Swellies Surf Guide – The Flood

A Swellies Surf Guide – Part 2: On The Flood

Though this guide is based on extensive Menai Straits paddling experience, we are still learning and to that end this guide is a work in-progress, it will continue to evolve. Check for updates – JW

The fast movement of water through the confines of the Swellies means we can find a number of waves here to surf. There are surfable waves on both the flood and the ebb. While you won’t find the world’s largest waves here, they range from 1ft to around 4ft at times, there is still enough variety and challenge to entertain.

All the waves have different characteristics, and while some work well for short boats (slalom boats and playboats) there is also plenty of sport to be had for longer boats. This guide is written with sea kayakers in mind.

The nature of the Swellies as a narrow tidal channel means that the flow rate and water depth are constantly changing. This in turn means that the waves are also evolving throughout; they will form, grow and wash out, rocks will cover, the power of the water will come and go and new waves will come ‘on-line’. Whatever wave you have, the one thing you can rely on is that it will change, and probably fairly soon.  If your wave is not there, hang around for a few minutes, it may form again… On the other hand, never squander a good wave – it’s only going to get smaller!

The waves on the flood tend to be longer lasting and a little more forgiving than those on the ebb. While waves form on both neaps and springs, there is much less surfing sport to be found on neap tides.

From the start to the end of your time on the water, conditions will vary greatly here, providing a wide opportunity for learning, challenge and fun. Enjoy!

Safety

All watersports carry an element of risk; this risk is magnified on moving water. Standing waves are formed as moving water is deflected by sub-surface obstacles, these obstacles are often close to the surface and are obvious  hazards.

The Swellies is an active sailing channel too, with craft of all shapes and sizes transiting – including regular high-speed ribs. Be aware and keep out of the way. Other hazards include: posts, buoys, moored craft, submerged and low-hanging trees, rocks (plenty of), fish traps etc.

It goes without saying that helmets and buoyancy aids should be worn. Carry the relevant safety kit, including  a method to raise the alarm.

Know your limits: we need to be frank and honest in our abilities and make sure we are safely capable of what we are attempting. Avoid paddling alone.

This guide provides nothing more than a few locations where you may find waves to try, and a few ideas on what to expect. IT IS NOT A SAFETY GUIDE TO PADDLING THE SWELLIES. It cannot cover all eventualities and does not aim to provide a detailed explanation.  Do your homework before paddling.

The Surge

The flow rates within the Swellies oscillate at a micro level within the tide cycle. That is, the speed of flow increases and decreases over a short, regular cycle (timed in minutes). This is apparent on both the flood and the ebb; the effects are significant on the flood, though barely noticeable on the ebb. This ‘surge’ affects the flood waves greatly, taking some waves from full height down to barely a ripple and then back again – over a matter of minutes. Not only is it an intriguing and impressive phenomenon, as paddlers we can also make use of it to allow us easier access onto some of the waves.

Terminology

N = North, S = South etc.

HW = High Water, LW = Low Water (referring to local unless stated)

LHS = Left Hand Side, RHS = Right Hand Side

LH/RH descriptions are given as if sitting on the wave i.e facing upstream.

‘Feeds’ – a sideways displacement along the wave.

Height figures give anticipated largest wave heights – these are approximate and will vary day-to-day.

Locations

BB= Brittania Bridge

GG=Gored Goch Island

 

The Swellies Surf Guide – On the Flood

1.      Brittania Rock

Location: Immediate upstream side of Brittania Bridge

Description: A very small wave forms on the Bangor corner of the upstream edge of Brittania Rock on the flood. Later there may be a mirror-image wave on the Anglesey corner also – however this is a little more rocky and less defined.

Brittania Bridge – more interesting than the wave

These waves are surfable at times, the Bangor one more so. However they are very small and not really worth the effort; I have included them here for no more than ‘to-complete-the-picture’ really. If you are paddling up from Menai Bridge, every wave you’ve paddled by is better. Save your energy.

Height: <1ft

Runs from: LW to mid-flood.

Good For: Both waves have an eddy.

Bad For:  Too small

I like… nothing really.

2.      Low Water Wave (aka Cheese(y) Wave)

Location: About 300m downstream of Brittania Bridge, in the Main (Bangor) Channel – towards  the upstream end of Cribbin Rocks.

Description: This wave is a little gem. A nice, green wave that doesn’t really dump or break.

Low Water Wave

It stretches out from the Bangor shore to about 2/3rd the way across the channel, to give a fast and smooth ride. However it is relatively rare; it only runs around LW and needs a decent spring tide. The bigger the tide the bigger the wave. On faster flows a useable second wave forms just behind.

At LW on the biggest tides the water moves fast here.

Height: 1-2ft+

Runs from: Close before LW to a little after. It washes out early, before mid-tide.

The view from Low Water Wave

Good For: An easy, fast surf.

Bad For: The eddy (on the Bangor shore) is small and scruffy.

I like…it for the 30 minute surf I’ve had there.

3.      Cribbin Rocks – West End

Location: Upstream end of the Cribbin Rocks reef.

Description: A small 1-1 ½ ft wave that forms as the water runs over the end of the reef. It is rocky early on but produces a surfable wave, extending parallel to the reef, a little later. As a short wavelength wave it perhaps surfs better in a slalom boat, but still works for a sea kayak.  A small stopper/white wave forms on  the RHS – it goes green as you move a little further out. There is plenty of space in the eddy below and to the side; however flow in the eddy can make positioning for the wave a little clumsy. While the boily confluence of flows below the wave can make for a slightly tricky spot at times.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft

Runs from: After LW to before mid-flood

Good For: Easy surf practice.

Bad For: The boily eddy line just below can make rolling tricky.

I like… it as a warm-up.

4.      Cribbin Rocks – Center Chute

Location:  Center section of Cribbin Rocks reef.

Description: A  small, narrow and steepish wave, formed as the water runs through a gap in the center section of the reef.

Center Chute Cribbin Rocks

Early tide it is rocky and confined, less than 2m wide. As the level rises and rocks cover, the wave widens and flattens out a little. Early on there is not really enough room for long-term sea kayak interest, but things get a little better late on. The early wave does give a gentle challenge for the slalom paddler working on bow control.

There is a roomy eddy below and to the LHS.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft

Runs from: Close after LW to mid-flood – forms and fades a little later than the Cribbin West wave.

Good For: Precision practice early tide.

Bad For: Limited appeal.

I like… it gives a variety of interest when linked with the other Cribbin waves.

5.      Cribbin Rocks – East End

Location: Downstream end of Cribbin Rocks reef.

Description: Another small wave that forms as the flow runs over a slight drop at the downstream end of the reef.

Cribbin East – late on

Mostly it is just over a boat length wide. Like the west wave it is green for much of its length but forms a small stopper on the RHS – this can give a gentle hold at certain levels. It is quite a short wavelength wave so sea kayaks may find their bow close to the barely-hidden, sub-surface rocks.

It works well in slalom boats, where it gives a good exercise in (short) upstream-blade crosses. However an upstream flip will be barnacle rocky.

Very late in the tide (on Springs) the rock pinnacle (on the RHS) finally covers to form a V and then a small, dumpy wave that surfs somewhat.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft

Runs from: After LW to mid-flood (late flood for the Pinnacle wave) – forms and fades a little later than the other Cribbin waves. Runs best when the other two Cribbin waves are washing out.

Cribbin East – short boat

Good For: A little more dynamic than the other Cribbin waves. A small but useful exercise in upstream-blade crosses.

Bad For: Bow rocky and a little ‘short’ at times.

I like… it for off-side surfs in the C1.

6.      Mini Wave

Location: Mid-channel, roughly half-way and slightly upstream of the line between Cribbin centre-gap and Horse Rock (Gored Goch).

Description: A small wave formed by a close sub-surface rock. Mini Wave is narrow with a slight reverse horseshoe to it, this feeds quite strongly on the outer edges. The wave also has a lazy dump to it, while the rock forms a scruffy eddy a couple of metres downstream that never quite meets up with the wave.

On neaps the whole affair is gentle, but surfable – though at times you wonder if it can really be bothered. It’s ok for a bimbly surf on a sunny day. On springs things become faster and a little more demanding, and now the dump can make things a little wet. It’s never a big, steady surf, though it’s worth a go for the practice.

It also makes a good aim point/mini-sanctuary for crosses between GG and Cribbin.

Height: 1ft-ish

Runs from: After LW to mid-tide or so, depending on neaps/springs. There’s only a wave once the rock is covered.

Good For: Gentle surf on neaps and a bit more of a technical challenge on springs.

Bad For: It never really gets going – don’t get too excited.

I like… it for a bit of technical practice.

7.      Horse Rock (aka Pour-over Wave or Slot-Rock)

Location: Just below the upstream end of Gored Goch island, on the Bangor side – about 30m upstream of the fish trap wall.

Description: A car sized rock, a few metres out from Gored Goch, is the cause of this wave.

Horse Rock – late stages

Early on the rock is dry. As depth and flow increase, the water splits and drops away from the upstream end of the island to flow over a 2-3ft drop early on. This forms small and narrow, offset waves that later join to form a broken horse-shoe wave. Later, as the level fills it becomes a smooth and gentle surf on neaps. While on springs a fast, lumpy and slightly broken wave forms. Faster, more dynamic surfing on bigger springs.

This wave is constantly changing throughout the flood, and can seem  inconsistent from day to day.

Height: 1-2ft+ on larger tides

Runs from: After LW to late tide, depending on neaps/springs.

Good For: OK surf at higher flows but can be hit and miss on getting the timing.

Bad For: Rocky and ill-defined at early stages. Can be dumpy and unhelpful later, on larger springs.

I like… it… somedays.

8.      Gored Goch Corner Wave

Location: Upstream end of Gored Goch on the Anglesey side.

Description: As the flow splits at the top of the island it finds itself pushed out and around a rocky section.

GG Corner Wave – note the fish trap vents

This forms a small drop as the water runs over an uneven ledge, creating a small, diagonal wave which runs roughly parallel to the main flow. The LHS of the wave is often white, turning to green as you move further out.

The wave is always slightly broken and staggered. It is a narrow wave that never takes you far from the rocks. The angle means that as you surf along the wave you are actually moving a little upstream too. Diagonally out and slightly upstream of the end of the wave is a small flat second wave that can be linked to, in order to climb the rapid.

Early on the wave is little more than a gradient with a ripple , later on the wave becomes more defined but the flow becomes faster too. The wave is always a little awkward and unhelpful; it never really makes for a relaxing surf but gives a technical challenge.

On springs it can be quite fast here and the wave is surfable it can be a little unhelpful. On neaps things are much more accommodating. Though it’s only a very small wave (<1ft) on neaps, there is a gentle surf just to the RH end of the wave.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft

Runs from: Through to after mid-flood.

Good For: Practicing an awkward surf on a broken, angled wave.

Bad For: Clumsy and awkward much of the time. If you go in upstream, then rocks, blade, body and bonce are likely to become closely acquainted.

I like… it as a way to climb around the top of the island.

NOTE: If you are climbing this section later in the tide be aware of the vents in the fish trap wall. These form a hazard even when covered – stay clear.

9.      Swelly Rock Wave

Location: On Swelly Rock, immediately to the N side of the Cardinal post.

Description: Along with the Swelly Wave (Main Channel Wave) this is the more popular and better surfing of the waves in the Swellies.

Swelly Rock Wave

It is usable on anything other than gentle neaps, giving a variety of conditions and different characteristics throughout the tide and the neap/spring cycle. Starting off as little more than a rocky pour-over, this wave progresses into a small steep wave, through a flat surfing stage, and later into a larger green wave, with a breaking shoulder.  On bigger tides, a holding hole will form on the LHS too.

The wave you get is very dependent on the strength of the tide and timing within that tide.

2’s up on a gentle wave

The main wave starts to become usable as the concrete plinth (foundation of the post) starts to cover. Before this a small, confused looking rapid may form. In the centre of this there is a flattish section that provides a nice and surprisingly smooth surf before the main wave comes into play. (Even earlier and you just have rocky trickle. Be patient and take in the view. The wave will come…)

Early stages and the rock causes a steep and narrow, dumpy lump a couple of metres out from the post. This always feeds quickly either way and needs constant input to stay on – it can be a bit of a pain. Later this lump forms the breaking part of the wave. Move another metre or so out and you will find smooth, green peace and quiet(ish).

9.7m tide

On the biggest tides the characteristics change somewhat; everything becomes louder, faster and more powerful. Early on there may be a significant pour-over that forms an intimidating and unpleasant hole. Avoid.

Later this will wash through as a surfable wave comes on line , to give the larger wave of the Swellies. It breaks on the LHS and goes green as you move further out – with a good shoulder between.

It’s a good wave for slalom boats too

Late in the tide, especially on springs, it can become a challenge to get onto the wave, as the eddy washes out – it becomes smaller and much boilier at the top end. Wait and watch the wave for the fade. When the noise level starts  to increase this is an indication that the wave is about to reform – paddle out to where the wave is going to be – about 3m out from the post. Hold position precisely there and wait for the wave to build beneath you. Now surf. Sneaky.

Stay high up the eddy – daydream and you will find you have a long, tedious paddle back up – missing surf opportunities on the way.

On springs the wave will eventually start to wash-out. As the wave fades, a V-wave starts to form off the Cardinal post – treat as per surfing ‘The Cardinal  – On the Ebb ‘.

10-15m from the end of the wave and slightly upstream is an extended wave at times. This is small and flatter but surfable – if you can link the two. A good exercise.

A second wave forms behind the main wave too. On the biggest tides it is fast, smooth and full of air – a nice surf. On smaller tides it is surfable but becomes a little steep and short. You should be making the most of the top wave anyway…

A good W/SW wind pushing behind a large spring tide makes for impressive flow here. Though on the whole I think the best surfs may be on just below-biggest springs.

Swelly Rock Surf

Height: 1-3ft+ Maybe just about 4ft now and then.

Runs from: Usable from an hour or two after LW; best surfing comes online once the Cardinal ‘plinth’ starts to cover.

Good For: A nice variety of year-round surf.

Bad For: Eddy gets small late on. You may be close to the post at certain parts of the tide – See Below:

I like… it as an old friend .

NOTE:  PIN HAZARD – AVOID APPROACHING FROM ABOVE.  DO NOT allow your bow to move above the post at any time.  Danger – Stay below.

While this is a regular surf spot, there is a significant chance of pinning/entrapment at times if even part of your boat is upstream of the post – with a likely fatal outcome. The wave can always be gained from below – there is no need to drop down onto the wave. Be aware that later on the wave moves level with the post. 

Swelly Surf 10

A surf of the Swelly Rock on a 10.0m tide (previously published as 'Swelly Surf' – this version added for inclusion in the Swelly Surf guide).

Posted by Performance Sea Kayak on Wednesday, 9 January 2019

 

10.      Swelly Wave (aka Main Channel Wave)

Location: In the main channel downstream (Bangor side) of Swelly Rock.

Description: The classic Swelly Wave.

A green Swelly Wave

This wave forms on the Anglesey side of the main channel from close before LW. The wave sits on the edge of the large eddy and stretches out to mid-channel – gently fading as it does. At LW you can see the rock that forms the wave beneath your bow. On neaps it is a gentle, fairly flat green wave. As the flow increases the wave gets steeper and larger and will start to break on the RHS (Anglesey side). This forms enough of a hole to give regular sport to the playboats and can provide a challenge for the sea kayaker crossing back to the eddy.

For a sea kayak it is a fast and steep, dynamic surf on the RHS – tapering into a decreasing, and less strenuous, green wave as you move further out.

Immediately behind the wave in mid-channel there forms a powerful, dumpy boil which can be awkward and a little intimidating on bigger tides. This is passable either side however.

As the wave becomes larger the RHS becomes an active surf, needing constant input and trim; while out in the middle, it is always smooth and relaxed – though just above the boil.

On the faster flow of the large springs, the channel forms a rapid from the below the Cardinal down. A variety of smallish surfable waves form, though the Swelly Wave is always the largest. A rock just above the waterline on the Bangor shore gives a useful reference point for the main wave, if you are not sure which is the one.

In a sea kayak the eddies on the Bangor shore are a viable option also.

This wave washes out before the Swelly Rock wave comes online. If you are prepared to wait for a little while you can do both in one session.

A not-so-green Swelly Wave

Height: 1-3ft+ (4ft now and then)

Runs from: On the flood from close before LW. Washes out before early mid-tide.

Good For: A smooth fast surf and more dynamic moves in a short boat.

Bad For: The boily dump below. It can also get busy in the summer months.

I like… it for a summer’s night social.

NOTE: Be aware that at LW this channel is the only viable option for craft to transit the Swellies. Sat in the trough of the wave you are barely visible from downstream and fast craft do transit through. Keep an eye out, and if you are still there at dusk or dark you should be showing a light.

11.  Platters Cushion

Location: In the channel between Swelly Rock and Ynys Benlas. On the immediate upstream of the hidden North Platters; roughly level with the downstream end of Ynys Benlas.

Description: An almost completely flat cushion, hovering immediately above the small drop onto the platters. Each side of the cushion drops away and feeds quickly outwards. However it is surfable if you position centrally and accurately. This requires precision paddling and good awareness to hold position – a useful training exercise. Don’t drop over onto the platters early on  though, you may scratch something.

Height: <1ft

Runs from: On the flood close after LW. Similar timings to Swelly Wave. Requires Spring tides.

Good For: A challenging test of precision, awareness and micro-transits.

Bad For: Like all cushions, placed in an awkward, potentially damaging position.

I like… it for a precision test.

12.  Platters Wave

Location: In the channel between Swelly Rock and Ynys Benlas. On the Bangor end of the drop caused by the hidden North Platters; immediate below on the Bangor side of the Platters Cushion.

Description: As the water falls away from the cushion, there is a small green , slightly curved wave on the Bangor side of the feature, caused by the drop. This is a fast, smooth though small wave, but it needs a little planning to get there. There is no eddy here: you need to ferry from the Benlas eddy, going above (and around the end of) the cushion, or alternatively you can come from the large eddy below Swelly Rock. It is a relatively easy surf once you are on, but unforgiving if concentration slips – you’ve got to go around again!

A gentle Platters Wave – Boily Wave is in the background

Close after LW on bigger springs it forms into a slightly staggered wave across much of the width of the cushion Get it right and this can be used to feed onto Boily Wave – a bit of a challenge but do-able.

The Platters Wave can come and go a bit during the tide.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft

Runs from: On the flood close after LW. Similar timings to Boily Wave. Requires Larger Spring tides.

Good For: Paddling with a little thought and good awareness.

Bad For: It’s a long way around to go again…

I like… it for a making you think and pay attention…

13.  Boily Wave Rapid

Location: In the channel between Swelly Rock and Ynys Benlas, upstream of Boily Wave (see below).

Description: A set of 2 or 3 small 2ft waves that run across the channel, in a slightly staggered manner. Positioned out from Ynys Benlas towards the upstream edge of the N. Platters. They run on the flood around LW but don’t last long. A big spring is needed to make anything that is reliably surfable and it demands decent ferry glide skills to make the required precision crossing across fast flow.

Use the eddy close on the S side of Ynys Benlas to gain height, and then it’s a fast ferry glide to catch the top wave. Take what comes after that.

Don’t miss, it’s a longish slog to go around for a second go.

Height: 1-2 ft

Runs from: On the flood close after LW. Requires Spring tides.

Good For: To make you think a little.

Bad For: Comes and goes quickly, can be a little hit and miss.

I like… it for the challenge of getting across and then on.

14.  Boily Wave

Location: In the channel between Swelly Rock and Ynys Benlas, slightly downstream of Ynys Benlas.

Description: A fairly narrow, steep wave with a slight horseshoe formed in a hollow. It sits well out in the flow.

Boily Wave

 

This is a fast, dynamic wave that needs pretty much constant inputs. At lower levels it is a fairly steady surf but the narrow width and water speed means any mistakes usually involve a trip back to the eddy. As the flow rate increases, the wave lifts, steepens and increases in speed. Constant inputs become the norm.

Boily Wave tank-slapper

Chains of vigorous boils drop down through the wave at times, providing sport and demanding quick reactions. At highest flows there is a wave just behind, though this is narrow and comes and goes a little.

The slight horseshoe nature of boily wave means that it feeds unforgivingly on both edges.

This wave almost feels alive. As the surge starts to come through it seems to throw more and more at you in order to kick you off – laughing at you as you go!

Boily Wave Sunset

Height: 1-2ft+ (maybe 3ft at times)

Runs from: On the flood from LW to early mid-tide, better on larger springs.

Good For: A challenging test of precision, handling and reactions.

Bad For: It always wins.

I like… it for an ‘it-won’t-be-long-until-you-lose’ challenge.

Boily Wave Surf

If you didn't get your paddling fix today, here's a little snapshot to keep you going. A little like watching the video of a log fire I guess?

Posted by Performance Sea Kayak on Wednesday, 12 September 2018

 

15.  Snowdonia Rapid (aka Benlas Rocks)

Location: N side of the Swellies, between Ynys Welltog and Ynys Benlas.

Description: A rocky reef that joins the small island of Ynys Benlas with the larger Ynys Welltog.

Snowdonia Rapid

The reef is dry at LW but then covers to give a small rapid with a collection of channels and small waves that vary throughout the tide.

Arrive too early and it is just a rocky trickle, but as the tide lifts a small wave forms on the Bangor side. This varies constantly with the tide: it can be shallow early on, forms a white wave at times and later into a small green wave. It is an ok surf, but can be a bit clumsy due to the flow angle which is squeezed around the island. You can find yourself trying to hold the boat while bow and stern are in different flows sometime. At low-level there are paddle breaking rocks in here.

Further across, towards the centre of the rapid, a small, slightly broken 1-1 ½ ft wave forms as the narrow centre gaps wash out.

Nothing much happens on the Anglesey side, though a couple of eddies means that this channel can be used to climb back up the rapid fairly easily.

Snowdonia Rapid is a useful spot for practicing various white-water skills, but it is soon outgrown if you are looking to surf.

Note: Going into the last 1/3rd of a large spring tide you may find the surge can stack up a fast 2ft+ wave across from the LHS to the centre of the rapid,  this is quite rare however and depends on wind and barometric pressure.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft generally

Runs from: On the flood after LW – washes out towards mid-flood.

Good For: Easy WW skills – ferry glides, small surfs, climbs, crosses etc.

Bad For: Rocky and you can quickly ‘out grow’ things.

I like… it for a good moving-water training venue.

Swellies Surf Guide – The Ebb

A Swellies Surf Guide – Part 1: On The Ebb

Though this guide is based on extensive Menai Straits paddling experience, we are still learning and to that end this guide is a work in-progress, it will continue to evolve. Check for updates – JW

There are numerous waves in the Swellies, some to be surfed on the flood, others on the ebb. While none of them are the largest of waves, they range from 1ft to around 4ft on a big tide, there is enough variety and challenge to entertain most people.  On the whole the Ebb waves are narrower and less forgiving than the Flood waves, however there is still plenty of sport to be had!

Whilst some of the waves work well (or better) for short boats (slalom boats and playboats) this guide is written with sea kayakers in mind.

The nature of the Swellies as a narrow tidal channel means that the flow rate and water depth are constantly changing. This in turn means that the waves are also changing throughout; they will grow and wash out, rocks will appear or become covered, the power of the water will literally flow and ebb. Whatever wave you have, the one thing you can rely on is that it will change, and probably fairly soon.  If your wave is not there, hang around for a few minutes, it may form again… On the other hand, never squander a good wave! It’s only going to get smaller.

Even with extensive paddling hours on the Menai Straits, we still are discovering new things. This guide will be updated as-and-when to reflect that.

From the start, to the end, of your time on the water, conditions will vary greatly here, providing a wide opportunity for learning, challenge and fun. Enjoy!

Note: If you are launching at Menai Bridge, the gravel trailer park by the slipway floods at High Water from mid-springs up. Beware!

 

On The Ebb

A variety of Swellies Taran surfing on the ebb – Cardinal, Blue Moon Wave, Brittania Bridge Wave and a few Arches climbs to finish off.

Posted by Performance Sea Kayak on Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Safety

All watersports carry an element of risk; this risk is magnified on moving water. Standing waves are formed as moving water is deflected by sub-surface obstacles, these obstacles are often close to the surface and are obvious  hazards.

The Swellies is an active sailing channel, with craft of all shapes and sizes transiting – including regular high-speed ribs. Be aware and keep out of the way. Other hazards include: posts, buoys, moored craft, submerged and low-hanging trees, rocks (plenty of), fish traps etc.

It goes without saying that helmets and buoyancy aids should be worn.

Know your limits: we need to be frank and honest in our abilities and make sure we are safely capable of what we are attempting.

Avoid paddling alone. Carry the relevant safety kit, including  a method to raise the alarm.

This guide provides nothing more than a few locations where you may find waves to try, and a few ideas on what to expect. IT IS NOT A SAFETY GUIDE TO PADDLING THE SWELLIES. It cannot cover all eventualities and does not aim to provide a detailed explanation.  Do your homework before paddling.

Terminology

N = North, S = South etc.

HW = High Water, LW = Low Water (referring to local unless stated)

LHS = Left Hand Side, RHS = Right Hand Side

LH/RH descriptions are given as if sitting on the wave i.e facing upstream.

‘Feeds’ = a sideways displacement along the wave.

Height figures give anticipated largest wave heights – but will vary.

Locations

BB= Brittania Bridge

GG=Gored Goch Island

 

Swellies Surf Guide Chart – On The Ebb

1.      The Perch (aka Half Tide Rock)

Location: 150m S of Menai Bridge slipway

Description: A large green wooden post with a cone on the top.

The Perch

At lower flow rates there will be a small 1 boat eddy below the post; as the flow rate increases a small, white V-wave forms off the post. Each side can be surfed, though the RHS is a little easier – with enough room (just) to fit one boat on each side of the V. The eddy below post can hold only one boat, directly below the post. There is an easy eddy directly across on the Anglesey shore for respite. Try not to knock the post down.

Height: 1ft

Flows from: Close before HW to mid/late-ebb

Good For: Intro surfing practice. This is an easy surf, requiring a little precision but not much more.

Approach only from the side or below

Bad For: Paddling very close to a significant obstacle. (See Note below.)

I like… it for a gentle warm-up surf.

NOTE:  KEEP WELL CLEAR WHEN UPSTREAM OF THE POST.  DO NOT allow your bow to drift above the post at any time.

While this is a regular and straightforward surf when below the post, there is a significant chance of pinning/entrapment if even part of your boat is upstream of the post – with a likely fatal outcome. Danger – Stay below.

2.      The Arches Cushion

Location: Immediately above the stone pillar between Arch 2 and 3 (counted from Anglesey shore) of Suspension Bridge.

Description: ADVANCED: A very small and flat cushion that is formed by the pillar between Arch 2 and 3.

Forms on the ebb close before HW and fades later as flow rate drops. This is a very small cushion, very close to the stonework. It has a disarming tendency to feed into Arch 3. As the level drops the gap into the arch becomes increasingly narrow and rocky. This is advanced paddling – get it wrong and it’s rather dodgy. (There is also a slightly smaller cushion between Arch 1 and 2.)

Height: <1 ft

Flows from: Close before HW to mid-ebb. Becomes increasingly difficult and dodgy as flow and depth drop off.

Good For: Advanced precision work and micro-transits.

Bad For: Very close to stonework. Significant pin hazard on corner of pillar. Danger.

I like… it for focusing the mind.

3.      Main Arch Wave (aka High Tide Hole, Suspension Bridge Wave)

Location: Upstream corner of the suspension bridge island (Pig Island) on the Bangor side.

Description: A 1-2 ft diagonal wave immediately to side of bridge pillar.  A short and somewhat awkward surf, that feeds outwards. At higher flow rates a usable, and smoother,  second wave forms. On large Springs, the top wave may form a white , holding hole, sometimes used by playboats.

There is an easy, though constantly moving eddy to LHS. However, the boily eddy line can be challenging at higher flow rates.

Height: 1 – 2 ft

High Tide Hole

Flows from: Close before HW to mid-ebb

Good For: Tricky wave practice. Needs constant and active input to stay on this wave.

Bad For: Eddy line can make rolling tricky.

I like… it if I’m in the mood.

4.      The Cardinal (aka The Post/ Cardinal Marker etc)

The Cardinal

Location: Swelly Rock

Description: A large black and yellow S Cardinal Marker post midway between the Bridges. A white V-wave forms off this post. Low flow rates, early in the tide, give a one-boat eddy behind the post, and as the flow rate (quickly) increases this starts to form a V-wave. It is an easier surf on the RHS. Feeds both in and out.

At higher flow rates this will form a very fast and demanding white V-wave. Quite chunky on the fastest flows.

A second, perpendicular, square wave forms immediately below the V, this gives a fast but easy surf if placed centrally. Feeds on both edges.

Height: 2ft on faster flows.

Incoming! – The 2nd Wave (from the 3rd)
Image: Norbert Ziobr

Flows from: Close before HW to late-ebb for V wave. 2nd wave starts later and fades earlier.

Good For: Everything from an easy surf, to a demanding, fast challenge.

Bad For: Paddling very close to a significant obstacle.

I like… the fact that it surfs easier with a little upstream lean.

NOTE:  KEEP WELL CLEAR WHEN UPSTREAM OF THE POST.  DO NOT allow your bow to drift above the post at any time.

While this is a regular surf, there is a significant chance of pinning/entrapment if even part of your boat is upstream of the post – with a likely fatal outcome. Danger – Stay below.

5.      Gored Goch Corner Rapid

Corner Rapid at low to medium level

Location: Upstream corner of Gored Goch Island on Anglesey (N) side.

Description: A small rapid that forms as flow rate picks up on ebb. Has a number of small waves depending on flow rate. At lower flows gives a small and fairly easy wave. As rate increases the wave grows and another one or two waves come online. Can be ‘surgy’ at higher levels and top wave has an increasing tendency to feed outwards as flow rate picks up. There is a good eddy below on the GG island side.

Height: 2ft+ on biggest tides

Flows from: Close before HW to late-ebb.

Good For: Gives a mix of options over a wide range of tide flows, but often a bit unhelpful.

Bad For: Feeding.

I like… it best on big tides when there is a fast green wave. Remainder of the time it’s usually a bit clumsy.

NOTE: At the top of the rapid there is a small, scruffy perch. This marks the upstream end of the fish-trap wall. Stay to the N of the post. Do not paddle between the post and the cottage, this is the entrance to the fish-trap!

6.      Gored Goch Fish Trap Wall

Location: A submerged wall running roughly parallel to the S side of GG island.

Description: This rocky submerged wall provides a small drop that forms a length of small, faulty waves and gaps below the wall. On the whole the flow runs over the wall at an angle, making much of the waves an awkward surf.  On lower tides things the rocks are barely submerged early on.  Later on there is a confused and feeding series of waves that don’t really live up to initial promise.

There may be a surfable wave around halfway down, though the confluence of the angled flows tends to make things somewhat awkward on the whole.

At HW the first wave to come online is at the downstream end of the wall. Initially this forms as a small L-shaped hollow that is an easy surf – ‘Dumpy’. As the flow rate increases it widens and smooths as it grows faster. Before long it steepens and  starts to dump, hence the name This  wave provides a fast and somewhat dynamic surf – but as it grows it becomes boisterous and unhelpful. Late in the flood, as the level drops, it smoothes and then becomes short and steep as the rock nears the surface. It is the first to form and last to fade here.

After HW there is small wave that forms immediately on the upstream (RH) end of Dumpy. This makes for an interesting diagonal surf. Get it right and you can sit here nicely, get it wrong and you faff around for ages not getting anywhere. It works well on smaller spring/larger neaps. On bigger springs it is a fun, rewarding surf, though it can be awkward to get out-and-on-to when things are flowing fast.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft — 2ft for ‘Dumpy’ on bigger tides

Dumpy

Flows from: Close before HW to late.

Good For: Practising linking of crosses and climbs, but not the best surf spot on the whole.

Bad For: High risk of colliding with barely submerged rocks at early/late stages. Avoid dropping over wall.

I like… Dumpy, but not too bothered by the wall.

7.      Gored Goch Fish Trap Wave

.
Fish Trap Wave

Location: The gap between the Fish Trap Wall and GG at the downstream end.

Description: An easy, square, fairly flat wave that just about spans the gap; though at most levels the wave is only a realistic surf far on the RH end. Go too far right and you will feed into a deeper and steeper L-shaped dumping wave – ‘Dumpy’ – (see Description 7 above.) Slacker water lies downstream with a large and easy eddy on the GG side. This is an easy surf at mid-level, faster flow brings a faster surf, still easy but watch it try to feed you disarmingly slowly (but steadily) into ‘Dumpy’. At highest levels it all starts to smooth out nicely into one fast, but gentle, horseshoe wave.

Fish Trap Wave

A Taran surf on the Gored Goch Fish Trap wave, at higher level.

Posted by Performance Sea Kayak on Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Beware as water levels drop to low-level: rocks and underwater obstructions come into play. At lowest levels there is a significant obstacle under GG side of channel – the remains of The Fish Trap.  Submergence of blade, boat or bonce (inadvertently) in the wrong place may not end well.

Height: 1-1 ½ ft max (2 ft on dumpy wave)

Flows from: Throughout the ebb. Gentle in later stages.

Fish Trap posts at LW

Good For: Pick your timings and you can have either an easy fast surf or a more gentle, slower version.

Bad For: Rocks and obstacles at lower levels.

I like… it for an easy surf to wind down.

8.      Lone Wave

Lone Wave

Location: Mid-channel about 100m S of Fish Trap eddy.

Description: A small, gently dumping wave sat on it’s own out in mid-channel. Formed by the upstream pillar on Cribbin Rocks. It is an easy surf with an easy drop-in,  though it is a bit of a one-shot, mid-flow surf with no eddy. Nearest one is back to GG or the Bangor shore.

Height: 1 ½ft max

Flows from: Close to HW onward, washes out late-tide, depending on springs/neaps. Not much to see on neaps though.

Good For: An easy drop in with a smooth, gentle surf, that has just enough surf, dump and feed to stop you dozing off.

Bad For: Not much.

I like… it for chilling and letting life go by.

9.      Winch Rapid (aka BB Corner Rapid)

The non-too-exciting view up Winch Rapid

Location: On SE corner of small island on Anglesey shore – directly E of GG.

Description: A small rapid caused as the flow falls around the corner of the small tree covered island.  This diagonal wave is very dependent on flow levels. For much of the time it is a wet surf that feeds and is generally a little grumpy, however at higher flows it can be a nice smooth, fast surf – though it can change quickly.  It is surfable but can be frustrating. There is a good eddy immediately below to allow you to sneak up and take it unawares.

Flows from: On the ebb. Higher the flow the better.

Good For: A challenge.

Bad For: everything else.

I like… it for practising challenging climbs.

10.  Brittania Bridge Wave

Location: On SE corner (upstream edge) of  Brittania Rock – the small foundation island that Brittania Bridge is built upon.

Description: ADVANCED: A 2-3ft drop forms off the upstream edge of the rocks and this forms a number of waves. If the rock is covered then the top wave surfs fine. If the rock is showing then it looks surfable but really only delivers on larger flows – too fast and too flat otherwise. The second wave is then the better option and gives a fast though challenging surf, requiring quick reactions and constant inputs. The sweet spot is very narrow – either side of this and it feeds greatly. Sit a little far out or right in the white stuff (more accommodating than it looks) otherwise it will be a constant and losing battle.

BB Wave – upstream view
BB Wave – downstream view – not too far from the stonework
A gentle BB Wave

Here you are a couple of boat lengths or so directly above the stonework where the flow leads too and where a rather nasty, boily cushion can form. A capsize or a low drop-off here could lead to a significant pin situation on the corner.

Eddy to the LHS of the wave is variable, depending on the flow. Not always an easy sanctuary.

Flows from: On the ebb close before HW to mid-ebb. Requires Spring tides.

Good For: A challenging test of precision, reactions and transit holds.

Bad For: Dodgily placed above the bridge stonework. Danger.

I like… it for a ‘how-long-before-you-lose?’ challenge.

11.  The Blue Moon Wave

Blue Moon Wave – a rare sight

Location: Hidden at the top of the back channel between the second of the Brittania Bridge islands and the Anglesey shore.

Description: This a pretty rare wave, only seen at HW on the largest of the Spring tides. Eddies on both sides of the wave, but as this area is dry 99% of the time, it is going to be shallow. The wave is probably half a boat width wide and not the world’s best surf, but worth a go for the novelty value if nothing else.  Watch out for submerged posts in the pool above the wave.

Height: 1 ½ ft max

Flows from: Ebb close around HW. Requires largest of Spring tides.

Good For: A change.

Bad For: Frequent surf practice.

I like… the novelty of paddling around the back of the island.

 

John Willacy Nov 2018

Wings – Can They Make You Fly?

By John Willacy


A question that is often asked on the edge of the Performance sea paddling world is – should I paddle wings? Closely followed by – so which wings should I buy?

For me, the first was a question I asked when I was preparing for an attempt on the Anglesey Circumnavigation record, back in 2005. I had been paddling wings for about 15 years at that point but I was still unsure whether they would provide a useful advantage in the specific world of sea paddling. I asked around to see if I could find an answer. Figures were banded about, 2%, 10% even 15% faster. I heard plenty of opinions, though I realised that none were backed up by any reliable figures.

So in the end I headed up to the lake with my sea kayak and a car full of blades – flats and wings.

I set an out-and-back course on the lake, and using a heart rate monitor to paddle at a constant pace, I measured the time taken to paddle the course, repeating runs with different paddles. This wasn’t a great scientific experiment, it was just little old me with a pile of paddles. However as the test was repeated a number of times, averaging out various factors, it did come up with a result.

For me, there was a measurable and reproducible difference between flats and wings. I measured a time advantage of between 4 and 6 % in favour of the wings, not huge but significant.

So if we lay down the cash and buy a set will they change our world? Not exactly, but they might help. Let us look in a little more of detail.

The difference

A flat paddle blade (‘flats’ – sometimes known as European style) is what most of us would know as a standard kayak paddle. The front and rear face of the blade is relatively flat, often with a central reinforcing rib running the length of the rear face. The blade face may be slightly curved both in cross section and longitudinally but not greatly so.

Flats

The difference with the wing blade is immediately obvious; the blade face is deeply curved in cross section with a concave drive face and a matching convex rear. There is a pronounced overhanging lip along the upper edge and no obvious reinforcing rib along the rear face. The blade looks a little like a stretched spoon.

The wing paddle evolved from the competitive desire for efficiency and advantage. The wing paddle was first developed by Stefan Lindeberg in Sweden, with the Swedish national team starting to use the paddle in the mid 1980’s.  It quickly caught on across the racing world and is now de rigueur in both the flat and wild-water kayak racing disciplines.

Wings derive increased forward efficiency by reducing slippage of the paddle through the water  and also by allowing the paddler to generate drive better from their torso rotation, so bringing larger muscle groups into play. When a flat paddle is combined with pronounced torso rotation the paddle blade starts to slip sideways through the water, losing forward drive.

Wings

How do they work? A little more detail…

You may hear stories of how wing paddles generate ‘lift’ or you may even hear that they move forward  during the stroke. Grab a handful of the old sodium chloride at this point. Wings tend to give an advantage for a couple of reasons, simple reasons:

  1.  Wings ‘grip’ the water better than flats. The lip on the upper edge of the blade, combined with the convex cross-section of the blade, helps prevent slippage of water across the blade and over the upper edge – this removes blade flutter, and so energy losses during the stroke.  If you are a regular wing paddler and switch back to flats, blade flutter is probably the first thing you notice. You miss the way the wing blade ‘locks’ into the water. The lip and cross-sectional shape also minimise ‘slip’ of the blade through the water, further lowering losses.The blades ‘lock’ into the water rather than slipping through it.
  2.  A good wing paddling stroke will encourage the paddler to use torso rotation, and hence larger muscle groups during the stroke. This in turn will give more power and less fatigue. This is arguably less of a gain and more of a stroke efficiency improvement. Either way you look at it though, it still gives a (slight) advantage.

The Stroke

An effective wing paddling stroke is a little different from a flat-blade stroke. It’s not difficult, just a little different. Wing paddles tend to guide the movement of the blade through the water themselves. They also tend to move away from the boat as the stroke develops, though this varies from one blade design to another.  This movement is partly what encourages the torso rotation and in turn the use of larger muscle groups as mentioned above. That said, the modern wing stroke (and modern blade design) has now evolved to move much closer and more parallel to the edge of the boat. We don’t need to get too stressed about that however.

You do need to have a reasonable paddling stroke to get the most from the wings, it doesn’t have to be perfect but it does need a little time to nurture.

The Ups and Downs

So let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using wing paddles over flat paddles.  If we look at the modern racing world we see that virtually the entire field are using wing paddles, so they must be’ better’ surely? Well, as is often the case, there is a little more to it than meets the eye.

Advantages

Going back to that advantage figure again of between a 4-6% advantage (let’s call it 5% say). So if you are out for a 1 hour paddle with your buddies, paddling wings will get you home around 3 minutes earlier – everything else being equal. That’s all, 3 minutes – not exactly something to write home about.

But then if you are out for a 10 hour record attempt, then those same wings may get you to the finish line 30 minutes earlier – now that is a bit more useful.

Paddlers also grow to like the way the paddles grip the water. In a fast-sea kayak, flat-blades may feel ‘under-geared’.

Disadvantages

From the sea paddler’s point of view there are two main disadvantages:

As we heard wings are good for forward paddling strokes, after all that is what they are designed for, what they are optimised for.

However they are less effective than flat-blades at steering strokes, such as sweep strokes, stern-rudders etc. They are also pretty poor at slicing strokes – sculling-draw and bow-rudders for example. Rolling is less effective with wings too, as is reverse paddling.

You could probably sum it all up by saying that wings give an advantage to forward paddling strokes, but a disadvantage to pretty much everything else.

Wings are also different in rough water. Those less effective turning strokes can become significant here, and the fact that support strokes can become a little trickier isn’t exactly a positive characteristic. Wings don’t take too well to allowing the blades to sink below the surface, getting them back out again can be awkward.  None of these factors is a great problem in it’s own right, but you need to be aware of them, they can catch out the unwary. If your life revolves around ‘gnarly’ days in big water, lots of falling in or surfing, then life is going to be more comfortable with flats on the whole.

Wings also need a high paddling style; they do not work well with a low style. So if you drop to a very low style on a windy day, they may not give you too much help.

What few mention also, is the fact that for wings to be effective then you need to paddle at a certain pace. That does not mean that you always need to go at hairy-bears race pace, but you do need to keep the boat ticking along smoothly to gain that advantage. If you are out for a gentle bimble, chatting and taking life easy, then the wings are probably less efficient than a good set of flats. If this is your sort of paddling, then well, save your money.

That grip that is characteristic of the wings can become a downside when paddling a sea kayak into a stiff headwind too. The blades can feel as if they have been set in concrete, or suddenly doubled in size; after a while it can become tiring.

Switching

How hard is it to switch between wings and flats? Well, with a bit of practice it really isn’t. A paddler with frequent experience of paddling both sorts of paddles should be able to switch between them and be paddling along happily within a minute or two.

Wing Blade Characteristics

Blade Shape –
Parallel

Basically this can be broken down into ‘parallel’ or ‘tear-drop’ type designs. Parallels may also be known as Rasmussen, while the Tear-Drop may also be known as Burton or Gamma. These terms basically refer to the way the upper and lower edge relate to each other. The parallel blades tend to be the older style of designs, while the tear-drops tend to be viewed as more recent designs, and more performance based. Both styles of designs are quite happily paddled on the sea and moving water; from the sea paddlers point of view the following factors tend to have a more significant effect on blade handling than the outright shape.

Tear-drop
Layback –

This is the angle that the blade ‘lays back’ from the shaft – i.e. the blade is not a direct extension (or parallel) to an extended centre-line of the shaft. It is actually angled forward, away from the hands, so the tip of the blade lies ahead of the shaft centreline. Larger angles of layback tend to be found on flat water racing wings with an aim to give a better/cleaner entry and increased power transfer. From a sea paddling point of view, layback can make the paddles more unpredictable on moving water, and more awkward for stern-rudder surfing.

More Layback
Less Layback
Twist –

A rotation along the length of the blade, so it is twisted a little like an aircraft propeller blade or a screw thread. Again the aim is to improve performance and power transfer during the stroke. Twist is less of a problem than layback on the rough stuff, but differing amounts of twist can make designs handle very differently from one another. An example of this is seen once again on the stern rudder where twist can give the blade hydro-dynamic lift, i.e. it may rise vertically out of the water when surfing – it can get tiring to always have to push it back down into the water. Some levels of twist can also make a blade more difficult to return to the surface when it has sunk below the surface.

Twist
Twist Compared
Lip –

The lip along the top edge of the blade tends to give the blade ‘grip’ in the water (along with pure blade size of course) – more lip makes the blade ‘solid’ in the water, less lip allows a little slip. Too much lip (and hence too much grip) is not a good thing. With a heavy sea kayak, into a strong headwind, too much grip can become uncomfortable – it becomes tiring as the stroke rate drops and places an increased strain on the joints.

Lip on the upper edge
Tips –

If your wings become damaged at the tips it makes a big difference to how they enter the water and how much splash they make, so a metal tip can be a good idea. Some alloy/aluminium tips take the knocks well, but some also corrode badly in the salt environment, eventually causing delamination and ruining the blades. A stainless steel tip is expensive and a little heavier, but will make your blades last much longer. There are no corrosion problems with Composite tips either, but they do wear and if you hit rocks on a regular basis they are not going to last just as long as the metal ones.

Blade Choice

Blade choice for wings can become a difficult, time-consuming and possibly expensive affair. The wide variety of wing designs makes a much greater difference to the paddling experience than is the case with differing flat blade designs.Finding the right blade for you can be difficult.

General selection pointers

A blade that has been designed specifically for Wild Water Racing or Surf Ski Racing is usually a good starting point as it usually has quite friendly/average handling characteristics. Some people paddle successfully with flat-water racing wings, but I tend to find they don’t take the knocks quite as well and, more significantly, they tend to be a bit of a handful on rough water. I tend to go for rather ‘average’ designs, leaving the more advanced ones for flat-water.

Wings will grip the water more than flats, after all that is what they are designed for, so go with a smaller rather than larger blade size if in doubt. Likewise a little shorter overall length, and a more flexible shaft is not a bad idea. I tend to avoid split shafts if I can; to me they feel too stiff and lifeless, and if they are too stiff they can cause injury problems.

Moving Water Wings

Summary

So are wings the choice for you? Well only you can make that choice…sorry.

Wing paddling is not difficult, but it does demand a certain level of skill and technique. It does bring advantages and reward but these may not be as significant as first thought.

Think back to the figures. Earlier we said that wings give around a 5% advantage.  So for a 1 hour paddle we will arrive 3 minutes earlier with wings (everything else being equal), over 3 hours it will be around 9 minutes earlier. For that advantage we have to take a performance penalty on much of our stroke repertoire, including steering and rolling. Is it worth it?

That depends on our skill and what we have planned of course.  If we have a 3 hour race or a 10 hour record attempt ahead of us then it probably is. If we are looking for expedition paddling, racing, records, fitness training or just all-round efficient cruising then wings are likely the way to go. Likewise wings can be an option to broaden paddling horizons or to help improve our paddling stroke.

However, if our paddling is predominately gentle cruising, group coaching or heavy white-water playing or surfing then those standard flats are probably the better choice.

Wings can be, and are, paddled successfully in all areas of sea paddling – rough and smooth. However it must be realised that they are just a set of paddles, there’s no magic involved here. Sometimes they will be the better choice, sometimes flats will be. You pays your money…

One thing that does stand out though, once a paddler gets acquainted with their wings, they rarely want to swap back.

John Willacy

June 2016