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Frustrated with looking at a river and struggling to see the water for the rocks? Depressed at checking the river graphs only to see every one at 'Stay at Home'? Does yet another sunny day make you think about selling your white water boat? Don't panic because the surf is up
There's nothing better than the feel of the wave picking your boat up and hurling you forward. Carving the face up and possibly executing a 'cool' flat spin to impress the surfers. The adrenaline kicks in as the breaking wave crashes over you and you're surrounded by foaming water. Hanging on until you're back in control and carving the face again.
I remember taking my sister surfing a few years ago. She hadn't been in a kayak before and as I explained the basics of paddling and then the principles of surfing, the tension in the car rose. It does actually take some skill to surf and not suprisingly my sister didn't get anywhere near the waves. Here's some tips on surfing to get you started.
Firstly don't rush out into the waves at Gunnamatta or Woolami. Start off small and work your way up. It is also recommended to surf with other experienced paddlers. Good support strokes are vital and a reliable roll is also desirable as it is just a matter of time before you'll find yourself upside down and the shore may be a long way away. Anyway generally it is easier to roll in the surf than in the river. You just have to wait until you're off the back of the wave. It is a good idea to have buoyancy bags in your boat to make a deep-water rescue a lot easier if you didn't roll. Knowledge of how to do a deep water rescue also helps.
What boat to use? The longer boats, for example Dancers, tend to nose dive as you catch the wave and often broach when you're on the wave. The shorter boats are easier to maneuver on the wave and a flat bottom will allow you to flat spin. However a slightly longer boat may make it easier to catch those waves when you need a bit of speed. Make sure you are wearing a buoyancy vest and a helmet. These will protect you against contact with surfboards, surfers etc.
How do you catch the perfect wave? This takes a bit of experience as it depends on the waves on the day. Generally, however the best spot is of the 'corner' of the wave. This is the spot where the wave is steep enough to catch it but not so steep that you tend to nose dive. Generally you'll need to be paddling forward and be ready to lean back as the wave picks you up. Too much and you'll be off the back of the wave. Also if you angle your boat slightly it will help to stop nose-diving. Once you're away use your paddle as a rudder and the rails of the boat to carve up the wave.
Once you've worked out how to catch a wave you need to understand surfing etiquette. Surfers hate paddlers anyway so don't give them any more reasons. Waves will usually be right or left breaks. This is determined by which end the wave breaks from. A right hand wave is one where the left end of the wave breaks first. A surfer will expect that you will cut right as you surf this wave. A left-hand wave is the opposite. The surfer/paddler closest to where the wave is breaking has right of way. If you're far enough away from him/her you can probably keep surfing but if you're close you should get off the wave. Also if the surfer/paddler heads towards you you should pull off. Don't try to catch a wave where someone else is already paddling it. Now that you've mastered surfing in you need to get back out. Paddle back out away from the breaking wave. That way you won't interfere with people surfing in and won't get knocked about by breaking waves.
Where to go surfing? There are three main types of breaks, beach, reef or point. Beach breaks, Woolami for example, crash onto the beach and aren't ideal for kayak surfing. You can end up washed up on the beach and if you're upside down when this happens you're in trouble. Reefs cause reef breaks. The reef may be deep enough not to cause a problem or you may have plenty of time to pull out before hitting the reef. Be careful about surfing a reef break that may leave you washed up onto it. Personally I prefer a point break. You won't break your neck on the beach, won't end up on a reef and it is easier to paddle out. There are great spots to surf not far from Melbourne. You'll need to make some enquires as different spots are better in certain wind directions and at particular stages of the tide. The newspapers and various websites will give you the tide times and surf reports. So I'll catch you on a wave!