Surf Kayaking Basics: Tips and Steps

Man surfing kayak at Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz, California, USA : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Surf kayaking is the sport, technique, and equipment, used in surfing ocean waves with kayaks. Surf kayaking has many similarities to surf board surfing, but with boats designed for use in surf zones, and with a paddle. Steamer Lane is a famous surfing location in Santa Cruz, California. Man surfing kayak at Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz, California, USA
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Kayak surfing in the ocean is one of the best-kept secrets in the paddling world. There are so many benefits to surf kayaking that it's a wonder the practice isn't more popular. Whether you’re a whitewater pro wanting to branch out to the sea or you’ve never been in a kayak but curious, this guide will help you on your way to ocean kayak surfing.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Time Required: 1 or more hours

Here's How:

  1. Make a Judgment Call: As soon as you get out to the ocean, assess the conditions. If the water looks rough, don’t try to go surf kayaking. No need to be discouraged— as anyone who goes to a beach knows, the waves change and will fluctuate throughout the day with the tide. Safety is more important. 
  2. Dress for Water Safety When Kayak Surfing in the Ocean: It can be tempting when surf kayaking to go without a helmet life jacket. After all, surfers don’t wear either. This is an all around bad idea. You never know when you’ll be thrown upside down onto a coral-laden sandbar, at which point, you'll be very glad you wore a helmet! It's also extremely important to wear a personal floatation device (PFD). 
  3. Survey the Waves from the Shore: Before you get in your kayak, come up with a plan of attack on how you will kayak out to the break. Visually time the waves and see if there is a lull enough to paddle out. If not, you’ll have to paddle around the waves or through them. Armed with this information, decide where you will enter the ocean.
  4. Get into Your Kayak: It is best to get in your kayak right at the edge of where the surf hits the shore. This way your kayak does not get moved by the impinging coastline. Then once ready to launch, use your arms underneath your kayak to lift up and push your kayak into the water.
  5. Paddle Out & Catch Waves: Once you push off into the water, you're ready for battle. 


  1. Have a Solid Kayak Roll: This tip is more of a prerequisite before being able to go kayak surfing. Swimming out of your kayak should not be an option out in the ocean. Even if you can swim to shore, rescuing your equipment can be extremely difficult. (This tip does not apply to those using sit-on-top kayaks.)
  2. Use the Right Kind of Kayak: Recreational kayaks are not to be used in the ocean surf. The only kayaks that should be used to surf in the ocean are whitewater kayaks fitted with spray skirts or sit-on-top kayaks that are made for the ocean. While sea kayaks have been used to surf a wave or two on their way into shore, this is not the preferred vessel to be surfing waves and they aren’t made for that style of paddling.

What You Need

  • Kayak
  • Paddle
  • PFD (Lifejacket)
  • Helmet
  • Waves!