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Sweeping the Surfboat - Part 4

In part 4 we will be picking up the critical wave area in the return from the Gate Cans.
By the time you reach the gate cans on the return journey your full attention needs to switch to reading the surf around you and making sound decisions for your crew.

  • Sweeping - Part 4You should have already read the water before leaving the beach so for example if you have a run out going to greet your boat in the wave zone you may decide to steer a course to the left or right of that moving water if safe to do so
  • You should have a firm understanding of the type of wave you are going to have to deal with i.e. will it spill, dump or surge and this information should be conveyed to the crew so they also understand what to expect
  • You can never pre-determine what any wave will do because they are all different and your job is to make good decisions and deal with what is in front of you. However it is a good principle to understand the surf type you’re operation in and be ready
  • What is absolute is the need for you as sweep to be completely focused on the task of steering your boat and not to be looking all over the ocean at other crews. One method is for the sweep to advise the crew just before entering the wave zone on the location of other close by boats. For example you may tell the crew that two boats could be joining us on the same wave on our right hand side. This then allows those crew members looking to the right to become the watchtower for any possible danger or avoidance and leaves the sweep to concentrate on the wave
  • Select a wave you are capable of handling and have previously trained to hone your skill on. If the waves are coming in sets you should have been watching on the beach to understand any pattern like say 3 waves per set. How far apart in distance and time is another good thing to understand in your decision process
  • At training you should be practicing your take offs of varying stroke numbers in front of sizable waves so when confronted with a short take off in competition you can handle it
  • In small or clean surf you would usually take on the first wave that came along
  • In big or nasty surf you would take a more considered approach to wave selection and may well sit and wait  for the last wave of the set or the cleanest wave
  • Whatever your approach it must be decisive, make the call early, be positive and react according to the selected wave
  • The key issues to holding any wave is set up, concentration, body position, crew skill and a dose of luck. Remember even the best can lose a wave but generally when it happens it isn’t all arms and legs. Let’s look at each of these segments:


  • Sweeping - Part 4This refers to both the boat and you the sweep
  • You should understand the power of the wave and where it is coming from. So if you are about to climb onto a 1.2M wave that has started to break from your right or is about to break from your right the POWER of that wave at that time is going to hit you from the RH side first.
  • You should always set your boat at 90 deg to the power of the wave so if a 1.2M wave is breaking squarely across behind the boat you would be at 90 deg to the face of the wave. If however in the example above that same wave is going to start breaking or have a higher shoulder to your right you would lay off slightly to your left (bow pointed away from the POWER) so you have the boat positioned square to the POWER of the wave.
  • You watch closely and as the wave breaks across behind your boat you continually correct direction keeping square to the point of POWER which for a fully broken wave is at 90 deg to the line of broken water
  • The cost of not steering a course adjusted to the POWER is that if the wave grabs one side of the boat it can pull you into a slew
  • As the sweep your most important thing to do is to keep the sweep blade in the water. This is one of the only times you turn your blade to vertical and actually use it to directly steer the boat as against keeping it at the lay over angle for all other aspects of the race. If you need to climb on the chocks to keep the blade in the water then do so but never, never, never let this blade come out of the water. If you are currently spinning off at the top of the wave take notice and you are probably losing contact between the water and your blade. As soon as contact is lost the boat will start to slew and the chances of getting it back are very slim
  • The two key pressure points in holding a wave come at the top where you’re set up and stance is so important. The next point of real pressure is as you slide to the bottom of a wave and the force of breaking water engulfs the rear of the boat.
  • On both occasions STANCE is so important. At the top of the wave stand tall, keep the blade in contact with the water and that usually means climbing unto the chocks. As you learn climb up early say a few strokes before the boat starts to shoot. As you become more proficient you can jump up at the start of the shoot but either way you must be up and set so you keep the steerage set square to the POWER and the BLADE in contact with the water
  • At the base of the wave the pressure of your blade which is now deep inside the wave will be to try and push you into the bottom of the boat as the blade tries to exit the water. You must be standing tall and strong to have any chance of holding this wave at that point. If you allow yourself to fold down and bend over your strength of purchase is gone and so too is your boat. You may notice some sweeps have a crew member place their hands under the sweep oar handle at this point and provide some upward pressure to assist the sweep in staying tall. This exercise has to be practiced but it can be a very effective means to keep control
  • The other thing for sweeps to understand is if any side currents are present at the base of the wave. If you have a current running from left to right and you steer a straight course for the beach as soon as your bow hits the side drift you are likely to be slewed to the right. You would counter this side current by choosing an amount of angle to steer into the current as you reach the base of the wave thus when the side pull grabs your bow it will bring it back to the middle and give you the best chance of control. This must be practiced to understand the angle to lay off that matches the strength of the current.


  • Very important for the sweep to completely switch onto the job at hand. We ask our crews to remain focused throughout the entire race and for the sweep you will be under more pressure when approaching the wave area then say out the back so we need to focus
  • Develop your own system for switching onto the variances of handling the surf zone
  • Don’t spend your time watching other crews as you have a massive job to do in controlling your boat
  • Develop your crew safety process so you always have someone watching out for other boats
  • Learn to anticipate – don’t wait until something happens before you react because in an 8M surfboat that will be to late

Body Position:

  • Sweeping - Part 4Be ready, brace yourself and stand strong and tall. Remember like skiing or many other sports your strength starts in your feet and must transfer up through your body.
  • Coming into the wave zone you should have moved to the back quarter bar. This transfers as much weight as possible to the rear but it also increases your angle of attack with the sweep blade to assist in keeping it in the water. If you stay forward the handle will be lower in the boat which equates to the blade being higher.
  • It is noted that a few different approaches are taken to stance and you need to work out what works for you
  • Firstly feet position – some sweeps prefer to straddle the rear quarter bar when wave catching while others choose to move both feet behind the rear quarter bar. What is important is your ability to remain stable and solidly upright regardless of the angle of the boat on the wave
  • Body direction – here again we see some sweeps taking a more square approach with the shoulders set square across the boat. The more conventional stance would be to set the shoulders at about 45 deg to the side of the boat. The later allows for a leading and trailing shoulder and provides the maximum ability to gain a full range of movement across the boat in both directions
  • Your ability to keep your craft trim and under control will be totally dependent on your chosen stance. Watch some top sweeps, talk to them and practice until you have the stance that works best for you
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce an initial jolt to the sweep oar if you feel your boat starting to slide away. It won’t matter how strong you think you are if you stand and wait for the boat to start to run off and then try to correct with pressure it may not be enough. Sometimes a quick burst of power can bring the boat back on line

Crew Skill:

  • This is every bit as important to your success as a sweep as is what you do on the end of the Long Oar
  • Train in surf, practice the calls of - easy oar, the trail, the trail and back one seat & the trail and back
  • Practice until the crew can keep the boat stable for you during the whole process
  • Teach the crew that the movement of their body weight can assist in bringing a boat back onto line
  • Teach the crew what to do in the case of a sweep going overboard

Like training the rower it is only through constant practice in the surf will you become a better sweep. Make good safe decisions based on your skill level. If you can’t handle a certain size or type of wave in practice you won’t magically be able to in competition. Never be afraid to say NO this surf isn’t for me or the crew today. There is no shame in taking a decision to protect your crew and gear.

Safe sweeping and hopefully some of the tips included in this four part series has been of assistance.

Bert Hunt

More in this category: « Sweeping the Surfboat..... Part 3

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