Beach launching through the surf, widens the dimension of blue water kayak fishing but requires skill, timing, a positive attitude and a bit of luck. Dan Bode reports.

OPEN water kayak anglers are often gifted with direct vehicular access to launch sites that place them right in front of a remote reef. You can unload your ‘yak, store your gear and be at the foreshore in the same time it takes a boat to reverse down the ramp. While boaties are negotiating the bar crossing thirty miles away, you could be paddling through the surf zone, to encounter virgin reef, boiling with untamed fish.

Pre-training and prep

Before you venture into the surf zone, you need to be 100 per cent confident in your yak in still water. From shore it looks like comedy but mucking around on a bare yak like you’re a 10 year old in a water park, pays off. The more you scramble, the quicker you’ll figure out the limitations of your vessel. Have fun reversing your position, back paddling, sliding up and down, straddling and leaning out wide in both directions. A good dose of dunkings with a PFD will help you create a speedy re-entry procedure. Do this as often as possible and practise flipping the yak, because most sit belly up when ditched.

US Kayak fishing columnist and tour operator, Jim Sammons noted, “dress to swim and rig to flip”. An Aussie edge being, “clean lines, fine times”. In winter, wetsuits are great, in summer a pair of board shorts and a rashie are usually all you need under your lifejacket.

As for the yak, any protrusion is a potential surf hazard. Extended rod holders can turn into lethal weapons as can fish finders, crates and loose cords. The basic rule of the surf is to stash whatever you can inside the hull and keep your deck space as clear as possible. Same goes for your body. Cameras on lanyards, hats, keys, sunnies and paddle leash should all be stored securely away before you enter the playing fields.


At the tide line, watch the sets for a while and identify the rip areas and wave count. Look within and ask yourself if the conditions are right for you. Not venturing out could be a decision that saves your life and there is no shame in leaving a location you are not comfortable with. If it’s 50/50, consider playing in the small shore breaks for a while and decide from there. Whatever you choose, start off in small surf and practise your way up to bigger waves as you gain experience.

Once you’ve boarded your yak, wait for a set to come through while back paddling a rip or gutter. Depending on conditions, just before the lull, paddle out hard and fast, always keeping tabs on what’s ahead.

Speed is of the essence. As white water and shore breaks approach, you need enough momentum to punch squarely through and avoid getting sucked back. On clearing the wash zone you meet the core impact area. At this point you need to be really focused and positive. With any luck, you’ll time it perfectly and maintain a fast stroke over the rising humps and clear the backline without incident.

If an unexpected set has risen, or you’ve been dragged back, chances are you’ll experience a pitching wave, the pocket, or a freshly impacted wave. These are the critical wave sections and are responsible for the most yak related injuries during launch and re-entry.

If the wave pitches without cracking at the lip, paddle harder and faster than ever, you’ll be surprised just how often you’ll get over the top of it. If a breaking wave traps you in the pocket, follow the same speed procedure but be prepared to eject as far as possible from your yak as soon as you realise you’re about to get hammered.
If the wave impacts immediately in front of you, again, paddle hard and maintain balance but be ready to come off. Finally, if you are caught in a, “pit flip”, lunge your body out to the side, into the wave and bury your head deep in the water as far as possible, away from the yak. After that, relax and let the wave take you wherever it’s going to go. When the water settles you can then worry about your craft. This is one reason you are wearing a PFD.

Once you clear the sets, keep paddling hard and fast a few hundred metres into open water. This is a buffer zone and should give you enough space for wind, currents and unexpected freak waves that could nail you in the minutes spent rigging and repacking your gear for beach entry.


You still need to conquer the surf from the blue side. This is probably the most challenging variant but also the best fun.

Most fishing kayaks haven’t been designed for real surf even though they are often used in it. Manufacturers sometimes attach a few photos or a video clip of a pro-paddler deep in the pocket and miraculously forget the images that follow. A 4.5 metre plastic yak with a stable “U” shaped hull is going to spend most re-entries going sideways when propelled by a wave. The paddler has virtually no control. The only valuable trick you have to stay afloat is leaning hard into a breaking face and wedging your paddle into the wave side wash. What you do before that is even more important.

If you’ve timed everything right at the backline, you’ll have a textbook re-entry, picking a lull and paddling fast behind the forward wave as it breaks. The best place to be is above this wave but far enough back to avoid getting taken over the falls.

If you’ve timed it badly, or want some action, paddle strongly to get caught in the building face and don’t stop. On a good day with a surf capable yak – like some of the South African fishing skis – you can pearl along the face, straighten the yak as the wave pitches and outrun the whitewash before it smashes into the pit without going sideways. If you’re on a regular yak, paddling fast down the face and bracing into the wash is about as good as lucky gets.

Another technique involves back paddling through the impact zone, facing breaking waves and attacking them head on like the launch. When you crack the peak, you quickly spin the yak and race into shore behind the same wave.

What to do in a wipeout is really its own topic. As a wave conspires, the best odds are in early separation. Keep your body closer to the wave as the yak pushes further away.

The surf zone could be your ticket to an Eldorado of piscatorial yak fishing pleasure but requires lots of practice and a healthy dose of common sense. One things for sure, there’ll be a few terrified “Fwaarrks!” and some big fat smiles along the way.

Pre-conditioning your body for the surf

• With a fully loaded yak in still water, paddle at least 20km, every time you go out. Put a lot of effort into fast, hard paddling and break it up with continued paddling. The aim is to maintain forward momentum without ever stopping.

• Move into protected areas with currents, take advantage of them and paddle with and against them for added practice.

• Vary your paddle stroke styles, forwards and backwards.

• Try and get out at least twice a week until you reach a point where you are totally confident covering distance in your yak, in protected waters.

• Body surf or go surfing

13 tips for the surf zone

• Understand your yak in still water
• Keep your deck space clear and store what you can in the hull
• If your rods don’t fit inside the hull, secure tightly along the gunwales using bungee cords or cable ties – store your reels inside the hull.
• If you are using a pedal-powered yak, consider the drive placement options as recommended by experienced pedal users.
• Keep your body free from loose objects
• Always wear a PFD
• Don’t attach the paddle leash in the surf zone
• Start small and work your way up
• Stay positive
• If you get dumped don’t let the kayak come between you and the wave
• If you get dumped don’t panic
• Practice, practice, practice
• Enjoy it

Bluewater yaks
The bluewater fishing skis designed to handle surf conditions originate from South Africa and are loose adaptations of the common Aussie surf rescue ski. The biggest differences between them compared to a regular plastic SOT kayak are a flat fibreglass hull with a moulded fin and a strong hull mounted rudder. Additionally, a minimum 30 per cent of the ski’s weight is built in as buoyancy to meet South African maritime standards. When it comes to surf performance, they are in a league of their own but tend to be noisier from hull slap and take on more wind drift outside the surf zone. This is because they sit on the water, rather than in it.

Bluewater fishing skis designed for surf conditions:

Stealth BFS; Stealth Supalite-X; Erics Canoes; Tomski
Fishing kayaks that perform well in bluewater and are often used in the surf:  
OK Prowler Big Game; OK Prowler Trident Angler; OK Prowler 15; Perception Swing Angler; Hobie Mirage Adventure Fish; Hobie Mirage Revolution Fish; Hobie Quest Fish;RTM Tempo; Viking ProFish 45; Viking Predator; Kaskazi Dorado; Wavedance Kingfisher

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