Surf Ski or Kayak?

by Helen Morrow from Paddlecraft Kayaks

In the paddling world, one of the biggest changes in the past few years has been the amount of paddlers abandoning their kayaks and jumping onto the more stable surf skis now being offered by many manufacturers. Whether it is the baby boomers shunning their sea kayaks, a mid life crisis or a looming 50th birthday on the horizon or a desire to get back into the forgotten surf of one’s youth, the newly engineered surf skis have found their ways into more garages and car ports around the world – and for many good reasons too!

Surf Ski Photo 2

Stability is not usually associated with surf skis, but the new entry skis now offered by most of the ski manufacturers have a width that varies from 520 – 550 cm at the seat area with wide side rails and a flattened hull shape underneath the seat area which has allowed most paddlers with some experience to transition to these new craft very easily. Being able to paddle these skis with out going for an unintended swim was unprecedented in years gone by! Different entry level skis have varying seat and footwell designs but all of them provide adjustable foot pedals and will suit low to high volume paddlers – a nice ski term to describe the ski’s weight capacity.

Surf Ski Photo 4

Ease of remounting the craft is another major benefit and safety consideration that has helped lift the surf ski’s popularity. Taking your first ski into a more challenging water environment is a thrill and having the ability to easily remount unassisted is a crucial element to that self-confidence. The open hull design also offers those paddlers, lacking the flexibility required for getting into the tight cockpit of a sea kayak, a competitive craft that can be paddled fast and in rougher waters. A bit of upper body strength and some technique & remounting practice will provide a great sense of self-satisfaction and contribute to your safety and well-being.

Lastly, but certainly not the least consideration, is the weight versus the cost of these crafts compared to their counterpart in the sea kayak world. At around a base cost of $2,600 and an average 16 kgs. weight, it is really difficult to find a comparable sea kayak that matches these features. The weight of the craft is often a key consideration for most paddlers that have to transport their boat on a car and need to be comfortable in lifting it onto a roof rack by themselves and with the added bonus and pleasure of paddling a lighter craft.

Surf Ski Photo 3

Most manufacturers have been racing to meet this new market and Stellar Kayaks have produced one of the most popular models available, the Stellar S18S surf ski. Recognising the appeal of these craft to the paddler transitioning from a sea kayak, Stellar has provided some attractive features including (2) dry storage compartments, bungee cords at the rear, carry handles and handy water bottle storage. The ski is also available in (4) different compositions and a signature range of colors selections. At Paddlecraft Kayaks, located on Pittwater in Bayview, we stock demo models of the Stellar skis, as well as, Fenn Kayaks & Vadja skis, and we are able to put customers on the water to trial paddle these skis to see what best suits their ability, stability & experience.

Surf Ski Photo 1

Stalwart sea kayakers who paddle multi day excursions and prefer the capacity and seaworthy ruggedness of their craft are unlikely to pack away their trusted companion. But for the many day-trippers who yearn for a more light hearted, lively and cost competitive solution, it is hard to turn away from these new sleek paddlecraft!

Paddlecraft Kayaks

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2 thoughts on “Surf Ski or Kayak?

  1. The biggest problem with a ski is you trade 99% of your initial stability and 50% of your final stability.I tried a couple skis including the “most stable” and found them exponentially more tippy and terrifying than the touring kayaks I was used to. If you want to stop, have a drink or a meal, enjoy the scenery surfski is going to be a lot harder. Good luck in getting into one too, all you have to do to upset the balance even on something everyone says is ‘stable’ is just breathe. Anything more than that if you’re not moving you need to consider swimming as a regular part of your paddling diet.

    You have to understand the surfski does two things differently from the kayak and both increase performance but rob you of stability. The first is the hull is log shaped instead of somewhat oval or flat so getting into one will feel like getting into, well a log and it will want to turn over accordingly. The second is that you’re sitting higher up as the design is more of a sit on top. In that case it raises you for better leverage, but also raises the center of gravity. So for example a 23.5″ wide kayak is considered an intermediate boat that is somewhat tippy but nothing that difficult. A 23.5″ wide ski is considered slow and novice friendly, but it will be FAR tippier than a 23.5″ kayak so it’s not apples to apples.

    I get it there’s more speed and whatnot but you pay a steep price. Physics will say you don’t get something for nothing, Surfski is just an extension of that. It’s a much more fast paced, “extreme” version of kayaking, both in good and bad. Unless you’re wanting to get into what feels like an entirely different hobby with a much steeper learning curve requiring a significant time investment to get working, I wouldn’t get rid of my sea kayaks for the same reason you wouldn’t trade in your pickup truck, SUV or family sedan/wagon for a Ferrari because you might not want to deal with all the negatives of something capable of going top speed all the time and it may not be practical for you to constantly be driving at top speed. You might need them to come back to with your tail between your legs.

    • My experience is exactly what the author says. I have a sea kayak but the one I chose to take out 90% of the time is the surf ski for all the reasons above. Much lighter to transport (I can lift myself), self rescue is way easier than my sea kayak, and not as tippy as I had been led to believe (my entry level ski is less tippy than my sea kayak IMO). I happily sit in it and enjoy the scenery. I use it just liked my kayak, and it even has (smaller) touring hatches that would work for an overnight trip.

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