“The Ocean is a playground for a surfski but sometimes we forget that the same forces that give us so much enjoyment also make it a dangerous and unpredictable place”.
Yesterday Cape Town was rocked by a huge storm heavy rain and winds gusting up to 50 knots. I couldn’t resist the temptation to experience the extreme conditions on my surfski. Jasper Mocke and I left Fishhoek for a reverse miller’s run anticipating a wild ride! With all the excitement, I realized mid paddle that I had forgotten my leash, although the conditions were awesome I found that I couldn’t relax and enjoy them because I felt so vulnerable this ruined a lot of my enjoyment…
Sometimes we forget that the same forces that give us so much enjoyment also make it a dangerous and unpredictable place. When we get too comfortable with the ocean we let safety slide. I am especially guilty of this but I believe if we adopt these 5 habits below we will be far more prepared should anything go wrong in the sea.
- Bring your safety gear; make a checklist. Wear a PFD and a leg leash attached to your surfski. There are many available safety items for the open water paddler, but consider the PFD and leash as extensions of the boat/paddle. Always carry water or a sports drink. If you are heading for a big downwind paddle, it is also a good idea to carry a waterproofed mobile phone/radio and a signaling device, such as a flare. Also, dress for the conditions/water temperature you’re paddling in. The best way to ensure paddling preparedness is to create a short checklist, that can be systematically ticked off before you head out for a paddle.
- Paddle with a friend or in a group. Paddling with others is an added safety measure, inspires more comfort and confidence, helps the learning process and is more fun!
- Practice your remounts!!! Arguably the fastest way to build confidence in rough water is to know you’ll be able to get back on if you fall off. This essential skill is too often overlooked – take the time to practice in flat and rough water.
- Surf your ski! Look for opportunities close to shore. You don’t have to head offshore for a channel crossing to gain experience and proficiency in waves. When starting out, doing “out and backs” from your beach is a great approach. When the wind is blowing onshore, set aside time for rough water practice, paddle out from the beach 200 meters, turn around and surf back. Turn around and repeat. You’ll be exposing yourself to all sorts of bump and chop while getting a better feel for catching runs. Safe and effective. Check Windguru.com often to stay familiar with the wind forecasts, which will help you plan practice sessions. Surfski paddling is about acquiring a feel for the ocean as much as it is stroke technique and fitness. Get out there and ride some waves.
- When ready, leave your comfort zone. The only way to become an open water paddler is to paddle in open water. At some point, this will mean heading out into water conditions that you haven’t paddled in before. It will likely be intimidating and feel like work at first, but stick with it and you’ll be hooked – the thrill of paddling a surfski on open water is truly addicting.
Stay Safe, Be Bright, Have Fun
Photo by Rachel Lang (Roman Rock Lighthouse)