Surf Ski?

I’m looking to get a faster boat. I currently have a Tempest 170 that I love. But I’d like to get a sleeker faster boat. I’m seeing lots of things on the Surf Ski. It looks really cool but its kind of like a Sit On Top and I kind of like the security of a standard kayak with a spray skirt. Especially on colder days. Still the Surf Ski is very interesting. Can you use them for all kinds of paddling or are they mostly a fitness/racing kind of thing? I’m assuming they are meant for day kayaking as they don’t seem to have any place to hold gear.


Any way you want it
They’re primarily designed for racing but some, like the Epic V8, are somewhere between a fast touring boat and racing boat. The biggest advantage of the surf ski design is that when you tip you just jump back in and go. No worry about missing a roll or bailing.

Rolling is great but not always practical when racing/training. You’re already huffing and puffing for air so it’s not like you can hold your breath until you finally hit your roll.

You’ll also find that a spray skirt makes for a hot, sweaty, and stinky cockpit in warm weather at workout/race pace.

But if you want a sit in kayak there are plenty out there that can be had very reasonably used that can easily keep up with a surf ski (look at West Side Boat Shop).


And, the Epic V-6
has hatches.

maybe do it all
People with skills can make a surf ski do it all. We have a guy here who paddles in rough water (almost rock gardens) with one. But that isn’t normal and takes some pretty impressive skills.

There are boats that are near surf skis, but still have cockpits and use skirts. Current Designs Extreme, The Epic that Freya H. used to lap Australia, some of the QCC boats, etc. Generally they will be 18+ feet, have long water lines, rudders, etc.

The Stellar 18S is another with hatches.
It is quickly becoming one of my favorites. My #1 boat is

a Tarpon 160.

fast kayaks and skis
If you are looking for a fast boat that can tour, check out the Epic 18x. Two of my surfski friends paddled to alaska last year in 18x’s. No where near as fast as a ski but quite fast for a kayak.

In general though a ski is most fun doing day paddles, and going fast. Hukis and some Think boats come with a small screw on hatch you can stuff a few items in.

As far as cold weather, up here in the PNW, we paddle our skis year round. Pogies and a 4/3 wetsuit work fine in weather down to near freezing.

Most high end skis are fairly fragile creatures. They get placed on soft grass not gravel and get carried into knee deep water to launch.

v-8 or 18x
Surf skis are wonderful boats to paddle. For the average sea kayaker. The epic boats are fantastic. having fun surf skis on nice warm day playing around and surfing is really special. I paddle kayaks all spring and late fall. When it warms up almost always in the ski. The V- 8 is an amazing boat. fast stable and very maneuverable in choppy water. Got Try before you buy.

Cheers Dan

You can do almost anything …

– Last Updated: May-02-14 6:19 PM EST –

... In a hybrid or transitional surf ski as you can do in your tempest. By hybrid or transitional, I mean a ski designed not as a pure racing boat. Like the V8 or V6 by Epic. What you can't do is roll, lean turn (too much anyway), rock garden, "gorilla schooch" to launch, or go touring, i.e. camping.

What you can do is go faster, paddle in surf, waves, lakes, ocean, etc., for fun, fitness, sightseeing. The rudder is something you have to be aware of: can't retract like a skeg, and not many can pop up if you hit something. The V6 rudder does pop up.

My first few sea kayaks were Tempests. My last decked boat was a Nordlow. Last spring I changed to a V8. It's more stable than the Nordlow, and seems to handle just about all conditions with the same confidence. And it is faster. I go all the same places, in the same conditions.

The experience is different in that you can't use your knees and the deck like a decked boat, and have to rely more on your hips, the paddle, and the boat. You get wet, but on warm days that's nice. When its cold I use a dry suit. Same as a decked boat.

For me, someone who does not roll (bad shoulder), the ski is liberating because I know I can get back on in any condition. Even though I never dumped out of decked boat, and could do a paddle float in calm condition, I always had an edge of caution. With the V8, my confidence has gone up, and I have gone places and in conditions I would not do in my decked boats.

Another benefit of a ski is the weight: half a decked boat. Less gear too: no skirt, pump, etc.

Why not demo one? They are becoming more popular. Epic and Stellar seem most common; Think and others are also out there.

Surfski vs SOT
I would categorize a surfski as having a narrow beam (22" or less; usually less) and rudder placed forward of the stern. Some manufacturers have taken sit-ins, put SOT decks on them and called them surfskis, although they are more conventional SOTs.

The distinction is significant mainly if you intend to surf. Coming down the face of a wave, you want the rudder in the water, under the boat, not waving around in the air.

A true surfski behaves pretty well directly with or against wind and waves. Much less so with beam or quartering seas. Most surfskiers use a wing paddle, which is also something you may want to take into your calculations.

If speed is your goal, you can go the ski route or a less specialized narrow kayak. The best choice depends on how and where you paddle, along with personal preferences.

I didn’t like them
I normally paddle a P&H Scorpio. I rented an Epic SOT surfski in Maui 2 years ago, I think a V8 or V10, not sure.

Surprisingly I was quite disappointed in how the boat handled. Obviously it was faster, but trying to carve a turn by edging was a complete waste of time. Tracked like a freight train, entirely dependent on a rudder to turn. Fun to go fast in calm water or downwind, but frustrating when doing anything else. Left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Also surprised that no one there feels compelled to wear a pfd.

I think my reaction is because my enjoyment of the sport comes from carving turns on edge in lumpy conditions, turning upwind, downwind, broadside, all intuitively with knee braces, hips, and edging. Made me wish I could smuggle a Delphin in to my carry on baggage next time.

Just my $0.02


Beam and quartering seas …
"… rudder placed forward of the stern…"

“A true surfski behaves pretty well directly with or against wind and waves. Much less so with beam or quartering seas. Most surfskiers use a wing paddle, which is also something you may want to take into your calculations.”

Of course the old saying “your mileage may vary” applies, but my V8 behaves the same as my decked boats in beam and quartering seas. Ski’s as a class of boat were designed for open ocean racing. The course is the course, regardless of which way the seas are one day vs. the next, or on various legs of the course. Would be kind of silly to have a boat that cannot handle varying conditions.

The rudders in ski’s are typically more forward, but so is a skeg. There are different sized and shape rudders. Turning into a strong beam wind can be harder than a typical sea kayak. I put a surf rudder on my V8, and it will turn into the stiff beam wind without a problem. The standard rudder did not bite as much.

The boat matters of course; the V8 is an Epic X-18 hull, so it will take waves like a sea kayak.

A completely different experience …

– Last Updated: May-03-14 4:35 PM EST –

... Than a decked boat. They don't fit the same, and different technique and muscles are used.

"... but trying to carve a turn by edging was a complete waste of time. Tracked like a freight train, entirely dependent on a rudder to turn."

" enjoyment of the sport comes from carving turns on edge in lumpy conditions, turning upwind, downwind, broadside, all intuitively with knee braces, hips, and edging."

That is a key difference, and something to adjust to on a ski. I can sit back and let my V8 roll with the wave, regardless of direction, like my decked boats. Loose hips and all that. But if any bracing is needed it needs to come from the paddle, no knees or deck to work with. That takes a little getting used to.

You can edge ... a little, but without knees and deck, it's not the same. However with the rudder more forward than even most skegs, these boats can turn fairly decently; with the right rudder for the contains, they can turn into the wind easily. These are not going to turn like a skilled paddler in a skeg boat can do, but they are not locked on rails. Well, perhaps the specialized ones that are designed for purely speed in a straight line. But the transitional ones like the V6 and V8 and a host of others are about as maneuverable as ruddered 18 foot kayak.

They are also unlike sea kayaks in that they don't fit like pants. The contact in the seat is entirely different; there's not nearly as much. Legs are used more in the stroke, and to keep you in place.

In my experience, making the transition last summer, I found I had to build up a different set of muscles. The effect was more like doing sit ups, with sore abdominal leg muscles.

"Fun to go fast in calm water or downwind, but frustrating when doing anything else."

These are a blast on rough conditions. The heritage of these boats is open ocean racing. Look up some videos and see what conditions these boats are used in.

Although some skis are specialized for straight courses and flat conditions, the typical transitional or recreational ski is intended for rough conditions, and are stable enough to sit back and relax ... not like a plastic SOT or average SINK, but like a purebred sea kayak.

I'm no where near your skill level, so all is of course relative. I take my V8 into the same conditions I would my Nordlow ... with 1 exception: I won't play in the rocks.

nebeginner, I agree with your points. I know it’s a matter of preference and learning a new method. I wonder if I would learn to like surfskis if I made an effort to do it their way. Still happy to have my decked boat and the skills to make it work.


The experts would disagree

– Last Updated: May-04-14 12:58 AM EST –

“Being side-on – basically you never want to be in a side-on position to the prevailing water movement. Sometimes this is inevitable depending on the coastline and the area where you are paddling. If you do have to paddle in side-on conditions try and do a zigzag type vibe.” – Dawid Mocke (a world champion surfskier and owner of MockePaddling surfski school) from “The Ocean ABC of Surfski Paddling”
Most other surfski primers will advise you to paddle with the wind/waves or against it, and if you find yourself otherwise, immediately turn to the direction they’re going.

“The main idea is that (surfski) races run between two points (ie. beaches or harbours) on the coast and go with the direction of the wind, so paddlers can use the waves - what we call "runners" or "swells" - to help them pick up speed.” – Jenna Hawkey (European surfski champion, two years)

Surfski race courses at the competitive level aren’t randomly plotted. The true surfski is specifically designed to run with wind/waves and gain speed by surfing the latter. The courses for them are predominantly laid out to fit the craft the race is held for, going from one point to another in the direction of wind/waves (and seldom, if ever, have legs that do otherwise). Holding a surfski race on a circuit course would be the equivalent of conducting a race for dragsters at Indy or for road bikes on a mountain trail. Craft intended specifically for speed are designed especially for the intended conditions, not compromise to handle variances from planned use. Ferrari designs its GT racers for the serpentine race courses and doesn't waste a second of thought or ounce of material to make them competent for running out in a snow storm for a loaf of bread.

PRS Surf Ski
Last year I bought a Spirit Paddle PRS Surf Ski. It is completely different from anything that I have every paddled. It is 18’ 6” long and 20” wide, it is a sit on top and does not allow a place for a spray skirt. I bought the boat used from a lady from North Carolina. She used to compete in some of the marathon races in Texas. The main reason she got rid of the boat was because the water temperatures in NC is a bit colder than here in Texas especially the coastal areas. Since it is a sit on top, it does not allow the paddler any protection from the wind and water. The PRS is fast and I can average about 6 mph depending on the conditions I am paddling in. I like the PRS for the fact that it is easier to empty than a sit in and easier to get in after you have fallen out. The only problem with the surf ski is it is not as stable as some of the sit in kayaks, but once you get paddling the more stable you get. It took me a little while to get used to the PRS but now I would not trade it for anything.

Hope this information helps you out and best wishes.

Ted Van Dusen’s Mohican
Should better serve your purpose? Or give a look at the various Necky Looksha kayaks: 17, 19, 20 or maybe a Phantom?

I went 18X
I was in the same situation as you with my paddling a Cape Horn 170. I really wanted to get into Surf Skis, but being in Canada and wanting to paddle year round in cold water, I went with the Epic 18X with wing paddle and I am very happy with the decision. I’ll rent a surf ski when the weather turns seriously warm and that’ll be enough for me.

Good luck!

Surf ski’s…just a different experience
I have 3 main rides that I paddle regularly. A canoe, kayak and surf ski. I pick the one that fits the location and serves my desire for the day. Canoe for a bit more relaxed paddle, kayak for speed and distance, surf ski for more speed but less distance and excercise. The kayak is more comfortable for my 2-5 hour paddles.

A surf ski is minimalist. All you need is a paddle and your PFD and maybe some water. One trip from your vehicle to the water.

I am just a beginner, but …
Of course I defer to your skills and knowledge, as I am just learning. Here are a few things I found, in just a few minutes, on skis and beam seas and wind. I read quite a bit on these boats before getting one. I am not planning to race, just fitness and fun. Not all boats are the same, and some are designed for flat calm racing. But mot of what I read involves open ocean with these boats. I’m referring to more transitional skis rather this specialized ones. I would not have have picked one up if I could not use it the most of the same conditions as my NordLow. I guess I’m glad I didn’t read what you posted, because I would never of known my V8 was not supposed to be used in wind, chop, and ocean.

Reviews on this site:

Stellar S18S “… and found the boat handled superbly in the chop. Two foot beam waves were no problem - just fun, and heading downwind it picks up the waves to surf with ease.”

Using a Think Evo: “I will regularly put in when the marine forecast calls for winds to 20+ knots and seas to 5 feet or more. Periodically, we have some big ocean storms or hurricanes far off the coast of New England that will generate 8-10 foot ground swells as they enter the mouth of the bay. I now live for these as last fall I managed to record 19.1 miles per hour max speed on my GPS riding one of these babies. I don’t think I can stop doing this – neither will you. ~ Bill”

“When I got into this sport it was through adventure racing where you race between points, so often you are not ideally positioned for what the wind and swell are doing.”

“I was reminded how valueable stability is in cross chop conditions a few weeks ago when I did my first ocean race in a few months (I tend to stick to marathon river/estuary racing). While I finished in the top 25% of the field I was overtaken by another paddler on a V8”

Race report citing beam seas and waves … very matter of facts about it: