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Surfing your Fishing Kayak

An original article by Kayaker Nath, re-published with permission.

Surfing your Fishing Kayak

This is a subject that a few guys have asked for a bit of advice on so I hope the following helps. There is a fair bit to it… actually, there’s probably not, but I talk a lot! haha… No, seriously, there’s nothing worse than leaving half the information out so I’ll try to cover everything.

Just so everyone knows, I have 3 kayaks. (It obviously helped working for a kayak shop!) A fish n dive, a tandem, and surfing kayak. I surf them all. And I try to surf 4-5 times a week for fitness. Plus fishing. I go out in waves from half a meter to 3.5m. The reason I mention this is so people know what I’m surfing on (and in) and I can honestly say that the technique is the same for every wave size. AND I have learnt that you can surf almost anything with the right technique and a bit of practice. So, here goes…


This is ‘relatively’ easy for a lot of people, however, I have seen some fisho’s get totally smashed by heading out into the blistering surf when it could all be avoided through understanding the waves and a bit of timing.
Personally, I like getting smashed, for some reason I get a kick out of it. A test to see who’s stronger… but in the middle of Winter going out for a fish is not such fun when your freezing from 6 waves that have just hit you!
SO… time it! Waves, a lot of the time come in in sets. It can be a good idea to take 2 minutes to watch them and get your timing. You will often see a set come in (normally 7 waves) and then there is what i call a ‘lull’. You do not want to head out on the first wave, and the next 6 will smack you right in the face as in the picture below:

This is when timing… isn’t so well timed!
So, when you can the last of the waves coming in, get ready to start paddling. (At this stage i am still standing next to my kayak to see whats coming in.) Start paddling as the wave BREAKS well in front of you. You will generally go up and over the white wash and may take on a little bit of spray but nothing like the full impact of 7 strong waves.

When you’re paddling out, GUN IT when any waves DO break in front of you to get up and over. Many times i have seen waves break in front of kayakers and for some reason they stop paddling only to be doubled over or pushed all the way back in. IN SOME circumstances, like if the wave is going to break at a distance in front of you and you won’t make it over it in time, then it may help to stop but its what to do at that stage…. which I’ll cover later in this topic…

Again, this is fairly easy for most but it’s good to cover it anyway.


When i head back in, i stop WELL beyond the surf break and do a final check to make sure everything is tied on, put away etc… Ive seen some guys do this IN the surf break…um….CRAZY! Anyway…. An important note here is that a lot of people see waves breaking further in front of them so they just carry on paddling to shore. The catch (pardon the pun) here is that they have not stopped to see what the swell is doing. Generally the last waves of the set are the biggest and the big waves generally BREAK FURTHER AWAY FROM THE SHORE LINE than the first waves. So, what happens is, guys paddle in thinking they are safe because they have seem smaller waves break in front of them and yet coming up behind them is a mother of a wave that they can’t escape because they’ve paddled in too far.
Stop and read the waves FIRST. If you’re new at this, surf in the first of the small waves in the set to get a feel for it. But be aware of what’s coming in behind those waves. Personally, now, I wait for the biggest wave, purely for the fun of it. AND I never try to ‘beat’ the wave which i will cover next.

BEATING THE WAVE (and why I DON’T do it!)

I have a friend who often uses this technique and it works for him on the odd occasion. And he is on a scupper pro (a fairly quick kayak) and he trains for triathlons so he’s pretty fit. Unfortunately, the rest of us may not be and it’s a coin toss as to the outcome of beating the wave.
Here’s why I don’t do it.
I paddle a fish n Dive which, as many know, is a sluggish kayak and does not have the speed of others on the market (to a degree, speed does not matter however). What tends to happen is when you try and get between the waves to beat them, the next wave behind you can actually suck you back into it, especially on a slowish kayak. You may think you’re paddling but in actual fact, you’re actually going backwards. Here’s the other catch, when you’re paddling to beat the wave, you’re generally facing 12 o’clock (straight into the beach) and you are sucked back into the wave face which picks you up on a sharp angle and plants you straight into the sand. Many people, in all their paddling, don’t even realise what’s happening. The outcome of devastation is dependent on what size wave in the set the kayaker picked. Well, didn’t pick because probably didn’t think about it at the time. So, choose your wave, commit, surf it in.


When most guys get onto a wave, one of three things happen.

1) The kayak will spin suddenly left.
2) The kayak will spin suddenly right.
3) The kayak will get on such a steep angle that it’s nose will be sent straight to the bottom of the sea and you will be ‘pitch poled’ from coming in straight (12 o’clock) which, works at the BOTTOM of the wave, NOT the top. Will cover more on this shortly.


If you come in straight and you manage to not get thrown from a nose dive, then at some stage the kayak is going to want to turn. And when it does, it happens so quickly that many are left wondering how they came to be swimming. It really can be that fast. Time almost slows down to half speed like a some slow movie while you’re waiting with anticipation as to what way the kayak is going to turn. the adrenalin is racing….and then it’s all cooled down by the fastest dismount in the history of kayaking!

Ok, I digress, so here’s what you do. The wave is coming in behind you. Start paddling when the wave has NOT PEAKED as to avoid having it dump directly onto you. Through practice, you will learn to see ‘roughly’ when this is. Paddle, get on the wave, and here’s the key….. start paddling on an angle already! When I come in, I choose left or right at say 1 to 2 o’clock. This takes away the question of ‘what way is the kayak going to turn’ as it will not turn back on itself. Half the problem is solved simply by doing this. The key after this is to get ready with a good brace which I’ll explain shortly.

COMING IN STRAIGHT (and why i DON”T do it!)

It’s simple, if you get on the wave TOO late, or when the wave peaks, it will nose dive. And this happens even on the smallest of waves. Personally, I ONLY come in straight at the BOTTOM of the wave and I ONLY do it on my surfing kayak. Because even if one does figure out how to straighten their kayak up at the bottom of the wave, you are then faced with the left/right problem again. So, I come in on an angle and stay there unless the wave falls into a ‘hole’ and you have to surf another wave in. Will explain later.


So, you’ve chosen your angle, and you about to ride the wave. Once you feel yourself on the momentum of the wave where you feel you could stop paddling, you can use your paddle as a rudder to steer. If you are unsure what this means then PM me and i will give more details. However if your angle is pretty good already, you may not need to steer at all.
So, you’re on the wave, at some stage you will feel the wave is about to break because you will be able to see it breaking from the angle you have chosen. As it is about to break, you need to brace with your paddle. This is where you put the FLAT paddle blade into the wave face which will act like an outrigger providing more stability. At the same time you are doing this, lean into the wave. The lean is dependent on the size if the wave and it will take practice. It’s generally not a massive lean where you’re hanging out over the side of the kayak but just enough to adjust your weight to compensate for the bash that’s about to hit the side of your kayak! Adjusting your weight can sometimes be as simple as lifting your beach side leg slightly! I will add photos later to show the stages so far…


So, the wave has broken, you will find yourself ‘bouncing’ in side ways, which is better than swimming. Often one of 3 things will happen.

1) While you are bouncing in side ways, the ‘wave’ you are on will actually form into another wave and yes, you get to surf another one untill you hit the beach.
2) The original wave you catch will break, you will turn side on and ‘bounce’ you all the way in in one go!
3) The wave you are on falls into a ‘hole’.

The hole: If you fall into a hole, where you were riding a wave and then it kinda turns into nothing and you’re left stagnant in the surf break, you need to be aware of what’s coming in. I personally wait for the next wave to come in to carry on surfing but you need to be aware that you are in the surf zone and just because you fell off the back of a wave, does not mean that another wave will not dump right where you are. So be careful and check whats coming.


I posted a pic in the ‘anti turtle’ post earlier (which I’ll repost when i can) of a large 2m wave breaking right in front of the kayak. You will see that i have STOPPED paddling and am getting ready for it. What I am doing in the pic is actually turning side on to get hit by the white water on the side. There are 2 reasons for this.

1) If i remain straight, what will happen is depicted in the picture above. I will end up feet over head.
2) By turning side on, i set myself up with a good brace, adjust my weight (alot for a wave of that size) and get ready for a smack to the side. A wave like that will probably surf me all the way in.

A few times i have braced side on as the wave peaks about to break, and it has actually sucked me up the face of the wave to the top and dropped me from a hell of a height. GREAT FUN!

This pic shows surfing in. I have chosen to come in left. I have paddled to get on the wave and now that I am, I am using the paddle as a rudder to stay in the direction want to go (not always required but great for doing spins etc). The wave breaks and I brace OR i can choose to carry on paddling on that angle depending on skill / confidence level.

You guys still with me out there or have you all fallen asleep.

There is one more MAJOR requirement to all this surfing which i will explain alittle later.
Here’s a hint: THIGH STRAPS. They are the real life saver in all this.


I would liken thigh straps to the following example: Imagine sitting on a chair with your feet off the floor and having your arms stretched out to the side for balance. Now picture some ***** like me coming along and pushing the chair from side to side until you face plant unceremoniously into the floor. Your out stretched arms, to put it honestly, make bugger all difference.
Now, imagine under going the same ‘torment’ but this time you get to hold on as much as you like to the chair! There is, believe it or not, a HUGE difference. And this is exactly the same as having thigh straps on a kayak.
They do NOT lock you onto the kayak so if you bail, you can still get free by simply straightening your legs (which happens automatically with out even thinking by the way) but they offer so much more control of the kayak whilst on the wave. I’ll post a pic soon to give an idea.
I NEVER go out surfing of fishing without them as they are, a lot of the time, what keeps me upright. You really will be amazed at the difference they make. The ones i use cost $50, and they are every bit worth it. If anyone has queries on these then give me a shout.
The other thing they do, for my type of paddling anyway, is they give me more power while I’m paddling to my spots. Energy is not lost is your legs so you can ‘power’ your upper body more. For me, this offers a better workout.
Seriously worth the investment guys.

Ok, both shots give a good idea of what the thigh straps do. For a start, in the top photo, i certainly would nnot be connected with my kayak if i did not have them.
The both photo shows 2 things. Actually it may not show it at all so I’ll explain.

1) I am actually still on my kayak. When the wave breaks and i am side on, I lean right into the wave and actually flip the bottom of the kayak up on it’s side. It’s a cool trick but one i don’t do too often on my fishing kayak. What it shows though is just how much weight i can put on that flat paddle blade which holds me upright before pushing off so i am upright again. And of course, this could not be done without thigh straps.

So, there is a very, very long introduction on the basics of surfing. If i have missed anything or there is something you’re not sure about then please let me know in this topic and I’ll try to help. failing that, get out there with a bare kayak and practice in the small stuff. A good idea is to go out into the shallows, turn side on to a small breaking wave and just brace having the wave break on the side of your kayak. get a feel for it, get the confidence up and then paddle out to catch a small wave in.

REMEMBER: If you DO come off (and you will while practicing, thats the fun) then make sure you stay CLEAR OF THE KAYAK. DO NOT get on the beach side of the kayak otherwise the next wave will come in and smack the kayak straight into your noggin! And trust me, it hurts.

Well, let me know how it goes and apologise to all your good ladies out there for taking up so much of your time!!

Keep safe.


Wait, I’m back….i think i can hear someone yelling out from the back of the room…..”nah, ya don’t have to do all that rubbish, just lean back mate. She’ll be right!”The ‘Lean back theory’.

Its amazing how many times i have heard the following: “when you come in, just lean back! As far back as you can and…she’ll be right!”…. Man, i cringe and/or sometimes laugh every time.

You could be out there in the surf zone, paddle the opposite way till you come to an island, pick up 2 cows and a sheep, squash them in the back of your kayak, paddle back to the surf and you would STILL nose dive!! Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, you could probably do away with one of the cows. What was I thinking… getting TWO cows in the back…

You see, it’s not the size of the waves, its the pitch (or angle, or steepness) of the wave. People get so complacent thinking the waves are small so remember, once that nose goes under a little, it then goes under ALOT! Don’t under estimate the small waves. In any of my surfing photos, you will not see me come in straight ONCE!

Yes, on the odd occasion, you may make it in but then you go back to the left/right problem so either way, break out the water wings boys and girls because you’re going for a swim. The other thing also is that by leaning back, you may be cutting down on ‘windage’ which means the nose of your kayak is racing for the bottom of the sea even faster!! (ok, i made this last point up, but i thought it sounded cool!)

A couple of safety notes i forgot to mention earlier as follows: Oh and by the way, just so everyone knows abit more about me, I was so PETRIFIED of the surf, that i fished in the Tauranga harbour for 3 years because I was so scared of coming off my kayak. And then one day i went out, I came off, and thought ‘huh, is that it?!’. The end result are the photos i can provide for this topic.


Here are some examples:

Be aware of your surroundings when coming in. THANKFULLY for the amount of kayaking i do, i haven’t had any major incidents, BUT i’ve had some close calls. Like the following:

I was fishing with a mate only a few weeks back and it came time to surfing back in. My mate wasn’t good at surfing at all and went in first. It can be a good idea to go in seperately to avoid possible collisions (it’s happened!) and so when someone hits the beach, they can keep a look out for the next guy coming in. The surf was at just over a metre and he went for it. The last thing i remember seeing was his kayak airborne! And he gradually walked up the beach. Then it was my turn, i waited for the biggest wave. I caught it (rather late but thats ok) and rode the wave in……….straight into the line of a kontiki! The line, which i luckily saw at the last minute, ran up my arm to my shoulder towards my head which i ducked at the last minute. Now that could have been bad. My mate was absolutely amazed that i had surfed in! I was absolutely amazed that i still had a head! Check for kontikis guys. The stupid thing was i had already seen it but thought nothing more of it at the time untill i realised that it had crossed the surf zone on an angle.

PEOPLE SWIMMING: I do not surf where people are swimming. Once the kayaks go side on, thats it. You won’t stop it unless you bail. So stop before you come in and look for people swimming. And kontikis. And a possible cow floating by that your mate tossed over the side!

KAYAK SURF WITH A BUDDY: If you go for a practice in the surf, and if you can, go with a mate. As i always say, there’s safety in numbers. I go with friends regularly as they all know i am not a good swimmer. So we all look out for one another. If someone wipes out, a quick ‘you ok? shout lets them know you’ve seen them. And them keep a watch out for them until they are back on their kayak. And, it’s a heck of a lot more fun woo-hooing and wiping out with your mates. You can throw ideas around as well. I seldom surf alone.

Well, i think thats gotta be it. You’ve put up with me for long enough! And i have a new friend called RSI in my fingers.
So, i’ll throw in a couple more shots and if any of you see me down the beach, feel free to come up and say hi. And even better, COME FOR A SURF!!

Cheers guys,

Addicted kayaker.

7 replies on “Surfing your Fishing Kayak”

interesting article.thanks for sharing your experiences…………have you tried your technique using a prowler 4.5?-this is a lot longer than a cobra strike…your comments here ?
cheers sean

I’ve surfed many kayaks but NOT the prowler 4.5. So, here’s what i’ll do. I’l get my hands on one, there’s a tonne around , and i’ll take it for a surf and get some photos and will report back.
Watch this space.

How did you get on with the Prowler if you had chance? Where do you normally do your surfing and have you tried the west coast beaches at all?

Cheers Robbo

HI guys,

I’ve just purchased my Prowler Elite but the surf hasn’t been great here. i took it out in small 1 metre stuff recently and it was REALLY nice in the surf. It was easy to lean into the wave as it rolled down the wave face with no problems at all. I’ll take it out in some more adequate surf when the surf finally decides to show up.
West coast? No….but i understand you get a lot of dumpers there. Thats ok……its a more a timing game than anything else in some of those situations.

i have a 4.5 and have only managed to ride the surf in a couple of times. I will try your techniques and see how they go. I normally have a small bucket with holes drilled in the bottom on a couple meters of rope which i deploy out the back of the kayak when coming in. It keeps the kayak straight and stops the nose from diving. in small surf waves sometimes wash past you but really good for in big surf.

Hi Perry, well, this is a REALLY LATE reply but anyway. No, I wouldn’t use the rudder in the surf personally because once the kayak turns, the rudder becomes basically ‘useless’ at certain angles. Plus, and this is the main reason: if you come in side on onto the beach, your rudder can actually be ripped off, and do some possible damage do your kayak as well. You’re better off ‘stern ruddering’ with your paddle. Joelyboy: all good, just watch you don’t get caught up in the rope. Personally, I think you’re better either learning to surf your kayak, or going for a swim. Trailing ropes etc make me very nervous…but that’s just me.

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