Tuesday 2 September 2008

Spray Skirt Loops

This is an article I posted on the NSWSKC chatline a few months back - it's an important safety lesson & bears repeating....
"I had an interesting experience surfing yesterday up here at Noosa Point. With not too many chances to get in my surf kayak nowadays I have managed four awesome mornings over an extended weekend holiday to get out on the famed Noosa point & ride a few perfect waves. For an idea of how good this spot is, check the photo below.

Yesterday, with another great lineup & a session from heaven beckoning, I allowed a bit of complacency to get the better of me & came off second best....
In a nutshell, I failed to make absolutely sure my skirt release loop was on the outside of the deck. After a couple of hours riding some of the best waves I've ever surfed, I decided a particularly good one would be my last, & rode it all the way in to the beach (a good 200m). I took on the shore break, which I had avoided so far on this day & the whole trip, bounced down a dumper, braced, then hit a rock which I hadn't seen. The boat flipped, which was fine, & my paddle caught on the sand & was taken out of my hands. No problems with any of this, as I was only in about 2 feet of whitewater, except that as I reached forward to pop my skirt the loop was not where it should have been. So I spent about 3 minutes in the washing machine, mostly upside down, head (with helmet fixed) banging on sand & the occasional rock while I fought to release the skirt or use a wave to try to roll up without the paddle. In the end one of the wrinkled old long-boarders with whom I'd been enjoying the waves paddled past & offered a paw so I could bring myself upright. Now, in 2 feet of water I wasn't going t drown straight away, but I can tell you it wasn't much fun & was peeing & snotting salt water for a good few hours afterwards. If it had happened in another metre of water I may have been in very serious trouble, but then I probably wouldn't have lost my paddle & would have rolled. I'm an experienced paddler & shouldn't have made this elementary mistake, especially when it's the first thing I teach people when we're making them do their wet exits & rescues. Why did I allow it to occur? Probably a little bit of excitement clouding my usual auto-pilot safety checks - Noosa is a great place to surf a surf kayak - & also the fact that I trust my roll & don't ever consider a wet exit. I can see that this is potentially disastrous combination which I won't be replicating. The lesson, check your set up every time you go on the ocean. My surf kayak is a very tight fit - necessary if you want to get as much out of it as it can offer - but only a little bit tighter than my sea kayak cockpit. The spray skirt was realistically a little tight for the boat, making it impossible to release without the loop, especially with the pressure of breaking waves sucking it on to the coaming. Check this on your own boat & make sure it will release with a good tumble turn (don't try this on your own...!). If you're going to be launching or landing in surf - even if as a worst case scenario on a leisurely day trip - wear a helmet. If I hadn't been wearing mine, which I do religiously, all of the scratches & bangs on my Gath would be permanently etched into my scalp. Lastly, while it's the most exhilarating & fun part of our sport, remember that the surf will sort you out one day when you least expect it. Make sure you've had good controlled experiences in the break zone before you take it on. If anyone wants to come for a surf with me, let me know...!"


  1. Mark, I leave an alloy carabiner permanently attached to the release loop. Reminds you to leave it out as you put the skirt on and conveniently presents the loop to you when inverted. Also stops the loop hiding under the coaming. Peace of mind!


  2. G'day JD,
    I do a similar thing with the whitewater type skirts that I've always used for surfing, instead of a biner I put a thick hose on the loop to prevent it from tucking under. The Reed skirts I'm now using seal really tight, but when you capsize & wet exit they just peel off, so there is much less danger of a repeat of my Noosa performance.
    Thanks for the comemnt - always appreciated...!


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