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Surf Kayaking Collision


Nov 11, 2009
Tuff City
Hey Folks,

Surf kayaking is a blast... but... and its a big but... one has to be aware of following proper surf zone etiquet to avoide collisions.

So... here is a little video of of me demonstrating what happens when you don't! I'll take the blame for getting a little over eager on the waves.


Pardon the over-dramatic title of the video :)
Whoever is closest to the break has the right of way. Really hard to tell from the vid who that was, but it may have been you.
nootka said:
shouldn't one (or both) have put on the brakes via capsizing?

Yep :) Easy to say in hindsight... harder to do when the decision has to be made within a second...

But yes, had I capsized I would have likely avoided the collision...

Mostly hoping the video can serve as a learning tool.
On the positive side, good job recovering your paddle, rolling up, and then checking on the other paddler. :big_thumb
Thank you for sharing your video! This is a great teaching/learning tool.
The more we (the kayaking community) are willing to share when things do not go as planned, the more learning for the rest of us.
In the absence of doing a longer trip this year, we've headed out to Long Beach for a number of sea kayak surfing trips (which we've playfully dubbed 'SKurfing' - the SK standing for Sea Kayak). Some days the swell is big, and we're careful to give each other lots of room. Other days, especially when the surf is smaller or less consistent (ie we want to grab as many rides as we can since the good waves are few and far between), we get more playful, and try different things like backward surfing (gnifrus?)or having 2-3 of us 'share' a wave. Makes for some good video, but really it is a pretty foolish idea. I have a ton of video to sift through to find some video of our impacts, but I've found one that I'll edit a bit and upload shortly.

I think I've been involved in 3 skurfing collisions this summer. In the first one, I think two of us had caught the same wave and it was a pretty good size. I approached Scott's boat from his left, and had broached enough that we quickly knew that a collision was impossible to avoid. I was still high on the wave, and if you've tried it, you'll know that capsizing in surf is quick, but not instant. I knew we were going to hit whether I was rightside-up or upside down, and since I was higher on the wave than Scott, by boat was going to go over top of his. Had I capsized, I'm sure I'd have broken ribs or worse, so I had to stay upright and hope for the best. I literally bounced right over his boat, and Scott told me afterwards that he had to shield himself from my stern as my continuing broach made my stern swing towards his body. I don't think the boats hit very hard, since we each had so much speed that I just glanced right over the front half of his boat (probably just aft of the forward hatch cover). I was in my Romany, Scott in his Romany Surf. We were both uninjured and the boats didn't show much more than a bit of swapped gelcoat.

The second one was with my wife, Christine, who was in the Pygmy Arctic Tern 14 I built a number of years ago (I was in my Romany). My memory of that one is a bit foggier, but consider that the bow (and stern) of the Tern 14 is VERY pointy. You do NOT want to get hit by that boat (and neither does your boat!). Again, minimal boat damage was the result and we were both uninjured as well (probably as much luck as anything else). I think we both capsized fast enough to lessen the impact and avoid any impaling, but afterwards I noticed that my rear deck line had snapped like a bit of twine. This was braided line, probably 1/4", which would have a tensile strength of around 1500 lbs or more. I was happy that it had broken instead of pulling padeyes from my boat. We determined that the Pygmy's bow threaded itself between my boat and my perimeter line, and acted like a wedge to snap the rope. A bit of easy math would show you what the relative speed and force of our moving boats would have to be to break that line. The Pygmy was fine (guess I built it pretty tough!); the Romany also suffered about a half dime-sized patch of missing gelcoat. Both easy fixes once we got home and didn't affect the rest of the trip.

The last one is the one I'll upload the video for. This was little more than a 'love tap' between myself and Christine in her new Romany. We both capsized shortly before impact (I would have wanted to capsize a bit earlier but these things are not always easy to do immediately!). The boats touched, some gel-coat was swapped, and we both paddled away laughing. It was a pretty small wave, and I hopped on knowing that Christine was there, in an attempt to get some better video. Probably not the wisest choice, but hey, if we wanted a zero-risk activity we'd sit on the beach knitting instead.

So yeah, it can and does happen. The three of us go out knowing what can happen and if we have some good waves, we usually have some sort of plan whereby we do a 'loop' - surf in, paddle along the shore inside the break for a while, and paddle back out well out of the way of anyone else coming in. As much as we like to play in the best area of the surf, if there are any 'marshmallows' (ie surfers) around, we politely tell them that we'll do our best to stay away from them but they'd be wise to do the same, and if they get closer than we're comfortable, we (perhaps grudgingly) move somewhere else. It's not worth risking a serious injury even if it means we get a less desirable part of the break. People on the beach often watch us, but few probably realize how little control we actually have once we're on a wave (or have broached and are 'bongo sliding' towards the beach in the foam pile).

Thanks for the video and commentary! We haven't seen anyone else out there (SKurfing) while we've been out there, but we know we're not the only ones!
In your 2nd incident Mark, the breakage could just as well come from the leverage of the tern bumping into your boat after it had threaded between your deck and the line. I would be much more concerned about possible undesireable body piercing because of the super sharp bow of the pygmy (or any other s&g and most strippers - unless rounded or cushioned).

I have seen a dramatic picture of a sharp bow poking right thru another's thigh after a collision. Catastrophic and not pretty.
Careful out there.
I would lose the radio. No point sticking it in your eye. Less you have on you or your boat the better.. And a swamped kayak in any size surf is still going to weight 500 pounds..