My Introduction to Surfski Paddling
My background in paddling is probably not all that unique to many surfski paddlers out there, but I wanted to share it with everyone in hope that it may pique curiosities and trigger inspiration, or at the very least provide a good laugh.
A Silent Sports Magazine Article Intrigues Me
I first heard the term “surfski” when reading an article in Silent Sports Magazine (a regional Midwest magazine focusing on cross country skiing, biking, paddling, and running). The article was written by Erik Borgnes (who I did not know at the time, but would later come to be good friends with and discover in dinner conversation at the Immersion Vacation that he was the one who wrote the article) an avid paddler and cross country skier who sold me on the many great benefits of cross training for skiing by paddling. Before reading this article, like most people I had been in a kayak a few times on vacation, but had never considered it to be a real workout.
At the time I read this article I was also noticing that many of the top cross country ski racers in our area were also well known canoe/kayak racers. In addition to the many cross over benefits, I also remember Erik saying he had a garage full of kayaks and once he got into surfski paddling, he would almost always load up the surfski and the kayaks quickly started collecting dust.
My First Surfski
It quickly became a no-brainer, I needed to get a surfski. Never mind the fact that I had essentially no serious paddling experience, those were just details Now, where in the world do I get one of these things? A quick google search turned up a used boat out in California. I paid a small fortune for shipping and soon had a used Valhalla Victory on its way out to Michigan. This boat was one of the original surfski designs at 19 feet long and 19 inches wide with a shallow bucket seat and bow foil on the front to prevent pearling The boat finally arrived in early fall along with a wing paddle which I initially wasn’t even quite sure how to put together.
Luckily the water was still fairly warm and I had a nice protected beach spot with shallow water where I had been doing my Ironman swim training all summer. So on my first day out on the water and I was all psyched up and ready for this kick ass workout that I’d been anticipating for months. Just one minor problem, I couldn’t put my feet in the boat without tipping over. So… back to the drawing board. I tried on 4 or 5 more occasions that fall but could not get to a point where I could put together three or four paddle strokes without tipping over. So much for the great workout I was going to be getting. Although I’m sure it was quite entertaining for the people who lived along the beach. To make matters worse, my wife Kim came out one day hopped in the boat for the first time and paddled off like there was nothing to it. So I put the boat away that fall with Kim not sure whether to laugh or be ticked off at me for spending a bunch of money on something it appeared I had no chance at ever really being able to use. The last few times coming home from the beach I was secretly hoping the boat might blow off the roof of the car and I would be done with it all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Fast forward through the winter and the next summer arrives, I don’t have an Ironman looming over me, so more time to focus on figuring out how in the world I’m going to get this much anticipated “phenomenal workout on the water”. Through a little closer inspection I came to realize that the boat that was supposedly perfect for my size (6’4”) had actually been modified to fit someone closer to 5’10. I quickly tore out the modification to reveal the original leg length which was a much better fit. Extending my legs and bringing my knees down definitely gave me a fighting chance. I still did a lot of tipping, but was at least able to put together a couple hundred yards at a time between tipping over. Then eventually by mid summer it seemed to click and I finally understood the concept of brace strokes and that if you feel like your going to tip over, just paddle hard on the side you are tipping toward and you’ll get through it. For the rest of that summer and the next two summers I paddled away on the Valhalla. The boat itself was an old school fiberglass model that probably weighed in the neighborhood of 45 lbs with all the repairs that had been done on it. Add to that a lot of leaks and I probably did a lot of paddling with about 80-90 lbs of weight in the boat. There were times when it was so full of water I could hardly drag it up on the beach. Needless to say those paddles were always in warm water and at most ¼ mile from shore.
By late summer 2007 I was ready for an upgrade. Kim was pregnant with our twins and I was being forced to re-evaluate my arsenal of gear and hobbies that I enjoyed. Unfortunately skydiving did not make the cut. So I sold my parachutes that had been collecting dust since we got married, and bought a new Epic V10. I was originally looking for a V10 sport, but living in Michigan you pretty much take what you can get, and I was lucky enough to find an Epic V10 at Fluid Fun down in Bristol, Indiana only 5 hours away. I was very thrilled to be hauling the boat home that day and not having to coordinate a cross country shipment.
The V10 is an advanced boat but it fit me very well and although it initially felt tippy, I quickly got used to it and paddled it exclusively for four full seasons . It was an all carbon version, but not built to current Epic standards and weighed around 35 lbs. (it was sold as a blemish). The extra weight did help make the boat more stable and I probably would have really struggled if it has been like the carbon boats today weighing in around 23/24 lbs. During the time that I paddled the V10 I only unintentionally tipped over once or twice a year when doing downwind runs in bigger conditions on Lake Michigan.
This spring I have once again upgraded to a Stellar SE in the Excel build (Kevlar hybrid). This boat weighs in around 25lbs and I am definitely noticing the difference in weight in how the boat accelerates, glides, and catches the waves.
Don’t Worry, you don’t have to go through what I did
What I’m most excited about in starting up TC Surfski is that no motivated souls that want to venture ino Surfski paddling have to follow the tumultuous journey that I took. The new beginner and intermediate boats are much more stable, lighter, very water tight, and they all have adjustable leg lengths. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity at TC Surfski to demo the boats and make sure that they fit you well. And if you do decide to buy, you’ll be loading it up on your rack and driving it home (No fault at all of the shippers who thankfully for us run a very tough business, but if you’ve ever had to buy a boat from far away – you know how long it can take and the uncertainty in timing) . I’m also excited to be able to provide guidance on some of the key technique fundamentals that will greatly expedite the learning curve. I should also add, that in my 8 years of paddling I’ve had a lot of people try out my boats and have yet to meet anyone is as bad as I was in my first several attempts.
Any other paddlers out there with colorful stories, feel free to contribute