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Go Kayak Surfing in the Ocean: Surf Kayaking Tips and Steps


Man surfing kayak at Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz, California, USA : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Surf kayaking is the sport, technique, and equipment, used in surfing ocean waves with kayaks. Surf kayaking has many similarities to surf board surfing, but with boats designed for use in surf zones, and with a paddle. Steamer Lane is a famous surfing location in Santa Cruz, California. Man surfing kayak at Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz, California, USA
Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Kayak surfing in the ocean is one of the best kept secrets in the paddling world. There are so many benefits to surf kayaking that it really is amazing why more people haven’t picked it up. Whether you’re a whitewater pro wanting to branch out to the sea or you’ve never been in a kayak and think it looks fun, this how-to will help you on your way to ocean kayak surfing.
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: 1 or more hours

Here's How:

  1. Make a Judgment Call: As soon as you get out to the ocean make a good decision. If it is too rough out there, don’t try to go surf kayaking. You should know your ability level well enough to determine if you can handle the waves you are about to paddle. Also, don’t get discouraged as anyone who goes to a beach knows, the waves change and will fluctuate throughout the day with the tide.
  2. Dress for Water Safety When Kayak Surfing in the Ocean: It can be tempting when surf kayaking to think you can go without your helmet or even life jacket. After all, surfers don’t wear either. This is an all around bad idea. You never know when you’ll be thrown upside down onto a coral-laden sandbar and will need your helmet. Wearing a pfd while kayaking should just be obvious at this point. (Sit-on-top paddlers don't might not need to wear a helmet as they won't be upside-down while still in the kayak.)
  3. Survey the Waves from the Shore: Before you get in your kayak come up with a plan of attack on how you will kayak out to the break. Visually time the waves and see if there is a lull enough to paddle out. If not, you’ll have to paddle around the waves or through them. Armed with this information, decide where you will enter the ocean.
  4. Get into Your Kayak: It is best to get in your kayak right at the edge of where the surf hits the shore. This way your kayak does not get moved by the impinging coastline. Then once ready to launch, use your arms underneath your kayak to lift up and push your kayak into the water.
  5. Paddle Through the Waves: Hopefully you have launched your kayak into a part of the ocean where you can paddle around the waves. If not, depending on the waves and your position in them you’ll have to paddle over the wave or through it. Avoid at all costs the waves breaking right on top of you. If a wave is about to break on you or your kayak take evasive action and either paddler over it or decide to ride it in. Paddle out to a point where the waves are still just swells.
  6. Catching Waves While Ocean Kayak Surfing: While out past the break, you can paddle around to find and catch the best waves. As a swell starts to build, start paddling toward the shore, thereby catching the wave. The ideal situation and position is when you are paddling only fast enough to keep up with the wave. Too slow and it will pass you by, too fast and you will outrun the wave.
  7. Riding Waves While Ocean Kayak Surfing: You can ride the waves straight in toward the shore or aim your kayak on an angle. Steep waves have a tendency of forcing the bow of the kayak into the ocean in front of you. This will flip you over the long ways. To avoid this angle the kayak away from how the wave is breaking. Don’t worry if the kayak gets turned sideways, just be sure to lean and to brace. You can get off the wave whenever you want by turning and paddling back over it.
  8. Have Fun!: Ocean kayak surfing is definitely loads of fun. Paddling out through the waves will be reminiscent of paddling through a wave train on a river. You can even do wave wheels over the waves while paddling out to sea. Riding waves in toward the shore is like surfing on your favorite park-and-play. Be bold and try some flat spins and side surf the waves as you ride them in. So have fun out there and remember to enjoy the battle. The sky’s the limit!


  1. Have a Solid Kayak Roll: This tip is more of a prerequisite before being able to go kayak surfing. Having to swim out of your kayak should not be an option out in the ocean. Even if you can swim to shore, rescuing your equipment can be extremely difficult. (This tip does not apply to those using sit-on-top kayaks.)
  2. Use the Right Kind of Kayak: Recreational kayaks are not to be used in the ocean surf. The only kayaks that should be used to surf in the ocean are whitewater kayaks fitted with spray skirts or sit-on-top kayaks that are made for the ocean. While sea kayaks have been used to surf a wave or two on their way in to shore, this is not the preferred vessel to be surfing waves and they aren’t made for that style of paddling.

What You Need

  • Kayak
  • Paddle
  • PFD (Lifejacket)
  • Helmet
  • Waves!

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