surfski selection

Surfski Selection

It is a great time to be promoting surfskis.    In the past few years the market has seen solid growth and the surfski manufacturers have finally started offering true beginner models which are quickly proving to be in high demand.

It has been an interesting progression for Surfskis.   Historically they were designed by and built for accomplished elite paddlers.  Anyone who was a beginner didn’t have much choice but to paddle what the pros did and just learn to manage and get by.   Of course this was great for the ego, because you could tell everyone that you were paddling the same boat as the pros.  However, not so great when you got out in challenging conditions and couldn’t maintain any speed because you had to constantly brace to keep from swimming.

Eventually the manufacturers did start to realize that there were lots of people who wanted to enjoy the sport of surfski but didn’t have the time it takes to become truly proficient in the advanced boats.   They made some compromises and started building what are now classified as the “intermediate boats”.   These are the 19 foot by 19 inch designs.   These boats have been great for experienced kayakers looking to make the transition into surfski paddling.  They have also been a welcome relief for those who were paddling advanced boats but really didn’t have the skills to be comfortable in those boats when the conditions picked up.

The intermediate boats were still very challenging for brand new paddlers and the surfski manufacturers watched and noted the pent up demand for active water sports, as the paddle board industry exploded around them.   This spurred another round of evolution and the introduction of true beginner surfskis.   These surfskis are largely based on the hull designs of the racing kayaks which are 18 feet long and 21/22 inches wide.   With these boats it has now become a true reality for beginners to jump in and quickly get to a point of applying strong power to their stroke and experience the thrill and addiction of surfing waves.

A few words on stability first

Although the hull design beginner/intermediate/advanced will largely determine the stability of a boat, there are a few other attributes that factor into the equation and cannot be discounted:

  1. Boat construction/weight    heavy boats will be more stable
  2. Paddler weight / hull displacement – a small paddler will be less stable in a boat designed with a lot of volume to support larger paddlers in big conditions
  3. Rudder size – The longer the rudder length the more stable the boat will be.   These are very easy to change out so many paddlers are now owning a few different rudders.  Short for flat/weedy water and longer for surfing downind
  4. Seat height – Center of gravity is key,  padding the seat will raise you up and decrease the stability
  5. Overall cockpit fit – Having the feet snug and secure and your lower body well connected to the boat will have a significant impact on your stability. This may not be noticeable at first, but as you progress in the sport it will become more and more critical

Advanced versus Intermediate

Unless you are a serious racer and able to dedicate extensive time to paddling, or will paddle primarily on inland protected waters, you most likely will be most satisfied in a beginner or intermediate boat.   In most cases intermediate paddlers are faster in an intermediate boat once any good amount of wave action comes into play. 

Lately the surfski community is rallying behind the mantra “stability before speed”.   It makes fundamental sense that if you are constantly bracing to avoid a swim then you can’t keep your momentum up and if you do happen to tip over the time lost can be significant in a short race.  Additionally the advanced boats are also more challenging to remount which is both a safety concern and can add time to your race if you happen to go for a swim.

I know it is always a concern for very motivated and athletic individuals questioning if they will outgrow an intermediate boat.   If/when you get to a point where you aren’t feeling challenged in an intermediate boat you can always make adjustments such as padding the seat to raise your position and/or moving to a smaller rudder for paddling in mild conditions

Intermediate versus Beginner Boats

With the introduction of the beginner boats, the decision is now a bit tougher if you are just starting in the sport of surfski.  Do you buy an intermediate boat and grow into it or go with a beginner boat.   There will be several things to consider in making this decision including the following:

  1. What type of water do you ultimately want to do the majority of your paddling in?   If it is flat water then the intermediate boat might make sense, but if you are more into getting out in big water conditions then you may be more comfortable in the beginner boat and hence will go out and use it more.   One thing to note here, no matter how great your intentions,  you are most likely to do 90% of your paddling in the water that is most convenient for you (i.e. closest to your home or work)
  2. If you want to have a long season and paddle in cooler water/air temps, then you may want the added security of the more stable beginner boat
  3. If you plan to do flat water racing and a minute or 2 over 10k will make a big different to you, then you may want to go with the intermediate boat
  4. If you have the luxury of buying another boat in the future, you may want to start with the beginner boat to gain experience and then move into an intermediate boat when you are ready
  5. If you want to do touring and be able to pack some gear,  beginner models such as the Stellar 18S are now coming equipped with hatches

Never discount fit

Last but not least, it is always critical to paddle a boat before you buy it.   Stability is definitely impacted by how well you fit in the boat.   There may be certain boats that just fit really well and are therefore stable for you personally, whereas other boats may not fit as well and will feel unstable because of this.   At TC Surfski we want to ensure we put you in the best boat for you, while avoiding analysis paralysis.   More often than not, the best way to accomplish this it to just try as many boats as you can and go with the one that just feels right.

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