Just swimming with paddles + video

By Bill Vonnegut

Ever since the rescue in Monterey last month. I have been thinking that I wanted to get some swimming practice. This is something we talk about from time to time on our paddles, but end up not getting around too. So Last weekend we decided to schedule it into a paddle plan.

The plan for the day was to head to Snivelers Row in Moss Beach, shown in the background of this photo. And spend the morning rock gardening, then the afternoon doing rescue practice. We started the day at a difficult put in to make things interesting, a steep cliff with a rocky path down to a surf launch.
Pre paddle safety talk just below the cliff
(Photo by Mark Berger)
 The conditions were a little bigger than we hoped for that day, and after some exploration, we decided to head south to Flat Rock. An offshore rock that has a nice wrap around surf wave that collides with the ocean swell coming in from the other side. When the waves collide it creates a zipper effect that can launch you into the air if you can position yourself in the right spot.

We had spent quite some time catching waves and playing in the zipper. When some of us decided it was time to get in some swimming practice. There is a large slot in Flat Rock where the ocean swell comes shooting through and pushes into a breaking wave on the outside. We thought this would be a good place to safely get some action.
The slot
 Even though we knew it would not be bad once in the water, watching the waves crash through the slot while standing on the rock was a little intimidating. But we managed to take the leap after a short hesitation. After jumping in we tried different style swimming to see what worked best. Some with the paddle out front, some feet first and I also tried swimming backwards using a reverse stroke, this worked ok, but both the forward strokes worked better. 
Sergey Yechikov in the water and Anders Landin on the way in
Photo by Mark Berger
Swimming with your paddle is a good thing to practice before you need it. A few of the things we discussed later that day, were what worked better feet front or feet back. We determined they move you about the same, but the main argument was face first vs feet first when swimming towards a rock, some did not want to get their face bashed and some did not think it was a problem.

Allen Shah coming in for a landing
Photo by Mark Berger
  Also I should add that catching up to your boat is hard to do, I chased mine for a while just out of arm's reach. Once catching up, I practiced swimming it a ways then scrambled back in just outside this area between waves....well at least I was back in when one came and filled my cockpit. 
Bill Vonnegut trying to catch his boat
Photo by Allen Shah
One thing we did find, was trying to climb back on a flat rock was more difficult than other seal landings we have done on steeper rocks. The flat rock was very slippery and the surge flowing over it tried to push you back off repeatedly. I found the best way to get back up was to get on all fours and grab at the kelp or whatever you could find when the surge hit.
Anders Landin exiting the water.
Photo by Mark Berger
One of the things that we noticed helped allot, is to relax and go with the flow (current) and save a little in reserve for when you need to climb back on the rock, re enter and roll or scramble (my favorite) back into your boat.

I really think this is an exercise that every paddler should try. It's not a difficult skill to learn and will keep you prepared for some day when you may unexpectedly need it. It will also make things seem not so bad when you come out of your boat.

Here is a little video of the swim practice:


  1. Rangers & all else, I did some more swimming at the local Lodi Paddle Club weekely Wed. eve. outing on the flat water of the Mokelumne River; front stroke both head first & back stroke. From this last excersize, with a few tips from Zach Boyd, the backstroke was much more effecient, though the lack of good visibility could be a challenge. We need to do more of this is the surge to see if it holds up the same.

    All the best, tOM

    1. Ya Tom, I have tried the backstroke before in calm water and it seemed to work great. But with all the stuff going on that day, it just did not seem to move me as well. Possibly because I had to keep turning around to see where I was going?
      - Bill

  2. Hi Guys, were you hooked up with a towline while swimming with the boat or????

    1. Grabbing your boat and paddle in one hand while using your other hand to swim and kicking your feet is a great way to move your boat. The only time I use a tow line to swim with the boat, is when I am doing a seal landing. This frees up both hands to climb on the rock, then you can simple pull the boat up after getting out of the water.
      - Bill

  3. There was an article by Eric Soares of the Tsunami Rangers on Swimming for Kayakers published in Summer 2011 issue of California Kayaker Magazine. Can be read online for free at http://www.calkayakermag.com/magazine.html


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