Question about Surf Kayaks?

Hi, I am going to build a CLC Matunuck Surf kayak from plans this winter, and would like to ask a couple of questions from you Surf Kayakers.

First this boat has a rather large cockpit 19X31 inches to be exact. Is there some reason behind this or is this just a one size fits all approach to boat design. Personally I prefer ocean cockpits and I would like be able to use the same spray skirt that I have for my Greenland Night Heron on this boat.

Second, would you add fins to this boat, if so how many, and would they be fixed or retractable.

Third, I plan on putting in bulkheads with inspection plates, instead of using air bags. Any thoughts pro or con on this approach?

Last question, is there anything else you would change or do to enhance usability. Any thoughts on how strong a surf kayak should be built.

As always thanks in advance.


Call Nick Schade
You should call the designer, Nick Schade. Or you could post this question to his forum at Nick’s Guillamette Kayak website. By the way, that is Nick in the pictures of the Matunuck on the CLC website.

I definitely say you should add fin boxes. There are brands that allow you to swap out fins easily or go without. It would be foolish not to give yourself this option on a surf boat.

Here is the link:

Here is how Nick describes the Matunuck on his website:

There is a nice surf break near me in Matunuck, Rhode Island. It may not match up to Mavericks, but late winter swells roll in for some really sweet rides. This inspired me to develop a wooden surf kayak so I could go out there and feel the wave energy lift me up and propel me along the break. I will admit the boat is better than I am. Many have been the times I was certain I was in for a thrashing, but my little Matunuck surf kayak just squirted out along the wave like a watermelon seed out of the mouth of a picnicker.

The Matunuck has a hard rail with a round or thumb tail. The nose has a fair amount of rocker with a relatively flatter midsection and just a little bit of tail kick. The plywood bottom is fairly flat across with a bit of a channel at the bow. The result is fast with a good ability to hold an edge and carve the wave face.

The stern is created by wrapping plywood into a dramatic duck-tail, which not only holds a wave nicely, but is spectacular to behold. I installed fins on my prototype in a tri-fin configuration, but you can install standard finboxes in the plywood in pattern suitable to your local conditions. While there is a passing resemblance to a white water play boat, this design is intended for ocean surf.

if you are buying the kit, the cockpit is set unless you are will to get more materials and shape them for a new configuration. I suggest you go the Dick Wold approach with knee blocks made from foam. It can be customed to give a smaller cockpit and tighter fit but still be changeable as you get more time in the boat.

Emphatic YES to fins. Do not order non adjustable fin boxes, e.g. Futures, FCS, Lokbox. Leave these to the expert builders and shapers who know exactly where to locate the fin boxes relative to the design and the rider. You want “long boxes” typically used for long surf boards. These come in 6" to 10.5" lengths. The fins can be slide back and forth in the boxes. They are slightly heavier but gives you adjustability in fin location – something very important for someone who may know exactly where to locate the fins on the hull. You can order long boxes from Fins Unlimited:

A good starting place for fin location is to locate the side (thruster) fins in a line with your butt cheek bones. The middle fin is generally a fin’s width behind the side fins. With long boxes you can adjust a bit more fin the optimal positioning for the fins for more turning or tracking.

The side fin boxes are toed in, with the back of the box about an inch from the rail and the front of the box pointed to the box (some skip this by simply using a 15 degree toed in). The center box should be align with center line running from bow to stern.


PS. PM if you get to the actual building and want more specific details.

Thanks for the replies. I will add fin boxes for sure. I gather there are no issues going to a ocean cockpit. Since I’m building from plans and am not using there kit. Changing the cockpit size will be easy, and I can save my money for fin boxes instead of on a new spray skirt.

Thanks Michael

Ocean Cockpit…

– Last Updated: Jan-23-08 7:55 PM EST –

not adviseable for ww boats because of possible entrapment when pinned. Pinning is extremely rare in the surf zone. The issue is how "bombproof" your roll, how big you are and the ease/quickness of a wet exit. If you get caught by another breaker in the middle of an exit, you risk torqueing your knees/ankles, etc. When I started surfing long boats, I was out with partner when he blew his roll. By the time, he decided to wet exit, he was hit by another breaker. One of his legs was still in the keyhole cockpit. Damaged his knee ligaments. He had hard time getting back to

Having said that, I starting useing suicidal knee blocks and seat belts in my surf kayaks to make sure I stay in the boat in big waves. These came from being sucked out several times. Frankly, I much happier on my waveski with a seatbelt. Keeps me attached firmly until I pull the belt and am released. No cockpit or skirts to deal with.


Don’t do the Ocean Cockpit!

– Last Updated: Jan-23-08 8:30 PM EST –

Use foam to outfit a good fit.

Oldschool surf boats had very small cockpits and they are no fun when you have to wet exit in breaking surf. The original Mike Johnson surf boat is called "The Screaming Taco" with a small cockpit. I'm not sure why but I was told because they tended to trap people quite efficiently. I can testify to having your knee stuck in the boat with small cockpit while getting pounded with 8' breaking wave sucks big-time.

Do a try fin placement. Dave Church has good instructions for locating fins on his website.

Foam Set Up…
in a larger cockpit. It held me in pretty securely but is still easier to exit from then an ocean cockpit. I am not recommendating one or the other… You need to decide based on your own knowledge and skills.


we are got some experience around here in NE using the O’Fish from DC. I did the OFish conversion on a RIP. I didn’t follow his suggestion on fin location since I already had an idea based on the two surf kayaks I already had (and moving fins back and forth in those). Couple of others using OFish ended up with fin placements that I thought was out of optimal for them. I think they agreed as well.

I love the Ofish fin shapes. I hate the boxes they are not strong and tend to break on impact. Supposedly this helps save major damage to the craft. I don’t buy it. I have much harder bumps without damage to boxes or craft with other types of boxes. I think the OFish boxes is much suited to high end board competitors who want very light board to help in getting more air.


ocean cockpit
Hi, thanks for the replies.

I looked at the outfitting on your surf boat and checked out a couple of others. I don’t know, maybe its just me, but the outfitting looks like an attempt to make a ocean cockpit out of foam. I’m not sure why this would be easier to get in and out of versus a ocean cockpit.

Personally I wet exit by doing a forward somersault regardless of the cockpit size. So the cockpit size doesnt seem to matter much. My own preference is to roll up and not wet exit if at all possible. Which is why I practice my rolls almost daily.

Since pinning is unlikely, unlike white water. I will probably end up with the ocean cockpit for no other reason then the fact that I always feel protected and safe in one. Something I don’t feel in a larger cockpit.

Now, do any of you use perimeter lines on your surf boats. Also any idea’s on how heavy a layup I should use?

Thanks, Michael

I’m not sure the size of waves you are used to surfing in. Doing a wet exit in turbulent breaking surf is very different than in non breaking waves. The force of the wave is beyond any force you can exert to somersault out of the boat. You can find your self pinned upside down on the back deck, on the front deck, sucked halfway out of the boat with your legs or portion of one leg trapped. Having a bombproof roll is great but trust me everybody who surfs in real waves has lost their paddle, broken their paddle, gotten half sucked out of a boat, had their boat break, or had the skirt rim even ripped off. You want a boat you can get out of, when things are going very wrong.

I Believe Experience Is The Best
teacher. :slight_smile:

For every “solution”, there is a downside. It’s just that we prepare for our worse fear and quickly go over the others (until one of the others whack us and put the fear back into the equation).

Live (hopefully) and learn.


Surfing bigger waves means we are playing with fire anyway.

…Or, they just swam because their
bombproof roll, as Rick S. says, wasn’t exposed to a big enough bomb. Seadart, you raise very practical information concerning a dynamic environment.


Now about those perimeter lines …;>


I certainly agree with your assessment. I too have had many of the same experiences. So I don’t discount what your saying. Its that In my experience, I seem to have a easier time of it when I’m in a ocean cockpit.

Example you talked about being pinned to the back deck. I’ve found myself in this situation a few times. The difference was in the ocean cockpit I could still reach the pull tab on the spray skirt, but could not do so in a boat with a large keyhole cockpit. I’ve been sucked out of my boats on many occasions, but only rarely in a OC.

I guess for me I’ve had more positive experiences in a OC then a Keyhole cockpit which is why I personally feel safer in one. Anyway thanks for your time.