Surfs up

September 7, 2006

Wednesday 6th September 2006

I got to my usual put in at 4.40pm and am getting more efficient at getting on the water so it didn’t take long. It was high tide and the sand bar was producing those small but long rolling waves. Maybe 20cm high. Fun, easy to get on, but not challenging so I quickly headed out along the coast.

wee ones

It’s raining and there is no-one around. [I have noticed that the Japanese people do not seem to like getting wet. I read somewhere that there are lots of umbrellas in Japan, 200milion in a country of 125million people. My mother-in-law has a theory about this. She says that in Japan it is harder to dry wet clothes inside (no central heating) so people tend to try and stay dry. It may also have to do with taking your shoes off, somehow but I digress.

The tv report in the morning had said 4-5m wave heights, but the sea where I went was no where near so big. There were some confused waves and short wavelength waves – you could tell they were storm generated, but maximum height was maybe 50cm.

However it was obvious that something was happening because even from a km or so away I could see at lot of white water hitting the beach. The surf was huge. Literally huge, I’ve never seen such big surf on this beach. The sound was really amazing. However as predicted there was a big variance of surf height which allowed me to try some surfing.

The beach has a long gentle arc and is protected at the south-west side by islands. The North-east end is fully exposed to the pacific swells and this is where the huge surf was. The surf gradually builds up as the waves bend round the protecting island meaning that today there was a variance of surf height from 10cm to 8 feet. (That’s my best guess on the huge surf).


I think the bigger surf would have been prefect for surfers too, it was curling like you see in the movies and staying up for a long time. A beautiful sight as the tops of the waves got blown off, despite the lack of wind. But although beautiful the weather also made the sea dark and menacing.

I started off quite far out to sea, hoping for some big wave action so I can practice some rough water paddling in the warm water, as it becomes obvious that the waves are not as predicted here I headed in to shore and noted the height difference in surf.

I chicken out a bit and paddle south to catch some smaller waves – 3 feet maybe. I do great on the first one and surf in, bracing over the crumbling wave to get off and paddling back out, my bow 3 feet into the sky over the new waves.

The second time is not so good, I get off one wave only to see a bigger one not far behind. Uncertain what to do, I’m almost stationary, and at 45 degrees when it hits and broach quickly, I brace into it but before I know it I’m upside down. I’m ready for my head to hit the sand but it doesn’t; its still quite deep and I surprise myself with the speed of my exit (so disorientated and wary of hitting my head that I didn’t even think of rolling up). By the time I’m through the froth the boat is ashore. I quickly locate my paddle, drink and pump, before the next wave hits. I get to the beach to find a ton of san in the boat.

After tidying up and strapping my pump and drink bottle down, I do a bit of body surfing which I think is good for the confidence – if you can surf in with just your body how easy must it be with lots of ballast?

from beach

My boat is really good through the waves. I guess the advantage of a big bus is it has lots of flotation and is easy to brace into waves.

I paddle back out – which is fun in itself. The waves have a pattern; three small ones followed by four bigger ones, the fourth of which is really big. I time my runs accordingly.

I don’t really understand what the goal of surfing in a kayak is. Is it to stay on the waves all the way to shore, get pushed along? Is it to get off when the wave crumbles down? Do you try to go straight in, ruddering or broach in? When you stop surfing what way are you facing?

Answers on a postcard (or please comment here).

I head along the beach towards the bigger waves, playing in the surf, practicing high braces in the steepening and bigger waves but staying off the breaking surf. Lots of fun. I am being careful though of the big ones that break further out and getting into the rhythm. The waves are increasing in size as I need north east. On some of them my high brace doesn’t reach the top of the wave, even before its fully developed, so I guess maybe 5-6 feet. Along the way, every 200m or so there are areas of disturbed water, I think these might be the rip tides taking water back out and it’s a bit choppy in there.

The surf is getting higher and higher, scarily high and noisy too. I paddle out to sea a bit – really don’t want the washing machine treatment by one of these. From the sea it’s notoriously hard to tell how high a wave is but I think it must be at least 8-10 feet. It’s getting dark which adds to the drama of these waves.

big surf

Hard to see in this out of focus, dark picture but that’s the back of one of the big waves rising up before breaking from a distance of about 60m.

Sometimes the steady roar increases to deafening tones before I realise that one of the Japanese Self Defense force fighter jets (from Ishinomaki airbase) is zooming by overhead. I took some pictures of the surf from the sea in the fading light and wish that I had time to get to shore and take some from there.

dark from sea

I have to ‘hussle’ though, in half an hour it will be dark. Half way back I have an ‘incident’. I am playing around in the surf as I go, bracing, surfing a bit and paddling through the breaking waves. I brace on one and broach in a bit. I then turn the boat around and paddle out to get the next one. As this next, larger wave rises I turn my boat parallel and get ready for another brace.

As it looms up though I realise I have mistimed it, it’s the biggest one I’ve been on and it breaks just as it hits me; on top of me. I brace into the face as it curls over me and manage to stay on it for a few seconds (I think) before the inevitable roll. I am a bit worried because I am quite far out from the beach, in deepish water – will my boat make it in? As I come up for air I panic, in a calm way, because my paddle has disappeared, but I spot it after 20 seconds or so and grab it. My boat is indeed in no mans land between the surf and me but the next wave picks it up and delivers it safely to shore. Man I was hit hard by that one.

In the dim light I quickly get the water out and get ready to paddle back through the biggish surf. It goes okay.

I get back to the calm of the put-in, practice some rolls – success. Then wet exit and clean the sand out of my boat. It is now pitch dark and the water looks beautiful. I load up the car using the car lights and take this picture.


My paddle however won’t come apart (it’s a two piece number) it’s raining heavily though so rather than struggle with it I dump it in the back of the car, dry off and head home. (Discovered that you can use the plastic floor mat to stop you wet shorts soaking the car seat).

After washing all my stuff in the shower I take a look at the paddle. It still won’t come apart and I see it is damaged. The metal around the central ‘button’ has shorn though and the whole shaft is bent. I don’t know how it happened but probably that big tumble I took (definitely didn’t hit the sand though, was it just the water that did that?)


Can you see the sheer line next to the button in this poor quality picture?



Regardless of what caused this I’m taking the paddle back; this is clearly a design/manufacture fault. The paddle is only 4 months old and cost 20,000yen (180$).

I had fun paddling but I only had about 1hour and 40 minutes on the water. It was pitch dark at 6.20pm – that’s what I was talking about in an earlier post.


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