), head torch was gone. I was still unexpectedly holding my paddle?! I could just make the outline of my upside down kayak as it crested over waves ahead of me so it must be heading inshore. There was no wind and the water was warm so the situation was pretty safe, if not a bit unusual at 11pm on a weeknight. I tried calling to people ashore to let them know I was OK - they never heard anything over the crashing surf. So I set off trying to swim, but with booties and a good PFD it was a bit useless to be honest - I pretty much got washed in the last 50 metres of breaking surf not far behind my kayak, which a local helped me pull out of the water (rods lashed to the deck all survived fine).
1) the speed that we were travelling in the darkness made the loss of control so small and so instant that I only remember one hell of a ride and then next memory was wet darkness. I wonder if there was any maneouvre that could've helped given the combined mass, forces, speed and instant nature. The only real strategy in this size surf is to probably just keep your rudder in control, lean back and focus on crashing the beach
2) my kayak had a paddle leash of pretty thin spiral nylon and it blew apart at the crimp. It got me thinking a lot about whether this was good or bad. Potentially a strong leash (it would have to be super strong, with a strong anchor point, and I suspect most arent strong enough) could've let me stay in touch with the boat which could be a life saver in an offshore situation, or perhaps I could've managed to get to the stern and act as a sea anchor to help the kayak into shore bow first, but the down sides are getting tangled or smashed by a heavy laden kayak in the surf.
3) If this happened again on this coast what options are there instead of paddling in - as there are no palces to hide? Perhaps you'd consider paddling north into Porirua Harbour if the conditions were ok (heck we paddle to Boom Rock and back so that's 2/3rds the distance). Doable but not ideal, and the tide can be with you or seriously against. Landing into Fisherman's bay (south side of Ohariu Bay) could be an option in some sea conditions (a more southerly swell), but no support if it goes to custard, and when we looked at it the other day we weren't sure. So no conclusion there.
4) A mate suggested carrying a pair of body boarding fins on a dive belt on the kayak (say in the hatch so your companion can retrieve). In a similar situation you'd chuck the belt on ahead of heading in as insurance so if the worst did happen and you had to bail out (especially with an offshore wind) you've got the means to body surf / swim in to at least save yourself.
5) I've seen a few comments about reversing in. I think this could work on small to moderate waves, but I just don't think you could sustain it in this type of stuff - the distance and forces were too significant.
6) the locals at Makara are good sods. Spotted our head torches, saw the conditions and got out of bed to light up the bay and wait nearly an hour while we sized things up and then helped us out of the water.
7) We were caught out big time by unforecast swell. We weren't the only ones that night, and it was so benign otherwise. It's likely to happen again so reckon it would be worth getting a bunch of regular Makara kayak fishers out to Titahi Bay / Lyall Bay some time to practice surf landings.
8 ) Thanks to Greg for having the guts to post this - plenty of knockers want to tell people how useless they are. They miss the point
- this can happen to anyone on this coast (I've done 20 odd trips to polar regions driving tourists ashore in zodiacs onto surf beaches in some shitty dangerous situations, so I know a wee bit about sea conditions and still got totally down-trou'd). So hope this has some useful info and reminds people how precarious this coast can be.
Greg's run into the beach at full speed was impressive skill in a fully loaded boat. I'm jealous bc the first 50m I experienced was one hell of an exciting ride, but I missed the best part