So what’s a surfski? If you’re new to this exciting sport, a surf ski is a lightweight sit-on-top (SOT) kayak that’s long, narrow, and has a foot-controlled rudder.
These lightening-fast kayaks, because of their long (16-22 feet) narrow hulls, are ideal for punching through heavy surf and large, broken waves. The paddler uses a double-bladed paddle that has efficient, highly-contoured “wing” blades.
Surfskis are in wide use around for surfing, lifesaving work, and flatwater racing. Because of the open SOT cockpit, they’re more popular in warm-water climates such as Florida, California, Hawaii, Mexico and South Africa. Surfskis can be used in colder climates as well, but the paddler would be advised to wear a wetsuit.
One of the advantages of a surfski over a closed-cockpit kayak is the fact that if the boat rolls, the paddler can simply climb back on board and continue paddling without all the hassle of draining the boat and re-attaching the sprayskirt.
But you’re not going to want to go touring in a surfski kayak. Because of their design, they’re less stable and have less maneuverability that wider-hulled sea and touring kayaks. They also typically don’t have much in the way of dry hatches or storage for carrying gear and supplies.
But in the hands of a skilled paddler, a surfski is a wonderful thing to watch slicing through the water. These yaks are becoming increasing popular for both ocean racing, and open-class races that are held on lakes, large rivers and in sheltered bays.
If you’re in the market to buy a surfski, there are quite a few makes and models to choose from. The more inexpensive boats are made from roto-molded polyethylene. These are okay for recreational use, but because they’re heavier than composite boats, they’re generally not suitable for racing (unless you’re you’re a much stronger paddler than your competition).
For racing and other competition, you’ll want a composite boat made of a lightweight material like kevlar, carbon fiber, or fiberglass. Surfskis are also manufactured according to the type of water they’ll be used in – for example, if you’ll be paddling in a lot of heavy surf, the boat’s hull will be reinforced with extra composite layers so that it can withstand the extra pounding.
In recent years, there’s been a large growth in the popularity of surfski racing in the US, Australia, South Africa and other Pacific countries. The most famous race takes place in Hawaii, known as the Molokai race, a 60 kilometer event that was first held in 1976. With the warm water and generally mild weather, the Hawaiian Islands are a perfect setting for surfskiing of all types.
Besides racing and recreational use, surfskis are also widely used for lifeguard rescue work. Many drowning swimmers have made it back to shore alive thanks to a lifeguard in a surfski. There are even lifesaving championships and annual competitions, where lifeguards compete in specially made rescue surfskis.
A waveski is an offshoot of a surfski. Waveskis are are a shorter surfski that’s similar to a surf board, and is used mostly for playing in the surf, rather than long-distance open water racing or competition. Most waveskis are typically under 10 feet in length, and they resemble a thick surfboard, with several fixed fins, or skegs, attached to the bottom for control.
If you’ve never tried waveski surfing, you’re in for a blast. In essence, a waveski has the punch and turning ability of a traditional surfboard, combined with the paddling power of a kayak. In fact the waveski rider uses a double bladed paddle for propulsion just like any other kayak.