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U.S. Patent #6871608

Re-edited 12/2008

Kayak Surfing

This article examines the evolution of kayak surfing, the problems associated with this sport, and the solutions now offered by the new W Kayaks.


The word Surfing has become synonym to Fun, so much that searching the Internet just for fun is described as "Surfing the Web".  But when it comes to kayak surfing the common dictionaries seem to ignore the existence of this sport, and if you look for "Surfing" you will probably get a definition similar to this one:  "Surfing- The sport of riding on the crest or along the tunnel of a wave, especially while standing or lying on a surfboard. Also called surfboarding."
As a sporting activity kayak surfing dates back to the 1920s, and although it's as old as kayak touring and whitewater kayaking it has not evolved into anything remotely as popular as these activities, or as board surfing.
Generally, it is possible to distinguish between two styles of surf kayaking:  Surf-skiing, which emphasizes speed and thus requires long and narrow kayaks sometime called 'wave-skis', and Kayak surfing, which is the beach equivalent of whitewater kayaking, and therefore requires kayaks that are almost identical to the small whitewater kayaks.  Surf skiing requires bigger and therefore faster waves, while regular kayak surfing can be practiced in smaller surf, which is typical to the East Coast.
Another broad but useful distinction can be made between Sit-in kayaks (SIK) and sit-on-top kayaks (SOT).  The latter are used almost exclusively in warmer waters.  Both have in common the need to attach the kayaker to his/her boat: In the SIK the paddler is attached inside by the spray skirt without which the boat would fill with water in no time, and in the SOT the paddler must strap himself with thigh braces without which he/she won't be able to control the boat effectively and sooner than later will go overboard.

Surf Kayaking VS. Board Surfing

These activities have in common their being practiced in the surf and involving 'catching' fast traveling and breaking waves.  Unfortunately, such 'runs' are usually very short and far between. 
A major difference between the two surfing sports is that kayakers are more mobile than board surfers since they can paddle.  Another significant difference is that board surfers can stand while surfing while kayak surfers must remain seated.  This difference is particularly interesting since it is possible and even easy to surf sitting on a board rather than standing on it, yet nobody has ever seriously considered surfing sitting on a board because surfing standing is much more fun, and fun seems to be the key to understanding what people do at and around beaches.
As for safety, unlike board surfers kayak surfers are not free to separate themselves from their boats in case of emergency.  This is why they have to face the risk of overturning while still being attached inside or on top of their boats and therefore severely restricted in their movement.  For this reason kayak surfers are more likely to get hit in the head, and that is why they have to wear helmets while board surfers don't.
Interestingly, paddling standing on a surfboard is becoming fashionable these days among board surfers.

What Makes a Kayak Good for Surfing?

The first requirement is safety:  It is hard for many traditional kayakers to agree that sit-in kayaks are very unsafe by the fact they require the passenger to be attached (i.e. practically trapped) inside.  Some of them say that the 'Eskimo roll' is a perfectly safe and dependable method of recovery, and that the average kayaker should take the time and effort to practice rolling until he/she has a 'reliable roll'.  Other, more cautious kayakers would agree that for most paddlers rolling if out of the question, and even among experienced kayakers a totally reliable roll is rare, especially in the surf.  The perfect illustration for this dangerous problem is the helmet that most surf kayakers wear, in contrast with board surfers who don't wear helmets since they can fall freely into the water and there is little risk of them being overturned head down and slamming their heads on a rock - a scenario that's quite possible in a surfing kayak*.  As for SOT kayaks, those require bindings in order to offer an acceptable level of control, and by this fact become unsafe for surfing as well. 
The second requirement is maneuverability: A kayak that doesn't respond well to its passenger's attempts to swiftly and easily change directions would tend to broach i.e. align itself in parallel to the beach and to the front of the braking waves.  Such kayak would also be difficult to extract from the broached position once it's stuck in it, and therefore will present a high risk of capsizing since lateral waves are among kayakers' most difficult problems to overcome.  Needless to say that activating a rudder in the surf would be impractical for every possible reason, and in some cases could be dangerous.
The third requirement is speed: In this aspect surfing kayaks are different from whitewater kayaks that are never required to go upstream: A kayak that's too slow is hard to launch against big waves - It simply lacks the power to go through, and restricts the average kayaker to surfing in small, weak surf.
The fourth requirement is comfort: Kayak surfing is considered to be an extreme sport but that doesn't mean the kayaker should suffer from cramps, leg numbness and back pain that are associated with being constrained to spend long periods of time 'locked' in a single sitting position, which is notoriously uncomfortable.  In comparison, board surfers can lie down, sit or stand on their boards, and perform various swimming movements in the water so they do not suffer from cramps, leg numbness and back pain.
The fifth requirement is the ability to stand:  Although it may seem unrealistic, if board surfers enjoy standing more than sitting this option should be available to kayak surfers as well.

What it Takes to be Popular in the Surf

So far, this discussion may explain to some extent why kayak surfing has remained an unpopular sport among kayakers as well as surfers: Simply, it is both dangerous and difficult and yet not particularly enjoyable or rewarding otherwise. 
However, in order for kayak surfing to attract participants it should appeal to a wider range of paddlers who are looking for relatively easy and not dangerous surf fun. As previously shown, this is not a viable option with either sit-in or SOT kayaks.  In other words traditional, monohull kayaks may serve a small minority of surfers in their extreme activities, but in order for kayaking to be applicable in the surf for fun purposes it requires another, more suitable type of paddle boat.

The W Kayak:  New Solutions to Surfing

The dictionary describes surfing as riding on the crest or along the tunnel of a wave, but the surf zone has more fun to offer than that: While board surfers and kayak surfers are generally limited in what they can do with waves, this is not the case with W Kayak surfers, who can enjoy a broader range of additional fun activities such as:
1.    Paddling in parallel to the shoreline and hopping on lateral waves
2.    Easy launching and hopping over frontal waves, including breaking waves
3.    Paddling between waves both in the riding and standing positions
4.    Surfing waves standing as well as riding
In other words, W kayaks enable people with different paddling and athletic skills and capabilities to 'roam' in the surf zone while enjoying it in multiple ways. 
For example, in the same place and time a good paddler may enjoy paddling in parallel to the shoreline and hop on lateral waves while a less proficient paddler could tackle the same waves frontally and then surf back to shore in the riding position. A highly skilled W surfer could do these things while standing, while a couple of kids could have fun paddling their W kayak in tandem.  In this context it is important to stress that unlike board surfers and traditional kayak surfers, W kayakers and surfers can find surf activities for practically all the time they are on the water, and their fun time is not limited to a few seconds of wave riding once in a while.
As for speed, we found that inexperienced as well as non athletic W kayakers including children aged up to ten are able to go over 4 ft breaking waves that are impossible for many inexperienced regular kayakers to go through using traditional kayaks.  This is mainly due to the fact that paddling from the back of the W's cockpit raises its bow and thus enables a different approach to the wave.  Other factors at play are the W's improved lateral stability, which makes it easier to control during the impact with the wave, and the W being faster than regular (i.e. short) surfing kayaks.
Interestingly, paddling and surfing a W kayak does not necessitate a spray skirt, and not even a spray 'apron'. This means that getting in and out of the boat is very easy and intuitive, which is important for most paddlers.
Another important fact is that W kayakers and surfers don't need to attach themselves to their boat in any way since they can have excellent control over it without using any binding accessory - though the use of their feet, legs, thighs and hips. This has a positive effect not just in psychological terms but also in practical, safety terms.  
In addition, W kayakers and surfers benefit from the ability to position themselves back and forth along the boat's saddle, which prevents them from broaching even when they are very close to shore while being pounded by lateral waves.
And last but not least, although W kayak surfing can be much more intense than board surfing and traditional kayak surfing because of the extended range of activities it offers, its physical impact is minimal compared to problems such as leg numbness and back pain that plague traditional kayak users. This fact is due to the W's improved ergonomic design offering a multitude of ways for the user to change positions in the boat, and by that reducing both fatigue and physical impact.

Surfing With a Twinhull Kayak    

The Polynesians, who invented the surfboard, also used twinhull boats (catamarans) for sailing and paddling.  These things are linked by the fact that Polynesians have lived in islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean where big waves are part of everyday life whether you're traveling, fishing or having fun. Needless to say that fun has long been recognized as being an important part of life. 
The W kayak is not a traditional catamaran in the sense that it is not operated from a platform supported by two hulls or pontoons, but mainly from within the boat itself whose twin hulls are closer to each other than they would be in a traditional catamaran of similar size.  In this sense it is possible to say that a W is more of a vessel while a traditional catamaran's characteristics resemble more those of a raft. This distinction is apparent in the way the W kayak responds to its user in the surf, where a wider paddle craft, whether catamaran or kayak, would not be practical.
In this context it is important to remember that native kayakers never surfed, and preferred to use their kayaks in protected, relatively calm waters.  The reason for this is obvious, and it is that capsizing in cold water is generally a bad idea, and if this happens in turbulent water such as the surf it's a very bad idea.  Besides, native kayakers did not benefit from the use of modern materials such as Polyethylene and Neoprene, and this fact made them even more vulnerable to accidents.

How is W Kayak Surfing Done?

W kayak surfers control their boat either from the interchangeable Riding and Standing positions.  Obviously, surfing standing requires some real practicing while surfing in the Riding position is easier and almost intuitive.  Some (especially young) W kayak surfers would say that standing is more fun, while others would emphasize the sense of safety and control offered by the Riding position.
W kayak surfing can be practiced in small and big waves, with the latter being considerably more difficult and depending on both natural and acquired personal skills.
In the Riding position the W kayak surfer exerts a particularly high level of control over the boat through his legs: Each foot rests firmly on the bottom of a hull below waterline while the legs hold the saddle from both sides.  This enables swift shifting weight from side to side while keeping a good grip on the boat

Side Wave as Sidekick

Lateral (side) waves are problematic if not dreaded by other kayakers, but to the W kayak surfer they can be a source of endless fun:  You paddle in parallel to the beach and let the lateral waves roll under you - You lean into the incoming wave and once it passed under your boat you lean to the other side.  This can be done even when the wave is close to point of collapsing, and even after - depending on the wave's size (and consequently its speed).
It is strongly advised never surf alone or too far from shore, and to make sure the beach is safe for surfing since rocks and other objects pause a severe danger to both kayak and board surfers. 
The right approach is to practice long enough in smaller waves before tackling bigger ones.

Capsize and Recovery

The W kayak's buoyancy is distributed along its sides so it has a natural tendency to right itself unless its passenger prevents it from doing so.  Practically this means that if you lose balance and control but manage to bail out swiftly enough your boat is likely to stay right even if breaking waves.  If this happens in shallow water you can either hop back in, and if you happen to go overboard you can crawl back inside from the rear. 
In the passenger did not bail out on time and the boat overturned or an excessive amount of water got inside it's usually easy to let the waves push it to shore, and then drag it out to dry land and drain it within seconds just by overturning it.
If capsizing occurred far from shore and there is a considerable amount of water in the boat it is often still possible to get back in, but once the passenger is in he/she should scoop or pump as much water out possible, otherwise the boat will be slow to paddle and/or unstable if one hull is considerably heavier than the other.
We recommend outfitting the W kayak with floatation for the surf.
Floatation reduces the volume of water that gets into the boat in case it capsizes. Side floatation can help preventing it from overturning.

The Spray Skirt Dilemma

With a W kayak spray isn't that much of a problem to begin with:
The boat's high freeboard protects its passenger quite well even in breaking waves, including lateral waves.  When surfing you get relatively little water in, and whatever gets in is drained to the bottom of the hulls where even if several gallons are accumulated they would be unlikely to become a noticeable problem.
A spray skirt may prevent some spray from entering the boat but it might also reduce the passenger's capability to control it since moving back and forth on the saddle will not be as free as without a spray skirt.
A spray 'apron' that covers only the front part of the cockpit does not reduce the passenger's mobility inside the boat.  Both 'skirt' and 'apron' confiogurations are easy to acheive with the new cockpit cover solution comes  standard with every W-kayak model.

Surf Launching

Surf launching a W kayak is much easier than launching an ordinary kayak, and even children find it easy and fun: You put the boat in the water and hop in.  If there are strong waves that are keeping your boat parallel to the shoreline (i.e. broached) you ride in the front of the cockpit and lean into the turn so that the wave action itself will turn your boat and make it face the ocean.  After you've managed to face the ocean you paddle riding in the middle of the cockpit unless the incoming waves are big and you need to go over them by riding in the back of the cockpit and raising the bow.

Rolling a W Kayak

Like most modern kayaks (e.g. SOT and other, wide recreational kayaks) the W Kayak is not designed for rolling (i.e. 'Eskimo roll'), and for this reason it cannot be rolled.  In any case, rolling a kayak is probably to worst imaginable method of recovery in the surf, and a quick look at the protective gear worn by the few people who practice traditional kayak surfing is usually enough to deter others from trying to kayak surf in the old fashion way.  Even with protective gear (e.g. helmet), rolling a kayak in the surf remains a risky maneuver for multiple reasons.
Board surfers, who greatly outnumber kayak surfers prefer to disconnect from their board in case they lose control over it rather than to be closely attached to it and recover it by rolling it back to a normal position.  This seems to be the natural, easy and safe approach, and therefore to logical one.

Maneuvering in the Surf

Controlling and maneuvering a traditional kayak in the surf is difficult for most people, especially if the kayak is long (e.g. surf ski). 
The W Kayak makes it easy for the paddler to maintain control over his/her boat and maneuver it even if he/she lacks physical strength and other athletic capabilities, as well as much experience.
the W kayak's physical attributes that contribute to this are:
1.    The W1 is just 10' 2" long (310 cm), and therefore easier to turn than a longer kayak.
2.    You can create a powerful rudder effect by leaning into the turn with most of your weight.
3.    You can activate the boat from the front, middle or back of the cockpit according to your need and your position relatively to the waves.

Wearing a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) and Other Safety Issues

For safety reasons it is very important and highly recommended that the W kayak surfer wear a PFD while W kayaking and surfing. 
Also, it is highly recommended that W kayak surfers wear wetsuits or dry suits when kayak surfing in colder water and/or weather since Hypothermia can cause death.
It is highly recommended never to W kayak surf alone - The presence of other surfers, bathers or paddlers may indicate that the beach is safe, and in case of accident could mean the difference between life and death. 


The new, patented W Kayak delivers new possibilities for all types of kayak surfing and kayak surfers, including people who were previously prevented from practicing any kind of surf sport.
It also promises the development and expansion of multiple new surfing applications on different levels - from recreational to extreme.

Watch Demo Movies

* Interestingly, a growing number of whitewater kayakers and instructors recommend wearing a protective mask as well as a helmet since apparently rolling your kayak may lead to facial injuries too. If indeed this is the trend in whitewater kayaking it is likely to reach kayak surfing sooner or later since most surf kayakers practice the Eskimo roll.