Offshore Surfing in an OC-1
Copyright 2002 by Jude Turczynski

Offshore Surfing is difficult to learn because of the endless stream of situations that one can find at sea. We'll cover several of the more common situations that can be approached with the greatest yield and gain for the paddler.

First, we'll be talking about wind chop, the kind you find in 15-30 mph wind. There may or may not be a larger/faster swell running through or a current affecting the peaks and frequency, but in this case it doesn't matter here. Our concern here is the slower moving 2-5 foot waves (around 1 meter) that are traveling at a speed (8-15 mph) that we can catch and ride by powering up at the right time.

Catching a wave that is moving faster than your canoe requires power, a sudden burst that can accelerate the canoe beyond a speed that is fast enough to allow the canoe to catch and stick to the face of the wave. This line in speed between catching and not catching is called "catch." There are tricks to lower that threshold speed for any particular canoe on any particular wave.

Choosing the right time to accelerate is not an easy choice to make, when you're trying to conserve energy. From your prospective in the cockpit, you can watch the rise and fall of the waterline at the stem of the bow. As the waterline drops away from the bow, the wave is passing under your mid ship, which is not a good time to begin the power up. At this point, you should've been powered for a few strokes already. Wait for the waterline to start raising up the side of the hull towards the high spot of the stem, You can predict just how high it will go because you've been watching all along. As the waterline peaks out, you should've taken your first full thrust stroke. You can take that stroke a few seconds early, so that you won't be late, as long as you can afford to spend the energy with limited return in acceleration. You can also time your acceleration later, if you can get your canoe up to speed in just two or three strokes. Continue to hammer full-on until the canoe catches and you're skidding downhill, or until the crest passes under you and the nose starts to come out of the water again. Never give up if you think you can squeeze a little more out of it.

The most common method for lowering that catch speed is by tilting your upper torso and head forward as you sense the wave lifting the tail of your canoe up. This puts you in an awkward position for applying "top-end" power, but it can be done for a few strokes without hurting your output. This drops the nose down and creates the down hill surfing position of the canoe at the earliest possible moment. Another commonly used trick for those with a sliding track seat, is to scoot forward a few inches to achieve the same "nose-down" positioning of the canoe. This method of forcing the nose down is called, "goosing" the nose down into a trough. Sometimes, the difference between catching and not catching a wave depends on this ability to "goose" the nose early.

If the wave is big enough and moving at the right speed, you'll power up and catch. Coming down the face is a good time to see if you can stop paddling, catch your breath and relax your muscles. You can reduce hull drag as you skid down the wave by "not leaning on the ama." Place your paddle shaft on your right lap to do a basic right side brace and lean right just enough to let the ama skim lightly on the water, always ready to brace if you go too far.

If you fly the ama at this point, you'll increase the lift at the front of the canoe, preventing the bow from pearling early. The side of the hull near the nose is cross-sectionally flat and highly rockered. When this wide flat surface is tilted over, it has the effect of a wide bow, like a surfboard that keeps the front of the canoe skimming on the surface. This is the place to be and the thing to do. By rolling your canoe onto it's side, you're changing the dynamic shape and configuration of your craft in order to manage energy...It's friggen awesome!

Once you've slid down the face, you may find yourself pearling into the backside of the wave ahead of you. Try to lean back at this point, and get the weight off of the bow to prevent washing over the fore deck, which will slow the canoe so much that you might loose the wave. If you think you can overtake the wave ahead of you...Go for it! You might have enough speed to jump the bump and grab another face. If you don't think that you can overtake the wave in front of you, stay in the trough and watch for it to open left or right and slightly ahead of your current position. You can then jog a couple feet to one side in order to get slightly ahead in a new trough and place yourself on another wave to start the process all over again. It's not unusual to hit speeds of 20 to 25 mph in great surfing conditions.

The Craft:
Then there's the equipment. Power to weight ratio is the single most important factor in surfing, more important than hull shape and size. There's nothing like a light canoe that you can get up to speed in just a couple strokes. Grass-shedding/swept-back rudders don't work well for surfing steep chop. You must have an adequately large rudder, preferably"high aspect ratio" (straight down) and around 9-10 inches long and 4-4.5 inches wide with a "high coring ratio foil" of about 12.5%. Most rudders are too thin and flat to have appropriate lift and will stall in rough surfing situations, especially at slower speeds.

Wave Theory:
In wind chop, you have to find waves that are moving faster than 8 miles per hour to really have any fun. The height of these waves will typically be between .75 meters and 1.5 meters (not counting the height of the faster moving swell). The waves move in groups of about four-six wave sets. These sets move together at a slow pace of about 4-5 mph but the individual waves in the set move at about 8-15 mph. At the back of a set, a wave raises. As it moves forward in the set, another wave raises behind it and will follow the first. These waves move forward to the front of the set where they shrink down to nothing, as another wave raises in the back. So there is no doubt, when you catch a wave, you're gonna eventually loose it.

The sum of your weight and your canoe's weight will be one of the three biggest factors in your ability to catch a wave. The lighter your canoe and paddler as a whole, the easier it will be to catch a wave, no matter what your strength, no matter which hull design. You'll be more able to get the canoe up to full speed from only a couple strokes instead of several.

Your physical ability to cause a canoe to jump up to full speed with only two or three strokes is crucial. If it takes four, five or six strokes, you'll miss the bulk of surfable waves. Torque is sheer power, not endurance. It is produced by a properly planted blade and a lot of force in a single pull.

Power to Weight ratio:
The combination of your Torque and the total weight that your pulling are the "Power to Weight ratio." The greater the amount of power and the lesser the weight, the better your surfing will be. Increasing the ratio should be your constant effort during training and assembling equipment. Weight lifting of the sort that will increase your pulling strength and boat time are two prime ways to increase power. "Purchasing power" will solve part of your weight problem, by buying light canoes, paddles, clothing and other gear you can reduce the weight end of the ratio. Personal body weight is where most people can gain the greatest reduction in the weight side of the ratio. Eating minimal meals that provide just enough calories and fats to sustain your physical development. For those of us who are only 10 or 15 pounds over prime fighter's weight, that's more than you can save by buying the lightest canoe on earth. Every single pound will make a significant, detectable difference. Every ounce of torque will also change everything for the better.