Ocean Paddling: Getting Out is All About The Angle

This is a repost from a series written last year to help people paddle out through the surf by Katie Elzer-Peters. 

I took two fabulous clinics at the 2015 Carolina Cup and, while I benefitted tremendously, I took the clinics for YOU. So, in order to milk these babies for all they’re worth, I’m going to be posting tidbits one piece at a time. After all. You need to think. Absorb. Meditate. Ruminate. Incorporate.

They’re also going to be complete with my signature crappy graphics (this is Katie, and she is a Skitch powerhouse). But I think you’ll still get some use out of them.

First on the agenda: Intro to Ocean Paddling with Dan Gavere

Get the Angle Right and Get Out

In order to paddle in the ocean, you have to get into the ocean. Whether you are surfing, paddling for fun, or racing. I’m really bad at this for a number of reasons, and we will be exploring those, so that I can ruminate, meditate, and incorporate those techniques and get better. #OCEAN2K15 is my motto.

Dan helped us learn how to get better at this integral part. He gave us a three letter acronym to remember: PAL. Today we talk about “A,” which is Angle. Precisely, the angle of the waves and the direction your board should be pointed at them in order to get through them.

In order to get out and over the waves, you need to have the nose of your board pointed perpendicular to the angle of the waves. I excavated this picture from Surf to Sound last year to find an example of this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 9.04.54 AM


I have been where the person on his knees has been every time I get into the ocean. Were I in this picture, the following picture would be me flailing my arms wildly spinning through the surf, praying my board doesn’t whack the person behind me.

What causes this phenomenon?

It is the shape of the nose of the board coupled with the angle of the waves. Here is another awesome graphic:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 9.10.59 AM


Displacement hulls (blue circle) will punch through the waves pretty well (according to Dan), if they are pointed exactly perpendicular to the waves. If they are sideways even a bit they will get shoved to the side and you will fall off.

I experienced this during my clinic. “DAN WHAT WAS I DOING WRONG?” “You punched through the wave (power-sneak peek. That’s the “p” in PAL), but your angle was off so you got knocked back.

You notice this when you first get on a displacement hull (race) board in flat water after always paddling a planing hull. Side chop sort of goes under the planing hull while chop from the front causes the board to lift up and down and SMACK SMACK SMACK. The opposite is true for the displacement hull. It cuts through chop from the front, but side chop pushes you all over the place.

That is only magnified in the surf zone.

When getting out a planing hull will tend to go over the waves. (This is where the “L” in “PAL” comes in, Lift. DANG I gave it all away already.) We will expand on that another time. There are some race boards with fatter, more bulbous noses, and those tend to also want to pop up and float over the waves.

What does this mean for you?

Before you paddle out, stop and look at the waves. Duh. If you ever visit a popular surf spot, you’ll see people standing on the beach watching before they run in. They’re doing a lot of things-counting wave periods (time between waves), watching other surfers, looking for wind swell versus ground swell. They are also looking at the angle of the waves. This picture is from the WB SUP Surf Pro Am, and the weather was every bit as delightful as it looks, which is to say, not.

The waves were not quite dead on to the beach, as you can see. If you were paddling a race board out over these saves, you would have to paddle with your nose pointed at 11 o’clock instead of straight noon in order to easily punch through.

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So, that’s the first installment. What are your questions? Maybe Dan can answer them for us because I just told you everything I know about this particular thing.