Monday, November 9, 2009

Surf Skills at Umina

I have often heard fellow Sea Instructors say:" if you can handle your kayak competently in surf, even easy to moderate surf, you can paddle in pretty much anything."
Obviously it is not hard to find conditions that exceed the easy surf; just sitting in your boat and dealing with the relentlessness of long days on rough seas for example.
Nevertheless, there is more than a grain of truth in this saying and surf sessions certainly stand out as a concentrated test of your ability to stay upright and in control.
In the surf you are tested by pulses of moving water, not just moving waves but moving water which is very different.
In the surf waves dont simply roll under you, if you arent decisive with your strokes they will very quickly take control of you. Kayaking in the surf is about learning to yield to the greater power of the waves without losing control of the boat.
For this surf day Chris James came along to assist and he quickly had the group assembled to go through safety protocols and some land based excercises.
As we held our paddles and checked body, boat and blade positions a passerby looked on in bewilderment, from their perspective we were just a bizarre assembly standing next to the carpark, dressed in rubber skirts and waving paddles in the air, but for the group it was a good start to the day and I enjoyed Chris's reveiw of technique and stroke corrections before we even hit the water.
With our land based breifing complete Sally, Karen and Tim followed Chris out through tiny spilling waves and headed North looking for the ideal practice waves i.e. not dumping in shallow water or close up against the beach

As this was a surf day for paddlers training for the AC sea skills award the surf had to provide some challenges and with the challenges come the usual risks of injury. We looked for a spilling break with enough size and push to make it realistic so I surfed in to assess conditions and assist from the beach while Chris offered advice and inspiration from his boat.

The tide changed and we moved further north taking on some bigger waves and the group managed well.
The surf was breaking in a very predictable pattern and into deep enough water to avoid unplanned impacts with the sand.

There were a few swims managed with good grace and composure, some heroic rolls (Karen's first ''in action") and some very tidy skills employed to catch waves and stay upright at all angles to the break. These included an impressive display of backwards surfing by Tim (Even though he denies it, I reckon he really looked like he knew what he was doing).

Usually we try to move into bigger waves later in the day but in this case we peaked just before lunch with ideal conditions right at he edge of the comfort zone and then moved back a notch in our wave selection for the afternoon session.

The whole group commented later how relaxed they were when we moved back to the easier waves. This got me thinking that this might be a strategy worth trying again especially with groups like this one that have already done a little surf work.
The selection of images featured in this blog were shot during this later session and it seems obvious that everyone is getting a slice of the action.

Above: Chris leads the charge.

Above: Karen prepares for the broach.

Above: Karen setting up for a ride to the beach

Above: Tim with stern rudder looking very relaxed.

Above: Sally punches out with 100percent commitment

Above: Karen drops her edge and keeps her brace compact.

After a long day we headed to the Patonga Pub for a coffee, a snack and a chance to relive some of the highlights.

There was the usual laughter and a few groans. It looks so obvious if you are edging the wrong way when you can see the video in slow motion, from a warm dry chair, while sipping on a latte.

I always feel a real sense of releif and satisfaction at the end a surf training day. Matching the conditions to the group and making sure the risks are managed is intense but very rewarding work. It is challenging to run this type of training but I beleive the lessons learnt promote safer and more independent paddlers. Ultimately there is no substitute for time in the boat in this high energy environment.

No comments: