Friday, 30 May 2014

Harnessing Rebound & Clapotis

One of the most common questions I'm asked by paddlers new to the sea, is how to deal with multi-directional water. It's pretty hard to avoid off Sydney; as soon as you clear enclosed water you're bound to come under the influence of a cliff line throwing back some mess & chop.

Most paddlers feel comfortable bashing into a headwind, where the movement of the boat is very predictable, even paddling clean downwind, where you eventually tune into the tempo of the running sea.

Rebound, clapotis, confused water around cliff lines & headlines however, provoke the most tentative responses from paddlers not used to it, and it got me thinking about strategies for turning this less predictable sea state into something fun and 'useable'. By useable, I mean a free ride, instead of a leveller.

On Tuesday I joined Rob, Mark, Matt, Dave, Luke & John on a fun little downwind paddle from Sydney Harbour down to Malabar, about 20km of variable water parallelling Sydney's affluent Eastern Suburbs beaches. We had a clean northerly, some remnant swell, and a freshly developed sea moving at 'kayak pace', about 12-16kmh when you hooked into a runner.

The section between South Head & Bondi is a steep cliff bound stretch where the wind generated sea was colliding with the sandstone walls and sending back chop & rebound at varying angles, depending on which part of the cliff it was hitting. Underneath all of this the predominant north-moving sea was forming rideable waves, fast, steep & fun, which made this short 8km section engaging & entertaining to paddle.

My take on this sort of water is to keep positive, both in terms of posture and intent, & stick to the universal truth of following seas - the faster you go, the faster you go. I watched the video back after the paddle & figured it offered a reasonable look at what I do to nullify the unsettling nature of confused water. 

If I had to summarise it simply, I try to visually filter out the water that isn't going my way, and keep looking for the wave shapes that are. Combined with more power in my stroke when the boat is set to head downhill (this is the moment just before it actually heads downhill), this strategy makes me accelerate constantly, using the stability of speed to crash through anything unhelpful.

You also find that the shape of the sea changes as you reach the speed at which it is running. Because you're no longer wallowing in troughs that can push you around, and instead constantly surfing in front of a gently sloping pile, the next move becomes more obvious & you can subtly change direction to catch the next steeper section that presents itself.
Trailing brace on my left side, where I naturally have a flatter more sympathetic blade surface.
Above all I only ever defend in the most dire circumstance. When running fast on a wave you'll notice the back of my blade drop into a trailing brace. This isn't a rudder or braking stroke, merely a gently skimming precaution to allow me to get my retaliation to an unpredictable event in FIRST. My weight shifts to the left so I can accommodate any unexpected movement on the side I have the most sympathetic bracing blade angle.

I've seen instructional videos where another technique is used, catching a runner then immediately going to a stern rudder to control direction. In my mind this is surrendering all of that hard won speed, and makes your day on the biggest free ride you'll ever get twice as hard, as you constantly stop & restart. My preference is to use power to control direction, so I'm accelerating towards where I want to go, as opposed to braking to make sure I don't go somewhere I don't. 

Confused...? Watch the video & see if you make any sense of it, the views from behind give a good perspective of the running waves as they form up. Then, get out & give it a crack somewhere safe in the company of peers who can help you out of something goes awry! With a little exposure & dedicated practice, you can very quickly turn rebound and clapotis from something you swing out wide to avoid, into something you actively seek out & enjoy.


  1. Great article Mark. I have a pet theory that trailing a blade when required, so that it's just skimming the surface gives your brain useful feedback which makes for better balance and positioning of the body. I know it seems kind of obvious but I've only ever heard it described as "psychological support" whereas I think it's more tactile than that, kind of like a gimballed gyroscope receiving electro-mechanical inputs from it's various synchros to constantly level itself.

    'The Nutty Proffessor'

  2. The best of fun with more fun - surf and wind :-)


The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...