Kayaking the waves: Who needs a surfboard?
So far this season, we've surged down tumultuous river rapids in whitewater kayaks, plowed through crashing ocean waves in sea kayaks, and glided on serene lakes and ponds in touring boats.
We’ve explored remote, wilderness waterways and poked past busy, urban shores; raced feather-light, sleek vessels in heated competitions; and loaded bulky, beamy boats with camping gear for multi-day expeditions. We’ve paddled among eagles, moose, loons, as well as tankers, ferries, tall ships, fishing boats and schooners.
This left just one permutation to complete our paddling panoply: Surf kayaking.
“Just checked the forecast at Magicseaweed: Two-to-three-foot waves expected tomorrow at Misquamicut,” my son Tom announced one day last week. Magicseaweed.com reports surf conditions — and in many cases streams live cams — for virtually every beach in the world, from Teahupo'o in Tahiti to Weekapaug, Rhode Island.
The next day, we loaded our stubby, plastic whitewater boats onto the car and steered toward Westerly.
Our initial destination was Fenway Beach, a short, curved strip of sand just east of the Weekapaug Breachway, where I have ridden waves in the past. If you’re planning to hang 10 on a traditional surfboard or paddle waves in a kayak at Fenway, you must get there in the morning before lifeguards and swimmers arrive.
Unfortunately, by the time Tom and I rolled up, the window for surfing had closed.
“Let’s try Misquamicut,” I suggested.
So we drove a mile west, paid to park in the state beach parking lot, and walked across a dune to scout a possible launch site.
Uh-oh: wall-to-wall beach blankets.
Big, beautiful waves were rolling in — somewhat larger than the two-to-three-footers predicted — but throngs of swimmers were cavorting among them like porpoises. No room to safely maneuver an eight-foot, hard, plastic vessel in breaking surf.
Years ago, a section of this beach was designated exclusively for surfing, but now the entire stretch is for swimming only.
I asked a lifeguard if there were a spot away from the crowds where Tom and I could put our boats in the water, but received a predictable response.
“Not here on the state beach,” he said, adding, “You might try Paddy’s next door — that’s a private beach.”
We strolled a quarter mile to this popular beach club, not expecting to get permission, and sure enough were told no go.
Tom and I shuffled back to Misquamicut to discuss our options.
He suggested driving farther east, perhaps to Ninigret Park or Narragansett, a surfing Mecca, but I didn’t feel like getting back in the car right away.
“Hey, as long as we’re here, let’s do some body surfing,” I said.
We had a blast flinging ourselves headlong toward shore atop cresting waves. I was not all that disappointed — it was thrilling enough just to be in big surf.
After an hour or so, though, we were ready to move on.
“How about Watch Hill?” I asked.
Tom and I then drove five miles west along the Ocean View Highway, where I pulled to the side of the road while he dashed to the beach to check our prospects.
“Not great,” he reported a few minutes later. The waves were breaking too close to shore; plus, there was no good place to leave our kayaks while we parked about a mile away.
“OK, one last thought: Napatree,” I said.
Normally, waves are pretty mellow at Napatree Point just west of Watch Hill, but I thought that a few of the big swells that had been rolling in off the ocean all day might find their way to this sandy peninsula.
Tom and I miraculously found a free public parking place on the street of this upscale village, thus avoiding a $30 fee to park in a private lot. Things were looking up.
Next, we searched for a place to launch our kayaks.
What about the private Plimpton Dock, right next to the million-dollar yachts? Nope.
Watch Hill Yacht Club, whose entrance was guarded by college kids, in case you didn’t notice the “Members Only” sign at the gate? Not likely.
At high tide, there was no convenient spot simply to toss our boats over a sea wall and dive in after them, but we finally found a lower section of wall far enough away so as not to attract undue attention.
Ten minutes later, we were merrily paddling across Watch Hill Cove toward Napatree. After landing on the north side of the peninsula, we dragged our kayaks over a steep, sandy path leading to the ocean, and at last arrived at our destination.
Perfect! Lovely two-footers broke gently against the sandy shore — big enough for easy surfing, but not so overwhelming that you had to worry about concussions and dislocated shoulders.
For the next hour, Tom and I surfed like seals. A handful of rogue waves tossed us around a few times to keep things sporting.
I checked my watch: Time to paddle back to Watch Hill to avoid a $100 ticket for exceeding the two-hour parking limit.
“Well, it was a bit of a challenge to get here,” I said.
“It was worth it,” Tom replied.