So a funny thing happened a couple of Wednesdays ago. Rockhopping - it'll be the death of me. Literally almost was. I still can't believe I made it out of there alive
"Rockhopping" in kayak terms, is fucking about with the interaction of ocean swell and (you guessed it) rocks. There's essentially three features you can play with: Pours, Climbs and Slots.
A Pour happens when a swell runs up and over the top of a rock feature. Time it right and you can scoot over a boulder that was sticking up out of the water a couple of seconds previously. Time it wrong and you're left, high and dry on top of it or, even worse, dragged back into the hole that usually forms when the wave sloshes back off.
A Climb happens when the rock or (more often) cliff face is too high for the water to get over. The surge basically climbs up the cliff then sloshes back down, again often creating a hole of turbulence on it's way back out. A bit riskier than a pour if you fuck up your timing here and get stuck in the hole when the next swell swoops down from above and grinds your shit into the rockface but you generally have lots of room to manoeuvre or pull a sacrificial capsize to get you out of trouble.
Then there's slots. A slot happens when a swell piles through a gap between two rocks. If you fuck up one of these, you're essentially pinned there, waiting for the next swell to land on you. Timing wise you always want to be on top of a surge, riding it. Get in front of one and it's riding you. Get in front of one in a slot and it's going to hurt. The longer and narrower the slot, the more dangerous it's going to be.
It goes without saying that, when dealing with Sharp rocks and hundreds of tons of water, only an idiot would be there without a helmet...
In my defence, we weren't planning a rockhopping trip. We'd set out for a 30k jaunt round Eye peninsula on Lewis. My mate, Neil, his wife Lynn and myself. 30k is nothing. Neil and I? We piss 30k but his wife aint a strong paddler. This trip was going to take all day. A couple of hours in and I'd started to get a bit bored. Instead of going point to point across the bays, like the other two were doing, I followed the coast, to add a bit of distance to my trip and help slow me down to the speed the other two were going.
Then the swell started picking up. I was hugging the shore, messing about in the boomers and features the swell was making on the cliffs and rocks. I wasn't "rockhopping" per se. There is a level of water that carries absolutely no risk to someone with my experience and this was well within the safety zone. Problem was the swell kept getting bigger, the features more fun, the margins neater, consequences more serious...
Before I know it, I'm climbing 7 or 8 foot surges and grinding over rocks and bouncing through slots, on he ragged edge of my abilities. No helmet. Getting lucky and upping the ante on pretty much every feature I came across. Next thing I know I'm eyeing up a 50 meter channel between two islands, with a boomer at the back, sending a reflected wave back out to meet the next swell coming in. We call these "clapotis" looks like a depth charge going off. Unpredictable too. You're essentially dealing with the interaction of potentially three waves at a time, exploding up, sucking holes and recirculating vertical whirlpools all forming in a complicated and hard to predict order.
So I fucked up the timing. Rode a surge in clean but got stopped dead in the middle by the reflection coming back and then kicked off to the side and pinned longways in a crag. Then the water dropped 6 feet, leaving me stranded up there. I was just about keeping my balance, no mean feat when your only point of contact is either end of the boat but I made the mistake of glancing over the side to see how far down it was. This small movement of my head was enough to tip me off balance.
So now I'm hanging upside down, six feet above some seriously gnarly teeth of rock. Lucky as fuck moment no.1 - the boat stayed pinned. If it'd dropped out the crag when I spun over I was landing headfirst on the rocks. My skull would have caved in like an egg, milliseconds before my neck shattered. I breathed out. So far so good but I wasn't out the woods yet. The next thing that was going to happen was a couple of hundred tons of foaming salt water were going to come battering through the slot and drag me upside down along the channel.
I tucked my body in and popped my spraydeck. No point trying to roll, the gap wasn't wide enough to swing my paddle out and every second my head was down there the risk of cracking it open on a boulder increased. The surge came in and I shimmied out the cockpit and made for the surface. Lucky as fuck moment no.2 - Somehow, in all the turbulence, I missed the brickwork! Getting out the slot, swimming, with my boat in one hand and the paddle in the other took forever. Just when I thought I was clear, a reflection would drag me back into the middle again. The boat was bouncing about like fuck in the turbulence. Lucky as fuck moment no.3 - at one point I went under the boat and felt a rock on one side of my head and the boat on the other. Somehow it didn't impact, just glanced.
Eventually I managed to get out and climbed back in my swamped cockpit. I looked down at my knuckles. I was leaking red stuff from a 1cm surface graze. Aside from a couple of bruises on my arms and legs that was the sum total of my injuries. Shaking my head in disbelief I paddled out to let Neil and Lynn know I was still in one piece, grinning like a lunatic.
I was fucking pissed off when I watched the headcam footage back that night. Fucking battery had run out about half an hour before the slot incident. That would have been the mother of all youtube clips
Brilliant holiday - here's a couple of vids I did get. Music by our very own Synaptyx Example of a slot but very tame, due to small swellWall climb from the day in question. This is the last thing the camera recordedPlaying in my new surf boat