surf ski safety

until i found this website i knew very little about surf skis. i find them to be a very interesting sub category of kayaks and enjoy reading the threads about them here. the recent Sea Kayaker issue about them is excellent.

so it seems that they are frequently paddled on long open crossings in big water. yet i see very little in the way of safety aspects to the sport. no pfd use, no perimeter lines to hold on to the boat, etc. is it easier than it seems to swim in big water and hold on to your paddle and boat sans pfd? are there support motor boats where they race? are there many reported/known casualties in the activity?

That’s been my concern exactly,
jbv. I know other people feel otherwise, but I often wonder if surfskis make any sense in cold New England waters. Yes, they are fun and fast, but I feel naked on the ski compared to my usual feeling of security in a “proper” sea kayak, with deck lines, toggles, hatches, compass, drysuit, sprayskirt, roll-ability, spare paddle, and other safety features that surfskis lack. A boat can blow away in a few seconds, and a lost or broken paddle while surfskiing would simply be a disaster.

In the Moloka’i, they use support boats. In the Blackburn, there is not full support, but they do keep track of the racers at a checkpoint, and have some support boats.

I personally do not feel comfortable paddling alone in a ski in the ocean at any distance from shore. That’s one reason I didn’t get to train much for the recent Blackburn Challenge race around Cape Ann in Massachusetts–I had just one outing in real waves, when a skilled paddler accompanied me in his sea kayak, laden with enough safety gear for both of us.


ski safety
"“no pfd use”"

PFDs are used for unnassisted open water crossings.

““no perimeter lines to hold on to the boat””

Perimeter lines would not be safe in big surf. Some use a ankle to boat leash or a paddle to boat leash in open water.

““etc. is it easier than it seems to swim in big water and hold on to your paddle and boat sans pfd? “””

Grab the foot straps. Swims are short if you know what you are doing. Skis are quite easy to remount. Remounting is actually easier without a pfd.

““are there support motor boats where they race?””


“” are there many reported/known casualties in the activity?”"

Rare to my knowledge.

In a nutshell skis are fitness and racing craft usually used for short duration intense paddling. You don’t need expedition equipment for a race or fitness paddle. As for immersion gear, you really have to dress light if you are going to paddle hard. That makes the safety trade-off when dealing with cold water a consideration. I just avoid water below the upper 50’s and when the water is in the 50’s 60’s I take extra care to minimize the risk of prolonged swimming (losing the boat).

Have always been a big fan of pfd until heat stroke sat at blackburn. It is a tradefoff.

Used to own a Ventura Surf Ski
and paddle it at the Jersey Shore. I agree with most of what was said with the exception of the PFD. Might be harder to remount with one on but the other advantages of wearing one far outweigh the disadvantages in my humble opinion.


Don’t lose the boat
and do be sure that you can get back into it if you come out in conditions. That’s about it. Leashes are good. I’d be a lot more cautious in cold water than warm, but there’s no particular reason a ski needs to be more dangerous than any other kayak if used with a little ocmmon sense.

i guess if they can be reentered,
and the paddler carry on that is a big bonus. they are seamless and take on no water is that right? i would love to try one, or any race oriented kayak. i also love canoeing so i would like to try sprint canoes as well. in the not too distant future methinks.

They are seamless,
but not risk-free–any small hole risks sinking the boat, as will forgetting the little rubber plug for the drain hole.

It’s probably obvious that I’m at the conservative end of the spectrum when it comes to safety equipment. This is partly my nature, and partly because I paddle alone. It’s always true too that the paddler’s skill and judgement is at least as important as any piece of equipment. I think of a K1 paddler I know who paddles frigid water in a boat most of us couldn’t keep upright for 10 seconds. His stability is rock solid, which makes him safe.


Not necessarily
The skis I know of have a big foam stringer down the middle of the hull inside and flood pretty slowly. Yes, it’s possible that you could swamp one to the point where it would be difficult or impossible to paddle, but it won’t happen quickly unless you break the boat pretty badly.

Paddling up north is almost a different sport, surf skis were developed in South Africa and Australia… they are warm water boats…just because some one “up north” wants to use them in cold water doesn’t make them inherently unsafe. Use a boat that was designed for the conditions you paddle in.

If you capsize a surf ski, you can remount and be paddling again in 20-30 seconds…that is if you know how to paddle one. They are self policing to an extent, a novice may never keep it upright long enough to get into trouble.

I heard one “expert” SIS paddler (a SIS dealer) talk about having to use a Paddle float to remount a surf ski…just goes to show that one can be an expert in one area of the sport and not have a clue in another area.

You want to know about surf ski’s, ask people who paddle them as their main boat…not someone who paddle’s one occasionally or tried it once.