Ocean Surfing Kayaks

So, after trying to play in the ocean surf in my Tarpon 130, which was blast but difficult to do anything more than ride the wave straight in (and a tendency to nose dive at that) - I think it would be much more fun to have at least a shorter, more appropriate boat. I’m looking for a reasonably priced SOT, that can multi-purpose as a generally fun paddle around and provide enjoyment on the wave - optimally as least letting me get a line.

I’m looking for something in the 300 range or less and see a couple of decent options based on some web research.

Let me throw these out and get some feedback.

Pelican Zest (with skeg) - 299 - seems to have a decent shape, the skeg should help retain a line, it’s not too big and at 40 lbs should be manageable.

Perception Torrent (used) - 350 - more of a whitewater boat, but could be pretty fun in the surf. I’d love to get some feedback on how this would compare to say a more general purpose craft / rec boat like the pelican. Any thoughts on how well I could execute a bottom turn and hold a line with this boat? Also, love the fact that this is a whitewater boat.

OK Yak Board - 279 at EMS - heard some good things about this. The length may be a little short to catch larger waves, but it sounds like fun.

Any “Hybrid Wave Skis” that fall into the price range I’m looking at? These look hugely fun and I think a 30lb board would probably be a big difference.

Many thanks!



– Last Updated: Jul-27-09 3:20 PM EST –

we used to use 'em all the time for intro to surf class. too pudgy and soft edged to hold a great line surfing ocean waves BUT very forgiving, FUN and it IS a WW boat capable of tons of fun on the river.

you need thigh straps!

also take a look at the WS or Dagger (we switched brands) Kaos. will hold a line BUT not for WW.


All of the above are dogs
Go used - get a boat with decent rails.

Cobra Strike used is in your range and probably the best for what you want to do.

Used waveski is going to be 300-400 for a beater or for one that someone does not know what they have.

With a waveski you need to fit the ski (feet to seat length) and not be to heavy for it, so your size is critical, it’s tough to find a used ski to fit you without a little experience.

Just a couple times a year…
Hmmm, given my home in the mountains and the number of times I make it to the shore, it’s pretty difficult to justify a pure surf play - but that does sound like the most fun.

With regards to the rec boats… can you actually follow the line with them, or is it pretty much just ride the wave straight in.

How significant a difference does a skeg make?

As far as fun factor, how would the smaller yaks play against my Tarpon 130T. Is there the comparison of going from a semi (my 13’ tandem SOT), to a pickup (torrent, yak board, zest) to a sports car a reasonable analogy (Kaos, Strike, Perception 5.0)?

WS Tarpon 100
Assuming you like your 130, consider a 100. Other than extended cruising its about as versitile as it gets. As always, some compromises, but I use mine for surfing, class-II, near-shore, lake fishing, etc. I’m sure you can find one used for less than $300, and I actually got my 2008 new for $350 at a winter sale.

WW vs. Surf vs. Rec

– Last Updated: Jul-28-09 9:45 AM EST –

Just like you, I go ocean surfing once or twice a year on waves that are 3-6 feet high at best.

So far, a couple of years in a row I see the same guy surfing the same tandem Ocean Kayak, which looks like at least 15 feet and a barge. He does surprisingly well though - but as you said, can go only straight down and if he is lucky, exit the wave before it breaks or ride the foam out till it settles down. At least 1/2 of his kayak is out of the water though at all times - he sits at the very back, not the middle as he would for a solo paddle on flat water. Seldom did he capsize and had great long runs - obviously has some experience.

This year I surfed with a 13.5 Perception Sonoma sea/transitional touring kayak for two days and in that boat it seemed I had a lot more options than he had. First, the kayak is much faster and at about 40lb, probably 1/2 the weight of his - I could catch waves earlier and farther away than he could. I could also maneuver somewhat on the wave face, choosing a path away from the side that begins to break first and could towards the end of the run make one final turn and jump over the crest of the wave just before it starts breaking over me. In the beginning of the run I could zig-zag but towards the end I had to pretty much exit the wave or would risk running into beach gowers near the shore, so I could not try to see if I could outrun the wave rather than exit behind it.

The Sonoma has somewhat hard chines towards the cockpit and behind it and rather flat bottomed there too so it planes on the wave face easy, but is narrow and swede form otherwise so it is relatively fast to accelerate initially and to control the direction with leans or stern rudders. Even though it tends to pearl in steep wind chop, it never did in the ocean waves for me due to the speed it had the bow would ride high-up. I could begin surfing well outside the line where the board surfers try to catch their waves and end after they've dropped off the waves.

On the third day, I surfed in a WW river/play boat, the WaveSport Fuse 64. Total difference from the sea kayak. I could only catch steep waves near the point where they were beginning to break. The boat is "slow" compared to sea kayak and could not accelerate to catch anything earlier. Meaning I had to stay with the board surfers or a bit ahead of them even. With the flat planning bottom and hard chines the Fuse had no problem goging down and carving turns left and right just ahead of the foam to control direction. The waves were too small and I too inexperienced to try anything else in it. Except a few enders (intentional or not) and rolls for the amusement of the bystanders.

The wide and short WW boat is a lot more stable and easy to control in the surf and not really affected by the foam as much as the sea kayak but either of them is fun in a different way.

The Torrent IMO is a river boat, not a play boat, so it may be marginally faster than the Fuse but won't plane nearly as well and would be harder to carve turns in it. I do not think you would be able to control the direction as well with such boats or with creek boats down a wave due to the round hull shape. Nor would it allow you to do as many moves on WW as the more playful playboats or "hybrids" like the Fuse, which are a cross b/w a playboat and a river runner.

While I was experimenting with my two boats, there were guys with more typical surf SOTs - short, edgy, some were actually made for this (forgot the name but one was the WS surf SOT and the others were short SOTs amde mostly for wave play, most of them with knee straps). They were quite successful at catching waves before I could with the WW boat but I estimated I could catch the waves even fatrhe out in the sea kayak. Once on the way I was also faster though the did not plane nearly as much as I did - they seemed to be just getting started with surfing and were not very good at it, yet, so they mostly rode the waves down rather than do much else. They seemed to have easier time turning their wide and short SOTs than I had in the sea kayak, especially if they chose to run being pushed by the foam. In a sea kayak at that point you either go straight out and pray not to pearl and do an ender or more likely will quickly broach and slide sideways in a brace to the beach or roll to escape the foam quickly (in the WW I too could ride the foam freely in any direction I wanted as it is so short you could still turn and carve).

Bottom line, I would agree with the others that for the most fun surfing on the cheap you want a short but nimble SOT with braces/straps. But that would not work well for WW nor would it tour well. Short sea kayak with flattish bottom - can have a different kind of fun in the surf and still have good utility on flat water but of limited use on WW.

To me, I think you can probably do best with one short (13-16 feet, they tend to be cheaper than larger boats) sea kayak with good rocker - you can do a lot in the surf with it and still have a reasonable flat water experience and even some WW fun. In my sea kayak I often go to the Chesapeake Bay - last weekend there were 4+ feet waves (mostly 2-1/2 3 feet with the occasional set of 4 footers mized in) and I had great fun in them. Can't go far in these in a WW boat or a short SOT - too slow. That same kayak is entirely tolreable over 10-15 miles at 4+ mph average speed at a relaxed pace (5 at very brisk pace). I also play (catch eddies, attain against the current, try to surf WW waves) in the Potomac in it and it is quite good when the water is high enough to form longer waves.

If you plan to run a lot of WW and not just down but play in it, there you want a WW boat. Sea kayaks can be dangerous there and "ocean" SOTs tend to catch currents and generally not allow you too much play either. But that WW would be very different in the surf as I explained and useless for flat water over more than a mile or two.

With regards to the rec boats… can you actually follow the line with them, or is it pretty much just ride the wave straight in. Which Rec boats are you talking about - a boat with rounded rails or soft chines and high volume is going to be hard to surf down the line, impossible to cut back.

How significant a difference does a skeg make? - A huge difference, it lets you keep a high line on steep walls and and surf diagonaly on the wave face.

As far as fun factor, how would the smaller yaks play against my Tarpon 130T. A surf specific boat is about three orders of magnitude more fun than a Tarpon in the surf. A surf specific boat is also much safer for the others in the water.

Good answers
So would the skeg on the zest make it perform considerably better than a standard rec sit on top, or would the general design just feel slow and sluggish regardless? I expect some combo thereof, but defer to actual experience.

I wholehearted agree with the safety factor - luckily - there was no one around to get bowled over by the 130T (well, except for me - which happened once or twice ;-).

I may just end up keeping my eyes open for a used surf specific boat and try surfing the tarpon again from the rearmost seat.

Strike or the longer Re-Vision

Made for surf.


Awesome write up
Many thanks for the detailed explanation of your experiences. Quite a lot to think about. I’m inspired by the 15 kayak surfer and will likely give the tarpon another try. I tried to surf from the middle seat and leaned wayyyy back to avoid the nosedive, but sitting in the rear may prove effective (one issue may be I can’t lean wayyyy back from there - while comfortable, the hard backed seats are a bit limiting for that).

I would love to try the Zest, just because it has a skeg and runs a good bit shorter (just over 9’) and lighter at 40lbs (compared to 65 for the tarpon and has some multipurpose usage. Any of those true surf kayaks (strike, 5.0, kaos) look like a blast - just difficult to justify a boat like that for a couple of beach trips a year.

I’ll be headed down to NC’s shore, so the tarpon is big enough to squeeze the whole family on and take out in the intercoastal - which is a huge plus. Not super fast, but I get a good workout paddling everyone around. Anyway, I did have fun last time, so maybe with the different seating arrangement, I can get more of a line, assuming there is even a swell.

Many thanks for the advice - great input and lots to consider.

+1 for the Torrent

– Last Updated: Jul-29-09 8:40 AM EST –

Another vote for the Torrent. The are not a surf boat, nor a purist WW boat, and are sluggish for an estuary/salt creek poke exploring boat, but they do it all pretty well and can carry a lot. You can even use one to fish the tidal areas for redfish.

I have used mine in the NC surf for years. They are lots of fun, don't let any one tell you different and about anyone can have fun with them. Yeah, they wont carve a wave as well as a dedicted surf boat, but they are a lot better at running the lower James or New River Gorge too. So, you can take it to the beach and have a great time wave playing, then take it home for a WW run.

You must have thigh straps to enjoy it in the surf. With proper leans, it will carve well enough (they can hit an eddyline pretty hard in WW and are surf-o-matics on decent standing waves), plus the thing will spin on top of beach waves. I like to run it up sideaways on the face of a peaking wave then spin it around to come down the backside just before it breaks.

Same effect with an air mattress
An air mattress will surf just as well, it’s fun but it is not surfing in my book.

You need to be careful what people define as surfing. Going out and getting pushed around by waves is not the same as high speed down the line surfing with cut backs and re-entries. I’ve used all of the boats recommended here and I would get a Cobra Strike if I were you. Yes I’m biased but have a little bit of experience.