19 July 2010

SAFETY: training for accident avoidance

Sea kayak surfing poses inherit risks of capsize and trashing from the force of large waves.
Controlling a relatively large craft (compared to a surf board) on steep waves is often very difficult.
I really enjoy sea kayak surfing with my friends and occasionally we come in close proximity to each other when careering down a wave.
My natural reaction when facing harsh contact with an other kayaker is to roll my kayak and avoid collision.
The immersion of my body into to sea stops the speed of my kayak in a split of a second.

Recently, at a training session I asked my instructor what would be the best way to minimize the impact of a kayaker heading my way at great speed.
To really best explain the occurrence my instructor wanted to demonstrated the action.
I was asked to voluntarily "spear" him.

Although initially apprehensive, I have however great respect for Craig McSween as an instructor and proceeded to give my best in "running him over"
A waited for a decent sized wave and surfed towards him with purpose.

Just before collision Craig rolled his kayak away from me offering his hull instead.
My fast moving kayak hit his hull but my sloping bow slid over it with almost no force exerted to Craig's kayak.
I was surprised that I barely felt the impact when running over him.

A second later I peeled off the wave and facing back to sea I saw Craig had rolled back up and was smiling at me.
After his demonstration I was totally convinced that learning this safety technique will help avoid future injuries in instances of unavoidable collisions.
I believe that giving each other space when surfing is probably the best tactic however in the heat of the battle things occasionally do go wrong.
I hope I will have the presence of mind to execute this safety move next time somebody is racing towards me, fails to bail and proceeds to spear me.


  1. I can say that these are the impressive snaps I have ever seen in my entire life.
    EPDM Coatings

  2. Maybe you should agree some safty etiquet and rules like the ones surf boarders use and avoid the dangerous situations

  3. Rob, I agree with you.
    As sea kayaks become more popular on the waves and have to share with stand-up boarder as well (we seem to favor the same waves) the surfing spots are getting rather crowded around my area.
    The tricky part is to come up with a safety etiquette that will take into account the limited maneuverability of the sea kayaks... we need a lot of room.

  4. Stay away should be the golden rule!

    Capsize of the surfing boat is the second best option. Keep in mind, capsizing on top of the wave is dangerous for the surfer if s/he is facing another boat's bow.

    The described defensive maneuver can be very dangerous, IMO. It should be used as the last resort and with great care and judgment at that. Chances are, if the target has the time to consider the situation sufficiently, s/he can probably paddle out of the way in time too.

    This defensive strategy is contingent on the offending boat being relatively flat on the surface of the water. Alas, it takes only a small lift of the stern and the bow, all of a sudden, can be found right on the surface of the water. I've seen it put a big hole in the hull of the victim's kayak just like that.

    Waves any bigger than a few feet with right timing can push the bow under the wave. Now you're heading straight for the victim that is completely blind and utterly helpless to defend him or herself under the water. I've personally speared a paddler who capsized in front of me much like that (see here http://caskaorg.typepad.com/caska/2009/10/to-wear-or-not-to-weartwo-lessons-on-helmet-use-in-one-minute.html).

    My choice, when I can't count on the projectile boat to act responsibly and capsize, I'll be watching that boat very carefully in the surf zone and get out of the way early! The surfer should watch out for you but you're equally responsible to get out of the way.

  5. Haris,
    Thank you for your thoughts.
    I agree with you: the surfer should avoid collision with the other kayaker.
    The teaching of my instructor was a carefully planned exercise to demonstrate the very last evasive action to take when other things fail (trying to paddle away from the fast approaching vessel).
    This maneuver does pose risks however I still feel that I could be better off capsizing if I just can’t avoid the accident.
    Steep short waves would bury some kayak’s bows but my experience is that usually there is less speed in those instances and maybe more time to paddle away?
    I would not limit this maneuver just for surfing but for other potential collisions with motorboats too.
    If I recall correctly, there was an article in Sea Kayaker magazine where a paddler did just that and saved his skin. His kayak got chopped up by the propeller of the boat that ran him over though.

  6. I agree with Haris on this one. The stationary boat capsizing away from the approaching surfing kayak should really never happen, the surfing kayak should capsize before the situation gets that close. However, as a last resort there isn't much else you can do I guess. I certainly wouldn't practise the exercise, the potential for a painful stuffup even in small waves is too great

  7. There's definitely merit in capsizing in front of a bigger and faster motor boat! Same goes for rocks--I'd rather take them on the but through the hull rather than head-on.

    My main gripe with the method you described is the loss of control. I am curious what you would think of this approach. Instead of leaning AWAY from the accident-bound violator, lean into it! That way the speeding kayak will slide over the the deck rather than over the hull. I think the speeds involved in surfing are slow enough so that, if the other kayak is heading for your body, you can probably catch it with your hands and avoid getting impaled in the gut. The drawback, of course, is the stuff on the deck...

  8. just came back from helping out on a surf skills weekend to see your blog. excellent for making you think about situations and possible actions/avoidance. but probably agree that it should be the 'perpetrator' rather than the victim who rolls in to avoid the collision. perhaps that should be the 'etiquette' mentioned in another comment - that it should be the 'perpetrator' who is obliged to roll in to avoid the collision. After all, it is each paddlers responsibility to paddle in such a way as to avoid damage/injury to fellow water users, whoever they are. So gnarlydog - would love to see a video demonstrating the effectiveness of rolling in to avoid collision...but overall, keep up the good work: keeps us thinking, and thinking is what saves us!

  9. Everyone makes good comments about surf etiquette and avoiding collision. But it sometimes happens, for a variety of reasons. BTW, the kayaker downwave is the etiquette violator by being in the surfer's way. If you are the downwave doofus, (I've been there many times--never on purpose), roll downwave away from the surfer JUST AS HE IS TOUCHING YOU! If you go sooner, you could get speared underwater, which can be deadly. The trick is in the timing. You must wait...and wait..., and then roll downwave at the absolute last moment. The boater in the photo sequence is turning upside down way too early and giving up control of his destiny. I know it was for demo purposes, but still. If you are going to practice these maneuvers, practice perfection--that is, rolling at contact. BTW, there is no way the downwave boater can safely fend off a surfing bow in any decent sized wave. That's a sure way to get wiped out and injured.

    Again, I agree with everyone above that all surfers should follow safety and courtesy etiquette and NOT be in the way of a surfer. Of course, surfers should avoid downwave boaters like the plague. It's like hitting a bicycle that swerves in front of you. You may be legally correct, but you still don't want it to happen. So stay alert! Be safe! And have fun!


  10. It happened to me a similar situation: I was surfing with a friend of mine in parallel at few meters... he suddenly lost his direction and speeded up crossing my way, but he was fast enough to intentionally capsize. Result: no impact, just sliding of hulls.
    PS: my complimnts for the videos, very nice quality!!

  11. By the way who was taking snaps. And Really these images are looks professional.


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