2023 SMSKN Summer Event
by: Aaron Kiander
I was glad to have my dry suit on when I pulled up to Higgins Beach because the rain was already coming down. It was April fools day and the forecast was for a warm but rainy morning. I walked my kayak down to the beach and was greeted by a more menacing ocean than I had envisioned. The wind felt brisk, the waves were steep and close together, and there was enough foam from the crashing waves to make the water look mostly white. I was determined to surf but the conditions made me wonder what I was getting myself into.
On the beach, our group of kayakers snapped a few photos and discussed our strategy. The waves were crashing far enough from the beach that we could play in the smaller foamy waves after they broke. We would try to stay close to shore and gradually move to the northern end of the beach near the Spurwink river. We thought the waves might not crash as hard in the river channel.
I watched several people launch into the surf. They floated their kayak in a few inches of water, gracefully hopped in, secured their skirt and were off to play. That looked easy enough, I thought, so I followed their lead.
As I sat down and pulled my legs into my kayak, an unusually large wave appeared out of nowhere and filled my kayak with water before I could get my skirt in place. Wonderful. I debated whether the extra water ballast might help me out in the surf but decided that I should empty it out.
My next attempt did not go much better. This time I got in and started to secure my skirt when a wave came in and tossed me sideways and beached me.
While beached, I attached my skirt and started pushing my kayak toward the ocean using my fists like a gorilla. The kayak grudgingly slid closer to the water and I could feel the sand filling my skeg case. I was hoping for a gentle wave to help float me out but instead I got a rather aggressive wave that tossed me back onto the sand sideways. Beached again. Terrific.
Well, if the ocean wanted to pick a battle, then I was not going to go down without a fight. I repeated my gorilla arm technique to shimmy back to the water. Once floating, I desperately snatched at my paddle to shove me back into the water. This was done with all of the grace of a neanderthal stabbing a stick at a wild animal. The waves wanted to beach me again, but I managed to paddle just far enough from shore to avoid it. The effort succeeded but I did not earn any style points on that launch.
The next few hours were pure fun. The smaller waves close to shore got my confidence back up. I could practice balancing and bracing on these smaller foamy waves without risking much.
Gradually our group moved out into the river channel. I watched as they surfed larger waves that broke near the entrance. I followed but spent most of the time moving around to find the smaller waves and spectating.
It’s surprising how quickly the waves change both location and size over just a few hours. Sometimes they broke right at the entrance to the river channel. Sometimes it was several hundred feet beyond. Just when you found the perfect waves, the ocean rearranged things and left you searching for a new spot.
When it was almost time to leave, the waves seemed to double in size. So large that I felt a bit trapped on the ocean side of these massive waves as they broke on the beach side of me. The feeling of those swells is something I look forward to but it was time to leave and I had to get back to the beach. After a conference, we decided to sneak around the larger waves by paddling close to the river and then working our way back down the beach in the shallow surf.
On the way back, some of the advice rattling around in my brain started to make sense. Especially about keeping your beach knee engaged and lifting the beach edge of your kayak when a smaller wave hits. As a skier, this sounded like “don’t catch your downhill edge”. I did catch my edge earlier that morning. The kayak flipped over so quickly that I ejected and went for a swim. The water temperature didn’t let me forget that lesson and the launch attempts afterwards kept any emerging pride in check.
My goal for that day was not to surf but to get more comfortable in the surf. The ocean pushed me around and I mostly stayed upright. To that end, I’m pretty satisfied. But the ocean has its ways of keeping my ego from getting too large.