Curious about surfskis

As the title says, I am curious about surfskis. Not so much the models and specs (yet) but just the experience of paddling them. There are more of those around here than I have seen SUPs, but I’ve never tried one. What is it like to paddle them compared to a long, fast sea kayak?

Depends on the model. Some are a little faster and handle similar to a fast sea kayak and some are so tippy that unless you have your legs in the water or are actively paddling they are extremely difficult to keep upright without a lot of practice.

I think you would find little difference between them.
I have paddled Tarpon 160 SOT and Pungos for years and was able to paddle a Stellar S18S without falling in much. The difference , at least for a new surf skier, is you have to pay attention all the time. I paddled with 2 sea kayakers for 14 miles on a lake and went in once when we were talking and let my paddle blade touch the water. Instant dunk!
Like any boat, seat time and relaxing makes a difference.

Thank you both for weighing in. I am going to find a way to rent or borrow one so I can try it out. I’d probably really enjoy it for fitness paddling, but perhaps not so much for the other ways I like to paddle - especially my new found love of bird watching. I always really loved laying back on the deck of my sea kayak and watching Bald Eagles play when I was out in the middle of the river.

I just sold another boat today. I can see I am going to need to get a new kayak sooner rather than later.

Surfskis were designed for, well, surfing ocean swells. They have inherent speed that let you paddle fast to catch waves and then surf them efficiently. They also are generally much narrower, especially at the catch.
From there they’ve been adapted for inland water ways, fitness paddling and racing. Some of the manufacturers now make models that are very stable and very similar to fast sea kayaks.
The major difference between the two (forgetting the overwhelming numbers of models and specifications) is that a surfski has an open cockpit with a drain so if waves splash into the cockpit you just open the drain, paddle fast and the cockpit drains itself. (Similar to the purpose of scupper holes.) There is a surfski design out there for paddlers at just about every level and even a few affordable plastic skis to hit a nice price/performance point. I highly encourage you to try them. They are a great deal of fun and the better you get the “more better” you want to become in terms of balance skills and speed.


This does sound fun. I hope I can find a way to try one out soon.

I wish I could afford to retire from my job so I’d have more time to play with a variety of paddle craft.

LOL! Said every paddler ever.


Pru, a ski is ill
suited as a bird watching or photography platform although I did get a fuzzy bald eagle
photo from mine. With both feet in the water for stability.

I think they’re the most fun boat around. Chasing waves, even small boat waves on medium sized lakes is fun.

As Dave says they were originally designed for surf life saving in big swell, like 6’ australian swell. Then they became racing boats that were at widest 19" and rather tippy. Then a lot of them morphed into ultra fast flat water racing boats (the skinny boats with no rocker). Some remained highly rockered and were better suited on the ocean or in large waves.

Now, with beginner models like the V5, Eze, Bluefin, V8, and others, they retain much of their racing pedigree, but the beam has been increased sufficiently that most competent beginners can hop on a V5 and go.

The people who enjoy them most seem to be

  • Wave chasers. Surfskis surf more types, sizes, and shapes of waves than any other boat. The well designed ones can give you a significant boost from a 6" ripple or reflected swell. When you put them in ‘real’ conditions, they scream. (real means you cannot see the horizion over the waves, or about 3’+). but you can also draft large boat wakes in the 1-2’ range and sit there all day hardly padding at 10+mph if you get an ideal wave shape.
    Wave chasing is the primary reason I would recommend a ski. They are soooooooooooo fun in waves.

  • Flat water fitness paddlers that want a fast boat (often slightly above their true ability) but can handle it because remounting is so easy. No paddle float, no bailing, just hop back in and go. Also, you can get skis as skinny as an olympic K1 (16") but it is recoverable in deep water unlike a K1 which you must swim to shore. This means your safety margin is increased significantly in very tippy boats.

  • People who like to travel light and fast. A heavy ski is ~33lbs. The lightest is 18lb. You dont carry much gear with you - just a paddle, leashes, PFD, water, phone. Maybe a dry bag with a change of clothes.

If you want to try one, choose one of about the same beam that you’re used to in a sea kayak, maybe 1-2" more narrow at most. Skipping steps on the stability ladder lead to a lot of swimming and less fun. Its better to have fun immediately with a boat that you can manage, learn proper wing stroke, find wavy, challenging water, master it, then step down to a skinnier boat if you desire (its addicting, most people end up moving down to a 18-20" boat such as a V8pro or V10). After 1-3 years of paddling regularly, an average person ahsould be able to master a 20" boat, or even a 18" boat if you have any combination of natural balance, determination, or frequent paddling.

Since you cant roll, developing your stability is key. Second, mastering the stroke brace is what keeps you upright on tippy boats or haystacked water. A stroke brace means you use the paddle to adjust your center of gravity mid-stroke without taking away much forward power. That is different than a slap brace where you slam the back of your blade in the water, which provides a very strong righting moment, but also slows you down a lot. On elite boats, almost every stroke has some element of balance adjustment. Mastering that skill is the #1 thing you can do to increase your stability.

Also look at the videos from Oscar Chalupsky or Ivan Lawler on wing paddle stroke. Using proper wing paddle technique is very important or you will waste a lot of energy and speed potential.

Your first paddle, first thing, paddle 100ft off shore and try to remount. Do it a few times. Find some small waves and remount. Once you do not fear falling out because you know you can always get back in, your fear will decrease and you will find it much more comfortable to be in sketchy conditions. In any boat, but especially a ski, you should know, 100% you can get back in after a capsize. Once you know that, you’re unchained and free to get as crazy as you desire. Or conversely not get crazy and just know you’re really really safe paddling wherever you are.

I paddled and raced open canoes, OC1 / 2 / 6, and surfskis. By far, I think surfski is the most fun, while Pro Boat (3x27) canoe racing is the most technical.

I highly recommend you try one.
What type of water is available to you (protected ocean, open ocean, rivers, small lakes, big lakes, etc)
What are your goals? (quick and easy paddling, or trying to master a new aspect of paddling?)
Where are you approximately located?



Marcus, thank you! This is fantastic info.

I am in Louisville, KY - for now. So I am unfortunately land-locked. I paddle a variety of flat water and I also paddle the Ohio River - which you may know is a big river that can get respectable chop. And I love it. I had Rockpool Alaw Bach (21" wide) I just sold last week because I need a boat that fits my little body better. I also paddle a SUP on the Ohio (as well as occasionally on easy whitewater). My balance is great and I have absolutely no fear of capsizing. I love to surf barge wakes. I’m also a big believer in practicing self rescue frequently and that would definitely be the first thing I would do - either intentionally or unintentionally!

I think for fast fitness paddles, I’d probably really enjoy a surfski. I tend to those on my SUP a couple mornings a week as the job duties permit. I go on much longer paddles on the weekends, and do my bird watching then. My biggest challenge here will be finding a way to try one, but I’m going to put out some feelers. I saw one on CL last week that sold within a day. I’m surprised how many I see on the Ohio and also on the local creek - far more than I see other people on SUPs.

Rock climbing used to be my obsession. My favorite t-shirt says “climb now, work later.” Well it’s later and I’m working and, well, crap!

If you’re 100% comfortable in a 21" sea kayak and are on relatively flat water youre probably ok to go with a 19 or 20"boat for your first ski. Something like an epic V8 pro or v10 sport would probably be good.

The v8 pro and v10 sport don’t have much rocker so are good on rivers and lakes. You.probBly want to avoid highly rockered boats like a Fenn bluefin, as they perform better in large waves like the ocean or great lakes.

Bucket-to-butt fit is key for Ling term enjoyment. Try to paddle for 90 mins when you demo if possible. If your butt hurts, try another boat as the bucket can kill the deal.

Barges provide good wakes and rivers are great when the wind blows opposite of the current (the exact situation at The Gorge Downwind Champs).

If you’re willing to drive you might find a boat on the for sale forums, as skis are extremely popular with the MR340 crowd, Missouri isn’t too far, and intermediate skis are popular in the race because you need reasonable stability to stay upright after 40 hours

Good point on the bucket. It is the reason I no longer have the S18S.

Uh oh… bucket-to-butt might be a deal breaker! I was not blessed with a voluptuous butt (alas, quite the opposite) and was as sad to see my cushy kayak seat pad go as I was to let go of the Alaw Bach it was attached to. But it only seemed fair to the lovely gentleman who bought her. Are butt pads not a thing in surfskis? I suppose I could get padded briefs! What about paddling surfskis in cold weather - any reason why not?

Stop it! Stop it now!!

I already want half the sailboats I see on Craigslist… I don’t need to want another boat!!!

SO STOP!..I’m closing my eyes now.


Surfskis for everyone!

There is a house for sale here with this in the garage. I know the person’s address since it’s of course in the real estate listing. Perhaps I should send a postcard “hi, I don’t want to buy your house, but could I paddle one of your surfskis?”


Boy they are sleek boats. I said Stop!


My daughters have told me repeatedly that I don’t have a butt. In a ski , I’m sitting on bone.

Lots of good information in some of the above posts. I started with SOTs as they are most practial for what I was doing at the time, shallow rocky rivers. When those rivers quit running I begin paddling a broader deeper soft bottom river. After awhile I wanted a faster SOT, that lead to a demo of an Epic V5. My friend and I tried them twice, once as a demo and once as a rental. I bought the boat I rented. The V5 is an easy transtion from SOTs for most paddlers. I used it on lakes and rivers and enjoyed it very much, until my paddling buddy bought an EPIC V7 and left me in the dust with ease. Soon enough I bought a V7 and paddle it almost exclusively. The V7 is not a tippy boat at 17 feet long and 22 inches wide, it’s rotomolded plastic like the V5. I’ve had ten boats and the V7 is by far my favorite.
To me the big difference between the surfski and the Sea kayak, the surf ski will be a wetter ride, because of the open cockpit.

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See if any local Stellar dealers have the new Falcon. I had a paddler 6’3” 300# of linebacker build and he fit it not sure how comfortably but he was upright most times. When I’m in it at a 34” waist I have @.6” of clearance to either side of my hips to the edge of the bucket.

See you on the water,
Marshall Seddon
The River Connection, Inc.
9 W. Market St.
Hyde Park, NY. 12538
845-229-0595 main
845-242-4731 mobile
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