There are two basic rules for successful tandem paddling I'll offer, and then a final important piece of advice for speed:
First rule: The front paddler sets the pace. Why? Because he can't see the rear paddler, and he is clearly in view of the rear paddler. Cadence is the most important aspect of paddling that the front paddler MUST keep in mind. The front paddler must rely on the rear paddler to steer the boat, and he (or she) MUST NOT skip a stroke. As the front paddler, if you feel it is necessary to not make a stroke on one side, you should ALWAYS go ahead and make the motion of the stroke just to keep the cadence going. To assist turning, make the stroke at the normal cadence but apply little or no force to it.
Second rule: The rear paddler MUST follow the forward paddler in cadence, for better or worse. As the rear paddler, you may stop paddling momentarily to steer (or to take a break when the forward paddler is not looking) but when you start up again you must sync up again immediately with the cadence of the forward paddler.
The advice: Again, cadence is the all important aspect of paddling, tandem or solo. Nothing is more frustrating to the experienced rear paddler in a tandem boat than not being able to convince the forward paddler to pick up the cadence when more speed is desired. The inexperienced paddler will often falsely assume that longer, deeper, and more powerful strokes are required to increase speed, when, in reality, shorter, shallower strokes with a greatly increased cadence will have, by far, the most profound effect on speed.
Tandem paddling provides better power-to-weight ratio allowing greater speed with the less exertion than solo paddling. A soon as you master cadence and synchronization you'll master tandem paddling!
Knee straps are a must for kayak surfing! I have written about their necessity and use before in my web site and book, but I have not written previously about installing homemade straps. So....
They are extremely easy to make and install on any kayak! Here's all you need: 4 eyelets, 8 rivets (the kind the kayak makers use for plastic), 2 four-foot long pieces of 2" wide web strap, a few feet of 3/16" nylon rope, and, if you want to make the straps removable, 4 trigger/swivel-snaps.
Start by installing the eyelets along the top of the gunwhale. The forward eyelets should be just about even with (but no farther rearward of) the bottom of your feet. The rear eyelets should be just about even with (but no farther forward of) the back of your seat-rest. Install the eyelets oriented parallel with the length of the kayak so the stress will mostly be along their length.
Next, push a hole into one end of the strap with a phillips screwdriver, centered approximately 1.5 inches from the end, and run a piece of rope through th hole. Don't worry, the nylon web strap will not fall apart as this area is stressed in use! Either tie the end of the web strap to the eyelet with only an inch or so distance between it and the eyelet, or tie the rope to a swivel-snap with very little slack.
Now, run a piece of rope through the rear eyelet and take a seat in the boat. Pull the web strap into position and mark the rearward end of the web strap where you will want to cut it. The web straps should be pretty tight across the inside of your knees when you "lock" into them. You should not be able to get your knees together! Cut the strap, push a hole into it, and tie off the rope like you did the front.
There are two ways to make the knee straps adjustable. One is simply to allow a little length on the rearward ropes to retie as needed to the eyelet or swivel-snap. The other is to use a longer piece of web strap that will allow you to cut it in the middle, overlap it, and run both ends through a single buckle. To get even fancier, you can use buckle clips, available at your sporting goods store. I have broken enough of them in the surf that I prefer not to use any plastic at all and just fix my strap lengths when I tie them to the eyelets.
You will find a pretty good discussion of surf entry and exit in the article in my web site, so I'll just mention these few points: Avoid pearling by coming in at an angle. Always try to keep your balance towards the waves. It is much better to fall off on the outside than to fall on the inside where the kayak will run over top of you. Always brace on the outside. Just trying to brace on the beach side will surely spell disaster. Stay locked into those knee straps when you roll. The wave will pass you by quickly and you will still have your kayak there with you when it is all over. Get back aboard quickly, get pointed out to sea, and get it moving in preparation for the next wave.
When the going gets really rough, stay on that outside brace with ALL your weight out on the paddle and stay locked into the knee straps. You will soon be surprised at the size of the waves you can handle in a good sideways brace position.
A reader wrote:
Hi Mark, My name is Jeff... and I have been kayaking for a few years now here in San Diego. I began this sport in a beat-up, third party owned, Malibu Tandem. (I loved kayaking right away but could hardly find anybody to go with me on that thing!) Anyway after paddling for two seasons in it, I upgraded to a Cobra Explorer, mainly for diving and its superb stability. I am getting ready to purchase my next rig, a Dagger Cayman. (I plan on keeping both around for variance.)
What caught my eye was your "Pearl 1" article. What are the possibilities of putting some "action shots" of yourself in those particular situations you wrote about? I know what it feels like to endo but I was really hoping I could see a shot or two of you getting out of that situation. I'm usually by myself when I paddle in the surf and I need to see it the proper technique, in order to learn from it. Hope you can help. Thanks for a great article! Respectfully, Jeff
This was my response to Jeff:
Good morning Jeff, It has been my experience that the kayaks with the sharper bows dig in faster and are harder to steer off the perpendicular course that leads so quickly to a pearling situation. The spoon shaped bow of the Ocean Kayak models planes just a little longer allowing you to steer into a broached position.
It's really a matter of (pre) judgement. You eventually learn the approximate size of a wave that you can ride straight in on. Anything larger than that, you simply start turning your kayak sideways sooner on it. Also, depending on wave size, you will have to decide if you will still be able to actually surf in at an angle or go ahead and hard brace out on the outside and wash in completely sideways. Don't forget that your initial speed will have a large effect on your ability to surf in too.
For instance, on the Scrambler XT with little initial forward speed, you can surf straight in on a wave up to two feet (if you lean way back or paddle hard to stay out ahead of the slope). You can surf in at an angle on a wave up to four feet (depending on experience, wave shape, and paddling speed). Beyond that, you will be wanting knee straps and plan on coming in sideways on a hard outside brace. These are very general observations and your change from surfing in at an angle to coming in sideways on the hard brace will vary dramatically based on the conditions stated above. I have surfed in at an angle on seven foot waves on my XT, but the waves were perfect rollers that didn't peak too much, and I had a lot of good forward speed going.
The problem with getting pictures of all this is we are all having way too much fun out in the surf and there's noone left on the beach to snap the pics!
Thanks for writing! Any comments or observations are definitely welcome! -Mark