Tidal Race Paddling--Long or Short Boat???

Quick opinion question. Do you prefer a longer or shorter boat when paddling in a tidal race? I have both a P&H Cetus and a Aires. I usually use the Aires for this type of paddling given that it is more playful and is the boat I use for surfing (it’s just under 16 feet). It does well, but my challenge is always attaining and being able to get on the face of the bigger waves in fast moving water (water here is moving over 5 knots at max ebb).

I recently tried the Cetus HV in the same tidal race. I thought that perhaps the longer waterline and greater hull speed would help. It seems that it did. It attained quite well and I was able to get on the face of some of the bigger waves. As expected though if your angle got too far off you very quickly got surfed off the wave–very hard to correct.

I was not able to paddle the two boats back to back on the same day. So I only got one day out in the longer boat and it was a day when the waves were a lot more glassy and there was no head wind to battle. So it was not necessarily an apples to apples comparison.

Just wondering what your thoughts are and what you prefer to use for this type of paddling.


How clean are the tide races in question? Are you on Skooks with a lovely green wave? Or San Francisco’s yellow Bluff with its chaotic craziness? The less green/more crazy the waves are, the shorter the boat you likely would want. But shorter boats also work well on the green waves, so long as they have enough speed to catch the wave.

This all said, I’d likely use the Aries over Cetus no matter what the wave looks like. I prefer short and playful.

The water is more chaotic and fast moving—not necessarily big though (probably 2-3 foot). There are some nice green waves at the very front, but they are hard to get to and get on to given the speed of the water.

I am going back there later this month. I will try to test both boats back to back. Generally I like a more playful boat as well–which is the whole reason I have the Aires. I think at this location I have to judge whether the shorter boat is just too hard to get up to and onto the larger waves at the top of the race.


Matt - I am surprised you don’t have a Romany Surf or Tiderace Xtra…perfect boats for this type of play…just an opinion of course as one of the guys up here uses his Cetus MV and does quite well in it.

So here is an update of what I found myself. I got out to the same location this weekend and brought both my Aires and Cetus HV. What I found is that the Cetus actually did better on the two days I paddled there.

The water moves fast there and is not super clean. The challenge this created was that I just could not get the hull speed to catch the waves. I would crest up on top of the wave and just not be able to get on the face despite good timing. I also found that the maneuverability of the boat was somewhat of a disadvantage. The confused water kept pushing me off my line which also hurt my ability to catch waves. The water was moving my boat around a lot and causing me to have to constantly correct. The final thing I noticed is that the stability of the Aires was poor compared to the Cetus in these conditions. When I was on top of a very steep wave it felt pretty unstable which I believe is due to the high rocker and smaller area of contact the boat was making with the water. Just my guess.

The Cetus was fast enough to do a lot better at catching waves, Its tracking ability allowed it to stay on line without getting pushed around as much, yet with good edging and timing turning was not a problem. It also was a lot more stable. I found it to be the better boat in these conditions by far.

I will try the two back to back again to see if I get the same results. The Aires may do better on a day where the current is not moving quite as fast.


Matt, this depends on what you want to achieve that day. Personally I have had the most fun bopping thru and not worrying a lot about attainment. So the shorter boat is preferable because maneuvers better. But you are asking for attainment as a priority - so that means hull speed.
I don’t think short or long is better overall, just that one may be better to meet your specific goals. And as above, tidal races can vary enough to alter the equation for a particular day too.

Hi Celia, I hope you are well!

Good point on pointing out that it matters what you are trying to do. I should have been more specific. My question refers to surfing in a paddling race.

Agree that it is a matter of attainment, but sometimes when you can effectively surf waves you can attain much better than you theoretically should be able to. The key is having the ability to effectively surf waves.

In theory a boat like the Aires with its flat hull, high degree of rocker, and ability to rapidly accelerate should give it the ability to surf better and therefore perhaps to attain better in a tidal race.

However, in the conditions I was in this weekend pure hull speed trumped any advantage the shorter boat had in terms of acceleration as a function of lower wetted surface area, and tracking trumped maneuverability by keeping me from being pushed off my line.

This conversation reminds me so much of the ones I used to have with Jim. We all miss him. Hope you are doing well.


Hi Matt. I am doing fine. Just busy. As far as paddling basics I seem to have recovered my right side roll OK. I think left is going to take pool sessions. Just awfully busy with other stuff and the left was a much bigger uphill climb to start with.

More thoughts on your question - I could argue that a hull which would maneuver faster could get you to the spot from which you want to attain better than a stiffer boat, because it’d turn more adroitly with less effort. Rather than going by that spot time after time saying damn just a little too late. I did that - saying damn I missed it - a lot my last time at Sullivan Falls. Happily there were goodsized haystacks just downstream. Bouncing thru stacks over my head saying whoopie was not a training goal for the class, but it was fun so heck.

But it seems to me that at some point you just plain need the hull speed. A friend of ours borrowed one of Jim’s WW boats once, someone who was accustomed to an older WW boat with more hull speed than his. I think it was his I3 but don’t quote me on that. She took it into some class 2 or so runoff stuff near the end of a local run. We watched her turn the boat at the perfect spot to attain had she been in her own boat, and time after time she could not get Jim’s boat up on the wave. But his boat was more of a play boat, had zilch hull speed. In this case the paddler technique was solid enough, but the difference in hull speed between the boats was killing her success.

I suspect the question about whether better tracking helps or hurts staying on the wave is going to depend on the specific water conditions, speed of the water and how organized the currents are. That’ll change partly based on what part of the tide you are in. Perhaps an argument to bring both boats…

Interesting topic. I have an Aries and a Romany. I find I prefer the Aries in bigger/steeper conditions, but the Romany is easier to attain waves and more suitable for smaller conditions like the tideraces I usually encounter. It still is maneuverable and fun on the wave. I think boat choice would be based on wave size for me. The Aries was supposed to replace the Romany but their characteristics and strengths are different enough to where I couldn’t part with it.