How Kayak Surfing Works

By: Sarah Winkler

Kayak Surfing Safety

Wearing a helmet protects your head if a wave crashes over you and pushes you toward the sand below.
Wearing a helmet protects your head if a wave crashes over you and pushes you toward the sand below.
© Gough

Although kayak surfing can be an exhilarating new sport for an outdoor enthusiast, like any water sport, it can also be a little dangerous if you don't keep in mind some necessary safety precautions. One of the biggest issues with kayak surfing is the less-than-desirable scenario of capsizing while attached to the kayak. This is particularly a problem for sit-in kayaks. To avoid becoming trapped, you'll need to roll your vessel back over. Swimming out of your vessel might not be a viable option once you're out at sea, so you'll need to roll to get upright again. Rolling may involve techniques such as pulling for the surface with your paddle or using a push-and-pull maneuver known as the hip flick to allow the buoyancy force to help you get upright [source: Sea Kayak Chesapeake Bay]. You should practice a few times with a partner before attempting this maneuver on the waves.

In addition to practicing your rolls, you'll also want to wear a helmet. Board surfers don't wear helmets because they can bail a little more freely, but helmets are definitely necessary for kayak surfers who run the risk of knocking their head on the bottom of the sea while still attached to their kayak. In addition to a helmet, you should also wear a personal floatation device, regardless of the strength of your swimming skills.


Before you head out, survey the waves. If the waves look too rough, don't attempt to kayak surf. Based on your own ability level, you should make a good judgment about whether you can handle the waves.

Once you're in the water, you'll want to be mindful of how close you are to other kayak surfers or boarders. Surfers can more easily maneuver their boards to make tight turns, but it's more difficult for kayak surfers to get out of the way.

Remember that just because you are able to catch a wave doesn't mean you have to. Kayak surfers can usually catch waves more quickly because of the speed of their paddling, and therefore can usually get to waves before board surfers. So, be sure to be generous and share the waves. When in doubt, be courteous to your fellow wave riders and give them the right-of-way.

Learn more techniques and tips for kayak surfing by following the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Adventure Sports Unlimited. "History of World Kayak Surging Competitions."
  • Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK). "Kayak Surfing."
  • Beman, Ann. "An Introduction to Surf Kayaking." Hooked Online. September 14, 2004.
  • Eastern Surf Kayaking Association (ESKA).
  • Foster, Nigel. "Surf Kayak Techniques." Canoe and Kayak.
  • Kusterle, Tilen. "Surf Zone Hydrodynamics." University of Ljubljana, Department of Physics. June 12, 2007.
  • Nieves, Evelyn. "At California Beach, Turf War for the Waves." New York Times. July 8, 2002.,%20Turf%20War%20for%20the%20Waves&st=cse
  • Sea Kayak Chesapeake Bay. "The Physics of Rolling."
  • University of Tennessee Knoxville, Department of Physics and Astronomy. "Newton's Three Laws of Motion."
  • Wave Walk. "Kayak Surfing." December 2008.
  • Weiner, Adam. "The Physics of Surfing." PopSci. October 29, 2008.