TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Surfing


Adapted from articles & photos originally published online by the San Onofre Surf Kayak Association. Edited with permission of Scott Eaton, President of Paddlesurfers International and official spokesman for SOSKA.

surf kayakingINTRODUCTION

The joy of surfing- the beach environment, moving with the waves...

Growing up in southern California, a day at the beach meant sunshine and warm sand, the crisp ocean scent, and water full of wonders. I learned early to respect the waves for their power (who can forget the fear of being swept away when a wave unexpectedly bowls you over), but also to love them for their beauty. I can still sit for hours, mesmerized by the play of light across the surface of a growing swell, and the rhythmic roar and hiss of foam as it rolls shoreward. But the first time I felt myself falling, flying briefly as my body caught the wave and planed across its face for one exquisite moment- that was enchantment. Every subsequent surfing experience contains a taste of that visceral joy a feeling that's shared with every other surfer, of any type, in any land or time, and with no one else.

At Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:


Paddle Leash
Use a paddle leash in surf & wind (NOT in whitewater) to maintain control of your kayak. Cobra Fin

Surf Kayak Fins/Skegs
The addition of skegs/fins add performance, increases the ability of the Kaos Finkayak to hold position while trimming along the wave face and aids in tracking.

We carry fins for both the Cobra Revision & W.S. / Dagger KaosSurf Helmet

These water sport helmets can be used for all paddling disciplines that can involve risk, such as white water rafting, river boogie, rock gardens and sea caves.

knee strapsKnee Straps

Like these contoured ergonomic design, padded knee straps, with quick release side-squeeze buckles for safety and ladder-loc for easy adjustment. Suitable for all rough water and flat water activities.

Strap Eyes

rivetsThese strap eyes (pad eyes) are black nylon or stanless steel. Strong enough for all but the cruelest punishment. strap eyesThe industry standard for kayak assembly, most commonly used for backrest and knee strap attachments, leash, shock cord, deck lines.


Whether you bodysurf, board surf, windsurf, or paddlesurf the operative word is SURF. Surfing is hydroplaning down the face of a wave and can be done in many different environments of which the ocean shore is the most preferred. River waves, standing waves, wakes, and artificial waves are poor substitutes for a powerful ocean wave breaking onto a reef, rocky point, or sandy beach.

What we will be talking about on this page is the sport of paddlesurfing. Paddlesurfing is surfing a craft which the surfer sits on or inside, and which is propelled by a paddle, specifically a double-ended kayak paddle. It can be called a kayak, sit-on-top, waveski, river kayak, surfboot, or even a canoe. If you sit down while you surf, and you use a paddle for assistance, you're paddlesurfing. Each species of paddlecraft has its own unique characteristics, but mostly we will be discussing the common aspects of the craft that define the sport.

We make no assumptions of prior knowledge or experience in these instructions. Of course, whatever skills you already have developed in either paddling or surfing will make it easier and quicker for you to become an accomplished paddlesurfer. These instructions will be helpful to all experience levels, and are designed to reduce the amount of time it takes to acquire skills, with the goal of increasing your surfing pleasure. An old Chinese proverb says, "A wise man learns from experience; a wiser man learns from the experience of others."
Here then is our experience.


WARNING: We ask you to consider your choice to go paddlesurfing. Paddling and surfing are inherently dangerous activities, with sometimes severe consequences (including disablement or even death). We invite you to adopt the attitude that surfers have always held... that they would be accountable for their choice to go surfing and responsible for any of the consequences along the way. We are providing the best information we have as to the equipment and techniques necessary to minimize any potential risks. But you should know that paddlesurfing is an inherently dangerous activity. An accident can happen any time. Whether it is due to the violent environment of the surf zone, or a mistake made by another surfer, or a flaw in your equipment, the risks are there! You ALWAYS SURF AT YOUR OWN RISK!


  • Wear a personal flotation vest, PFD, Life Jacket.
  • Wear a helmet
  • Get proficient with your paddlecraft on flat, calm water first.
  • Get good at paddling. Learn the strokes. Learn to brace.
  • Learn to use Knee Straps or seat belt.
  • Learn to roll.
  • Learn to swim!
  • Learn to bodysurf. Find out how powerful waves can be without a boat to complicate the situation. Learn to catch waves with a Boogie board. Surfing is surfing, and what you learn will carryover.
  • Observe surfing etiquette and right of way on the waves, your paddlecraft can be dangerous to other surfers.


Who owns the waves? Everybody...nobody. Earn the right to take the wave. Don't try to play with the big boys until you are in control. Don't argue with surfers, if you can possibly avoid it. Cultivate good vibes in the break. Give bad attitudes a lot of space.

Who was here first? First on usually has the right of way. But the surfer closest to the curl should get the wave.

When to give way - Sometimes you give one away, just to be careful, just to be kind. Don't hog the break. Look out for less experienced surfers. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

For a more detailed description of surfing right of way rules see RIGHT OF WAY pop-up window.


  • Attitude: The attitude of a learner is crucial to gaining skill in any sport.
    Be mindful of what is happening. Strive to understand the forces involved in the process. A high awareness of your actions and the actions of the waves is the result of paying attention.
  • Persistence: Surfing lends itself to persistence. Keep doing it. The more you do it, if you are paying attention, the better you will surf.
  • Perseverance: Don't let failure discourage you from persisting. In surfing, a willingness to get wiped-out is essential to improvement. The best surfers usually suffer the most horrendous wipe-outs. That's what it takes to push to the next level of skill. Higher skills are harder to learn, and the penalty for failure is swift and sure. Accept it as part of the game.
  • Good physical conditioning: is essential to paddlesurfing enjoyment. It can be a rough and tumble sport, and requires both strength and endurance to attain a high skill level.
  • Remember: to pick a spot where you don't interfere with surfboarders, body surfers and swimmers.


Like there are all levels of proficiency in paddlesurfing, there are also numerous craft to correspond to these levels.

If you are just beginning you can choose from many sit-on-top boats currently on the market. A length of 11 feet or shorter is preferable for maneuverability. If you wipeout, you can get back on them in deep water. If you want the maximum performance capability for paddlesurfing, look for craft designed with flat bottoms specifically for hydroplaning.

paddle leashAt Tom's TopKayaker Shop:
paddle leashPaddle Leashes
Many varieties & types.Your grip on your paddle links you to your kayak after capsize. Use a paddle leash in surf & wind (not in whitewater) to control your kayak. Great for beginners. Handy for fishing and diving. Can also be used for Fishing Pole Leash!

Waveskis are essentially a sit-on-top surfboard. This craft will do virtually everything a surfboard will, and give you the advantage of a paddler to catch more waves. Straps for hips, feet, and thighs keep you attached to the ski and give you precise control over the craft. They are light and take up less space, so they travel well. Some waveskis are tippy, since you sit above the waterline, and can be a challenge to paddle, especially through big soup. They can be boarded in deep water, so they don't require a good launch site, or a bombproof roll.

Sometimes fins (also called skegs) are attached to aid directional stability to these craft, but they limit the maneuverability also. It takes greater skill to control the finless surfcraft, but you can do more tricks.

Paddles - You can use standard size paddles for recreational and touring Sit-on-tops. (220 to 230 centimeters is common.) For waveski and other surfkayak paddling, a shorter paddle. (Less than 200 centimeters, or just over is common.) A flatter blade is better, since highly curved blades deflect at high speeds.

Good equipment is worth taking the time to find.

We strongly recommend that you get well acquainted with your equipment on calm water before you attempt the surf. You are entering a violent environment, and proper preparation can save you needless swimming, and possible injury. Learn to eskimo roll as soon as possible, no matter what type of surfcraft you are paddling. Professional instruction and a nice warm pool will get you rolling in no time. A local shop or kayak club will probably have both available.

TopKayaker.Net's List of Resources:

Adapted from articles & photos originally published online by the San Onofre Surf Kayak Association. Edited with permission of Scott Eaton, President of Paddlesurfers International and official spokesman for SOSKA.

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