Juan has many years of experience in the sea and is very well acquainted with big waves from the swells and the wind. Here, he's given some snippets of wisdom on how to launch and land when the conditions aren't so nice and flat....

When launching and landing in wavy conditions, there are different strategies we can use depending on our experience, skill level and the type of wave. In general, we can categorise the waves into two different kinds; wind waves with periods of between 5 and 9 seconds and swells with periods of more than 10 seconds. Let's start with wind waves-they have some pros and cons when compared with the swells. The pros: wind waves are less powerful and easier/faster to see and predict. The cons: the distance between them is shorter, which can make them more difficult to avoid.

Launching with wind waves

When launching with waves (either wind waves or swells) it's very important to read the sideways movement of the water as it comes up the beach and imagine that effect on our kayak. We want to ideally enter the water straight, fast and perpendicular to the shore and waves so we need to avoid the areas where there is sideways movement of water. If it can't be avoided, then point the kayak towards the direction the water is coming from, so you are perpendicular to the water movement. Then we have to be ready, close to the water with the spray deck closed and the paddle on the cockpit crossed perpendicular to the kayak. We can then go into the sea using our hands on the ground to move ourselves forward. Once we're ready, we will approach the water fast when a wave has gone and wait for the next wave to come in and lift us. When it does, paddle fast always perpendicular to the waves. Paddling fast will enable us to cross over the waves if they break into us. A metre high wave will easily be crossed over.

Landing with wind waves

When landing with wind waves, we have different options depending on our skill level and what we want to do. It is possible to either surf the waves or approach the shore avoiding the surf. If we want to surf the waves, we might not want to reach the beach or rocks fast, so if we have the appropriate skill level, we would do a sideways surf with a low or high brace for a slower contact with the shore. If we don't have the skill to do that or just want to avoid surfing, we need to keep checking behind us and paddle backwards every time a wave is going to crash into us (one option is actually to approach the shore backwards and paddle forward into the waves when they reach us). Then, to reach the beach and avoid being washed back into the sea, we paddle fast just behind a wave (not surfing it) and reach the shore just after it. In either case, when the shore is reached, normally it's important to get out of the kayak fast and be very careful to avoid being between the shore and the kayak or else the next wave could push the kayak into you.

When we have to deal with swells, there's a bit more to think about - timing is very important. The waves are more powerful and the distances between them are longer. Being very patient and studying the timing between sets with a watch is useful to see how long we have between the sets to launch/land and plan our action.

Launching with swells

When launching with swells, we will find that if the bottom is deep enough close to the shore we just have to worry about the first few metres, which makes everything easier. In this case, after studying the timing between sets and how many waves come in each set, we will wait for a set to come and then launch after the last wave, using the same technique to enter the water as for wind waves. If the bottom is not deep enough and the waves are breaking further out, we will need to launch between sets as before and approach the breaking area, positioning ourselves close enough to have time to pass this area between the next sets, but far enough away to be able to stay in the whitewater where the waves' power is reduced, while we're waiting to cross the breakers.

Landing with swells

For landing we should again think about timing, knowing how many waves are in each set and again being patient enough to properly study the swell is very important. Without proper experience of swells it's easy to get this wrong and many people end up in trouble in the swells because of this. As with launching, depending on the depth of the bottom and size of the waves, we will have the waves breaking either just on the shore or far from it. If they break just on the shore we need to be positioned close to the breaking point of the biggest waves (some sets are bigger than others, so some waves will break further away than others-make sure you know where the biggest waves are breaking!) and once the last wave of the set passes us, we will paddle just behind it trying to reach the beach just behind the wave (not surfing it) to reach further up the beach. If the waves are breaking far out, we will do the same-positioning ourselves close to the breaking point of the biggest waves and, once the last wave of the set passes us, we will paddle just behind it to approach the area where the waves are less powerful. We will then be caught by the first wave of the next set which, having already broken, is less powerful and we can surf it straight or sideways depending on how we want to reach the shore (faster or slower). Again, like the wind waves, we'll need to get out of the kayak quick and not stand between the shore and the kayak.

A note about spraydecks....

If the swells are breaking on the shore, make sure you have your spraydeck off in advance so that you're ready to exit the kayak fast. If they're breaking further out and you're going to be caught by the waves in the next set as described above, and think you might capsize and aren't comfortable rolling, then again get the spraydeck off so you can exit the kayak faster and easier if this happens. If you don't have the skills to high brace and surf then this is the best option. If, however, you're used to rolling and surfing, you should have it closed. In wind waves, the same applies-if you think you're at risk of a capsize during the landing, get the spraydeck off before you reach the shore.

These are just some tips for a very simplified scenario and every situation would require being studied before attempting to launch/land. I hope it is helpful for some people and, for those without experience in swells, hopefully it can provide some insight into how much more there is to think about than with wind waves!