A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Tybee Creek Waves

November 25, 2017
Emilie Phillips

There is a large sand bar at the mouth of Tybee Creek. The sandbar and 60F warm ocean water were what attracted us to Tybee Island. Prior to hurricane Mathew in 2016, the sand bar was an extension of the beach. People would walk out at low tide and then get stranded as the tide rose. Hurricane Mathew cut a channel through the sand bar. The stream pushed the sand from the channel out into a spit that jutted far into the ocean. I don’t remember the spit being as prominent last year right after the hurricane as this year, so the channel may have continued eroding.

Isaac was again padding the skin on frame — he wanted to learn how to control his boat in the wind. As we paddled along, Tyson taught Isaac the stern rudder. Then, I taught Isaac to start a sweep stroke at the bow rather than just sweeping to the stern. “That will help you turn into the wind.”

We arrived at the sandbar island at mid tide. A quarter acre of sand was still exposed, the rest covered by a few feet of water. The long shallow water formed gentle one foot waves. Perfect for Isaac. Across the channel, the spit was completely submerged. The ocean waves bent around its tip turning 45 degrees from their original path. The waves crashed back together at right angles in rolling chaos: giant pointed 3 foot tall foaming sea stacks, two foot tall ridges that crested, broke, and then disappeared into the back of other waves.


After a year paddling the tandem, Tyson wanted nothing more than to go surf on his own in his Anas Acuta. We let him paddle off to the spit while the rest of us escorted Isaac to the sand bar.

At the sandbar, I followed Isaac as he paddled along shore. He bounced and swayed with every wave, but none of them were big enough to tip him over. Then he saw Tyson out in the big waves.

“I want to go kayak with Dad” Isaac asserted.

“Those waves are too big for you” I tried to explain, “they will flood your boat.” Luckily Tyson was headed our way. Isaac paddled straight for him. It turned out Isaac was more interested in paddling with Dad than in the big waves.

Tyson reported the waves on the spit were too disorganized to surf. “Nothing coherent” he told my parents, “but it would be good practice edging and bracing for you two.”

I offered to stay at the sandbar, but Isaac was insistent he wanted to paddle with Dad. Before we could paddle off, a wave flipped Isaac over. Mom and I helped Tyson with the rescue. “Are you sure you can manage Isaac on your own?” I asked Tyson while Isaac was hollering “put me back in the boat!” worried that one capsize would deprive him of kayaking privilege. Tyson was pretty sure he could handle it and Isaac cheered up as soon as he was back in the skin on frame. Tyson waded out into the waves following Isaac.

Isaac paddling along the waves

First Isaac just paddled along the waves, enjoying controlling his boat while getting bounced around. Then he discovered he could surf backwards on the waves. That was great fun until he capsized. The first few times Isaac capsized, he needed Tyson’s help to get out, but by the last capsize, he wet exited on his own. Back in the kayak, he tried surfing forwards. He worked on his new stern rudder and more effective sweep strokes. He would paddle out through the waves, giggling every time they splashed him in the face. Then turn himself around, and either bounce along the waves or catch a lucky surf back to shore.

John, Trudy, and Emilie headed to the bigger waves

Meanwhile, my parents and I were playing in the waves on the spit. The first breaker caught me with more force than I expected. I hung on with a side brace, but my right arm was sore from clenching the Bullitt two days earlier. After the wave released me, I paddled through to the north side of the spit and turned around so the waves would hit me from the left. The next two passes through the waves, nothing eventful happened, so I paddled out to see farther where the waves were more powerful. I watched for a while until I determined which direction the best waves were coming from and where they steepened. The waves curling around from the south seemed best. The ones from the north seemed smaller except for ephemeral moments when they peaked into giant sea stacks. I picked a wave and surfed several wavelengths, which was remarkable in those conditions. Then I was left in the middle of leaping foam and heaving green mountains. I was still debating what to do next when the stern of my boat lifted a little. It would have been enough to surf had it been a clean wave. But I was pointed sideways to the main waves, and all the waves around me were in chaos, so I didn’t bother paddling to catch it.

And yet, the wave picked me up and pushed me forward. It pushed me through a valley between two giant sea stacks. It pushed me up over a gentle ridge and held my heading true down the other side without me having to correct. A wave to my right broke into crashing foam, but just as my wave pushed me into it, the water subsided and I kept going. My wave pushed me all the way out to the calm water on the north side. I’ve never had such a peaceful ride through such chaos.

All Photos

Tyson’s GPS Track