Surf Ski, which one?

I found out that I won the surf ski give away from Hull Speed magazine. The company giving the kayak away is oceanpaddlesports. apparently I get to choose from any one of their single surf skis.

Having never used a surf ski, I am not sure what to look for and could use suggestions from folks on this board.

My info: I am 5’10", 218 lbs. I currently have a mariner II as my standard boat. The “tippiest” boat I have tried has been a chatham 18 (20 inch beam on that boat). That boat did not feel overly tippy.

I don’t mind investing time to learn how to use a tippier boat. I am thinking of going to the more performance end of the spectrum, since my current boat already hits the “faster” end of the spectrum, for sea kayaks anyway.

The choices: I get to pick from the following models.

Fenn Mako Millenium

Fenn Mako XT

Custom Kayak Mark 1

Custom Kayak ICON

The boats are at this link

Also, is the carbon upgrade worth it? Any durability issues with skis? Quality issues with Fenn or Custom kayak?

So, what are the recommendations from the surf ski owners out there?

Appreciate any input.

ask the Hemmens
The Hemmens can probably steer you correctly better than I.

The Mako and Icon will feel pretty darned tippy compared to the kayaks you’ve paddled. I hopped straight into a MambaII (fairly tippy 21’ racer) from a kayak in July 2003 and it was dicey for a few weeks (though I did paddle New York Harbor after 10days, bracing like a madman).

The XT and Mark1 will be friendlier to learn. The Mark1 will be decidedly faster than the XT.

I wouldn’t bother with carbon. It’s just a couple of pounds (your mileage may vary, some paddlers swear by lighter is better, lighter is a bit easier to accelerate to catch bumps but timing seems to be the biggest factor in catching bumps no matter what the weight of the boat).

Is your 218lbs an athletic 218? That often makes a difference for stability. Extra balast above the belt seems to make boats tippier.

i have a mark 1 and love it
but, all things being equal, i’d recommend getting the xt. the adjustable footwells will be a big plus for your first ski, since you may not know just how you would want it set up. plus it is easier to resell if you don’t like it. it’s also a hair more stable, but still highly regarded, not just as a beginner ski. it’ll be an excellent cold water ski in the pnw when you’d rather not fall off. and don’t worry about the carbon.

have fun,


Totally agree on XT

– Last Updated: Jan-09-05 10:44 PM EST –

Best way to go. If you really take to paddling a ski and want to move up later, or find skis just aren't for you, a used XT would then be very easy to sell.

At your height/weight, unless you're an aerobically fit hard core weight lifter with exceptional balance, you will be at a disadvantage. Another reason to go with the more stable and adjustable XT.

I was 215 5'9 when I first tried a ski (after some time in 18' x 21" kayak). Big wake up call! You can get away with being heavy in sea kayaks, not so easy with skis. I've lost 20# since and plan to drop more. I just picked up a used Mark 1 that is more stable than what I had. Fits better too, but biggest difference was less gut in the way of knees up paddling. I'm a rank beginner, and can't really put the time in that mastering a ski requires, but I'm hoping that getting lighter/fitter will allow me to progress with what time I have.

Another stability comparison: I tried a very low volume Greenland stlye S&G boat today with about a 19" beam. After testing out the Mark 1 yesterday for fit and such (can really call it a full test paddle), the litte 19" boat felt solid as a rock. At first a ski's stability feels a lot like siting up on the back deck of something like that Chatham you tried with feet on the front of the coaming. Ever try that? Have fun!

If I were smarter and had more $, I'd probably get an XT - and then see how I'd progress from there. You can do this free. Congrats!

I agree
with afolpe,

Although I own a Mako Mille and previously a Mark 1, the XT is the most versatile of the four skis. but I would be prepared to love skis and not think about reselling. Once you get the balance down and the proper clothing to wear (that may be the harder part to find a good cold water/warm air combo, but very necessary), A surfski is an amazingly fun boat to paddle.

the Mark 1 seemed to me to be a very good boat with more volume in the bow than the Mako millenium. I think it is a good heavier weight boat with a super strong layup. It is more forgiving than the MAko, but not that much slower. The Mako XT Is perhaps the best all around boat, but will not be the best racer. This may not be a priority to you now, but the ability to put in long distances with surfskis, is part of there fun, and there is a lot of wavechaser races up near you I think.

All in all, DeAnne Hemmens was a wonderful person to talk to and get advice from, she will put you in the best boat for you, and there is no sales pressure. The carbon is up to you, it does not affect the hulls performance, but is better for the instant acceleration to catch a wave or a wake. congrats on your most beneficial win.

Not really athletic (yet)
The 218 is still not “athletic”. I can stand to lose another 20 lbs or so of fat, offset with some gain in muscle from weight lifting. Looking to balance out in the 200 lb range over the next 4-6 months, maybe slightly higher if the weight lifting goes well.

Stability dif surf ski vs sea kayak?
Any thoughts as to why surf skis of similar dimensions to sea kayaks are less stable? (Assuming using a wing paddle and a good, full rotation stroke in both types of boats.)

I know there are a lot of factors that could be impacting the differences. My guesses would be a more rounded hull profile and no deck/thigh braces as additional contact points on surf skis.

But, are there other issues I may not be considering.

You pretty much nailed it
Rounder hull, different contact points with the boat, legs together and knees up more, and sometimes a higher seat position. There aren’t many 17"-19" beam sea kayaks either.

Like I said - get a “fast” 21" beam sea kayak - but instead of sitting in the cockpit - sit up on the rear deck with feet together on the front of the coaming. It’s a lot like that.

Deep seat skis (most newer models - all on your list) can present some remounting challenges too, and weight and fitness can really come into play here (but balance/timing mostly). Deeper buckets do give better fit/control one you’re in and moving.

I have had several conversations
with DeAnne Hemmens and really found her to be knowledgable and helpful. Ditto on what others have advised. I don’t paddle a ski (yet), but if I decide to sell my heritage shearwater and get a ski, it will either be the mako xt or the futura II, for all the reasons mentioned. BTW, I am jealous you won the free ski!


Also worth noting that at your size
you might have fit issues with the 17" beam skis that would necessitate padding up a little bit to be able to get into the seat, which will reduce stability a bit.

Millenium vs ICON/Mark 1
In addition to this board, the folks at Hullspeed recommended the XT also.

But, to understand the trade offs of the higher end better, how much difference in stability is there between the 17 in beam of the Fenn Mako Millenium and the 18+ beam of the ICON or the Mark 1.

I realize that this is a subjective judgement call, maybe too close to call. Is the Millenium “a lot tippier”, by your judement than the other 2? But, given my lack of experience, I appreciate these subjective judgement calls from this experienced group.

My next stop is to call Ocean Paddlesports and get there guidance on boat selection.

Thank you everyone for your great input. I have found all of the responses to my post very helpful.

the icon is brand new
i doubt anyone has paddled it here. judging from the posts of a south african guy on the surfski site, it is not by any means an entry level boat. very close to the mako i suspect. i have tried the mako a few times and found it actually surprisingly stable- i think i could move up from the mark 1 without too much trouble if i wanted to (which i don’t right now). the mako does have a very narrow and deep seat though, noticeably more so than the mark1, which is a deep seat ski. i find the mako a bit tight, and i’m a not especially big 5’11" 180.

honestly, i see a lot more people get frustrated from not being able to paddle a tippy ski than i see people frustrated that their stable ski is too slow. even a “slow and stable” ski is still very fast and relatively twitchy, compared to a kayak. you will have a learning curve on the xt, just not as steep a one, and you will be having tons of fun on it at a time when you might still be trying to stay upright on the mako or icon.

i’ve had a mariner 2- great boat, but trust me, you will be shocked how much different the xt is.


Is all I can compare. The Mark 1 is noticeably more stable. I would give it about a 4 and the MAko a 2.2 on a scale of 1-10. the key to balance is the forward stroke for me. Always keeping that third point of contact with the water and the blade moving away from you= stability. when you take the blade out of the water, then its really tippy. The most likely time to go over, is when you stop and grab for the water bottle and whoops over you go, no third point of contact. Balance does get better as your stroke gets better. A surfski is meant to be going fast, like a bicycle gains stability with speed, so does the ski. sitting still on surfski will not tell you much of anything. Aside from all that, the Mark 1 will be a better starter ski than the Mako, especially if you haven’t done any K-1 paddling in tippy boats.

Great Feedback
Deanne at Ocean Paddlesports, also recommended the XT when I spoke to her. I am going to call and the order the XT later today.

What speed differential do you see between your old Mariner 2 and your surf skis? very noticable?

I appreciate your input especially since you have a common reference point of the Mariner 2. I don’t find the Mariner II tippy at all, very stable. So, it is good to know that even the XT will be a noticable challenge and “step up” from the Mariner II. It sounds like the XT will present enough challenge to learn new skills and improve, likely without being too intimidating. That addresses my concern of the XT being too similar to the Mariner.


Until you’ve been on a ski…

– Last Updated: Jan-10-05 9:54 PM EST –

... these verbal comparisons of stability are not going to help you much. What the "average" ski paddler calls stable the "average" sea kayak paddler might call extreme.

These are all racing skis. XT will certainly not dissapoint for challenge or speed. You will be much faster on an XT for quite some time than you will be on any of the others.

XT will speed your learning curve, and you could sell it and go to one of the others in good condition used later and maybe even come out ahead. Actually, with a free boat, your ahead no matter what.

You will be PLENTY challenged by the XT. Be sure to post again after your first test!!! First time ski paddle are often pretty entertaining.

Seawave’s stability numbers…

– Last Updated: Jan-10-05 10:16 PM EST –

... are great. I read them as percentages. So at 2.2 a Mako Millennium is 22% stable - and you have to be 78% stable (on flat water). If a Mark 1 is a 4, then I'd rate my 21" wide Q700 an 8 1/2 to 9, meaning I only have to be 10-15% stable. Hardly have to pay attention to the boat at all. I'd guess the XT at 4.5 on the Seawave scale.

Another way to look at it would be a challaenge factor. The lower the number, the higher the learning curve. A 78% grade is a pretty steep climb.

I like to look at skis as if they have zero stability, the paddler has some, and the paddle let's them leverage what they have.

The better you get with balance and technique, the more easily you handle your side of the balance equation. A boat that's a little easier to manage is certainly not a liability here, it's a bonus.

Obviously this is all relative. Two years ago, switching from a very wide kayak, I doubt I'd have rated my sea kayak a 9 for stability. A ski would have been too much, and I'd have just given up on first try. But that's me, and I'm only half crazy on my Mother's side.

I would agree with greyak about the XT rating. Although the 700 of which I had one for a year, I would give around a 7. Or maybe we will have to come up with another rating scale for boats over 21": the 10-20 scale.

The XT is a beautiful boat and i’ve paddled it a couple of times. I wish I could have one as a second ski. More than anything would be its ability to handle the beach break on the ocean on those 4’+ days. It woul;d also be great for my 9 year old. She can actually stand up in the cockpit of the Mako! Surprisingly, most kids can. I would get the carbon if you can afford the extra charge, as a lighter boat is easier to car top and over time as they do get heavier, it will be lighter and easier to handle.

Ordered the XT
Thanks everyone for the advice. I ended up ordering the Fenn Mako XT, in Carbon. Should get it in a couple weeks.

Will let everyone know how it goes once I have a chance to get it on the water.

Should be a fun learning experience. Hope this turn of fortune will let me learn some new skills and make it easier to get on the water (eventually).