No one knows you are a kayak ninja when you’re dead.

I cycled in to work yesterday through driving snow and building wind. My bike pushed me about 2 feet side ways with one solid gust on a downhil portion of the ride to downtown Kalamazoo. The forecast predicted a wersterly 30 knot gale force wind that would die over the course of the day into evening. After work I drove to the beach with the sea kayak and the surf boat on the Volvo. The sea kayak kept trying to take flight off the car from the gusts heading straight under the nose.

I arrived on the beach with the sand blasting the side of the car. I put on my drysuit with my new neck gasket, many thanks to: “Amigo Drysuit Repair”: . I attached my fins to the boogie with numb fingers. Walking down into the wind was a challenge to get to the water, I felt my body fighting the urge to leave the ground like a kite.

I found a spot on the beach to launch and managed to get the skirt on with little trouble even while wearing gloves. _More on gloves later._

I paddled like mad to reach the outer break as the sun was setting fast. Every muscle ached as I dug like mad to break out. The wind had not died below 30 knots. I braced a few times and felt the paddle go squidgy in my grip, just like it did last year when I tried surfing in the dark on the day of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I didn’t like that feeling at all, as this meant I would have to trust that my indexing on the paddle was correct if I had to roll. I managed to get out past two or three sets, but was catapulted nose over tail by the fourth. I swept the paddle out calmly and tried to roll. The paddle sliced and I came up three-quarters and went back into the icy water. A wave caught me while I was upside down, so I waited until I felt calm at the surface. Once there was calm I tried again. The blade sliced again and I did not come up, I did manage to get a breath. I set up for a third time with the hail mary, the extended pawlata grip, a wave caught and pushed me again, and I lost my grip on the paddle. However I managed to get another breath. I thought, you know what, I bet I could handroll this thing up. I swept my body out to the surface, and pulled out that “angry thoughts hipsnap” ala Alex Pak, and I slapped like a beaver with both hands. I came up on my first try. Unfortunately, my paddle was loose in the water. Another set came in and nuked me over hard. Life was suddenly a lot more complicated. I set up again, and tried to roll up, no luck. I realized that this was going to be my first swim in 3 years.
No one could say I didn’t try everything I could think of, or that I was weak, I just had a FUBAR situation. I sighed, (sort of anyway while underwater). I yanked the skirt and was out. A drysuit and a lifejacket are both excellent things I realized. I found my paddle pretty quickly and started trying to swim for shore. A steady current of rip tide was heading in my exact direction straight out from shore. It felt like it was at least 4 knots, but I was no judge at the time. My boat was 30-40 yards ahead of me and still floating. This was my first wet exit out of the boogie so I was impressed that it was still floating, did I mention that I had no float bags in it?… I swam side ways and found a wave to push me in. I caught up to my boat and dragged it up to shore.

Three take-aways.

# 30 Knots of wind is always stronger than me.
# Gloves will screw up my indexing on my surf paddle.
# Being able to handroll up my surfboat in conditions is sexy, but useless.

I looked out, it was dark, I was alone, and I had swum. Hmmm, that handroll was a lot of use wasn’t it? I smell a Darwin award coming.


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  3. A spare paddle would have rendered your hand roll useful, like a Storm Greenland Paddle fastened behind you.

  4. Keith ~ Glad you’re okay. Great keeping a cool head to deal with the rip. I believe you’d agree with the great philosopher Harry Callahan: “A man has got to know his limitations”…you just found yours and lived to tell about it.

    Paddle safe – Ron

  5. You’re crazier than your old man,windsurfing on Deer Lake in 30+ wind.

  6. compared to living in Columbus…….. Kalamazoo is at least near clean gorgeous and wonderful beaches. Lake Michigan is not to be fooled with or taken for granted.

  7. I have a double torque lendal 194cm kinetic xti whitewater paddle i use for surfing. I may eventually go to a shorter blade, but we’ll see. It is cranked the problem is the grip with gloves on which I think I can correct with pogies. I think if I didn’t do the changeup from traditional to euro I might be more accustomed to the feel, but I love traditional paddling too and I spend all my time in my sea kayak with the traditional paddle. All my time in the surf boat is with the euro blade. I find it works 99% of the time, but as you can tell I got unlucky.

    Thanks for reading wenley and derrick.
    As you can tell from the following post, I am back in form already. Just needed to get back out there when it wasn’t so heinous.


  8. Hey, just jumping in to say I’m glad your ok. 🙂

  9. Hello Keith, Has your Euro paddle a cranked shaft? It does wonders for me in indexing the blade in the right angle.

  10. Glad you came through OK! And thanks for telling the story.

  11. Thanks for being brave enough to post your trials and tribulations on the web.Most people would have tucked their tail between their legs, whimpered softly, and crawled home in anonymously.

  12. I live in Kalamazoo, and work downtown. So the surf I get is on Lake Michigan. Oddly enough I lived in Paw Paw for three years as well!


  13. Grasshopper,

    Next time you go to pool, work on breast stroke instead of handroll, much more realistic. Why we say when you go over you come back up to the same thing, only now we have no paddle, but we still work on our hand roll is krazy, krazy, krazy.

    Master Po

  14. I think you have achieved the first Encarnation of Surf Kayaker Enlightenment with the Useless Hand Roll. The next stage is when you pop up without your paddle and find yourself backsurfing on a 8’ wave. Glad you are OK. 30 kt winds and most of us are home by the fire. What is this strange attraction you have for Kalamazoo? I spent a year one weekend in Kalamazoo or was it PawPaw I forget. You’ve got to move somewhere with an Ocean.

  15. Uh,what were you thinking? Was it FUN? I doubt it..we have a guy here who goes out a least once in windy conditions and he’s chased by the CG and hailed and lectured…but then he’s a whitewater guy. I would never go out in that stuff but I do paddle in winter when it’s calm and sunny..I bet you were alone that day too right?…paddle safely eh? Linda