Survey discussion - How to get new blood and women into surfski

  • MCImes
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5 years 2 months ago #33129 by MCImes
Here's my question: In places with thriving ski communities with a good mix of women and younger people, what do these communities do that could be replicated in other areas to get more non-traditional people in the sport. (that is, anyone besides a middle age man)

Reading the comments and looking at the demographics of the survey, its quite apparent this is an extremely male, older, and likely high income sport. My experience supports this too. Although I dont live in the mecca of surfski paddling, I have:
-Never seen a woman on a ski 
-Never met a younger ski paddler than me (I am currently 33) and never met a ski paddler below 40
-Rarely meet a ski paddler with less experience than me (3 years paddling ski, though I learn quick and am a strong intermediate trending towards advanced paddler)
-Never met a non-white person with a ski

I know women, newbies, younger, and ethnically diverse people exist in the sport, they just don't necessarily cross paths with me. However, I feel like if ski paddling was growing like SUP is, we'd see more diversity in the sport. I see everyone on SUPs in relatively equal numbers. (that is, men, women, children, and people that aren't albino white, both experienced and completely inexperienced).

Pair that observation with the answers to the question "what was the main impediment to joining the sport". 50% of the responses fall into 2 categories - Cost of Equipment and No one to learn from/paddle with.  "Difficulty finding boats" is also a common response, but I'll lump that in with Cost of Equipment, because you can always find a new boat if you have the $. 

I guess, I would hate to see ski paddling suffer from long term decline, similar to sea kayaking, due to no young blood (in america at least) entering the sport. 

Also, women are 50% of the population but as I write this, only 7% of respondents. How do we get more women in the sport? They seem like low hanging fruit to bring into the ski family. 

It seems like a local Boat Club probably is a common thread of communities with an above average paddling scene. How do boat clubs start up? 

Any thoughts? 

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5 years 2 months ago - 5 years 2 months ago #33130 by SpaceSputnik
In Canada in general and Toronto in particular sea kayaking is pretty much thriving (not particularly diverse, but they certainly have women paddling). This is to the point, that I regularly paddle with sea kayakers (many of them are friends) or solo. Through the entire season I went out with another surfskier once.
Their support system and community is pretty awesome. They have wider boat selection and a ton of instruction options (see Paddle Canada certification levels). It's close to impossible to compete with the appeal of that.
Last edit: 5 years 2 months ago by SpaceSputnik.

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5 years 2 months ago #33131 by Epicpaddler
That's a good question. I had never seen a surfski before two years ago. I got into the sport by accident. I was surfing my sea kayak downwind in a steady 25 knot breeze and loved it. I searched YouTube for kayak surfing and discovered surfskis. I had to try it. A year later I had my first surfski. Where I paddle most folks have no idea what it is. Luckily, there are surfski paddlers from the surrounding area that show up to race (and kick my arse). Sea kayak groups near me are kind of clannish. They are friendly, but aren't apt to try a new boat like a surfski. I'd love to see some younger folks get into the sport. Yes, a new ski can be very expensive, but I've seen lots of used skis for about $1000. I've been trying to get my son into the sport. He likes paddling my ski, but isn't interested in racing. 

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5 years 2 months ago - 5 years 2 months ago #33135 by ErikE

MCImes wrote:   "Difficulty finding boats" is also a common response, but I'll lump that in with Cost of Equipment, because you can always find a new boat if you have the $. 

As I was one of the 'Difficulty finding boats'-people, I could share some thoughts on that issue.

Money certainly helps, but it's more to it that that. When I began (the situation is a little bit better now), there weren't many brands available for trying and/or buying in my home area at all.  You could go on a trip abroad of course, but that does not just cost extra money, it also "costs" extra time and effort.

The other problem is that, while I do admit there's many models I haven't tried, it seems to me that even worldwide, the selection of skis for anybody who is not a big guy with narrow hips is quite bad.  

Lets start with boat volume:  I have met one ski-paddling woman. She was sitting in the smallest ski from the Nelo Ocean ski series - the M. Even though it was the smallest, it was clearly a bit too big for her.  And we see the same from  other manufacturers. Epic's smallest ski, the V10 L, is made for people around 75 kg. What is a, say, 50 kg person meant to paddle?  (This is obviously a problem not only for women, but also teenagers (of both sexes) - in case we wanted to recruit younger paddlers)

And then there's the hip width issue: When I began looking for a ski, I could easily find skis that were quite suitable for me volume-wise*. Even though I'm a fairly big guy (varying between 95 and 100 kg), most skis that aren't specifically made for smaller persons, are, volumewise, more or less perfect for me. But very few have wide enough seats.  (Are people at the same weight as me, but narrower hips really _that_ common?  Do I really have a _that_ unusually fat ass?)  Given that women tend to have a bit wider hips for their body size than men, I can easily imagine that many women find that most surfskis are both too big (volumewise) and too small (seat-widthwise) at the same time.

* Actually, not even that was that easy, but those boats I could lay may hands on, were usually OK volumewise
Last edit: 5 years 2 months ago by ErikE. Reason: Added footnote

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5 years 2 months ago #33136 by moosterbounce
Speaking as a chick with a ski or two, I must say I haven't had an issue finding a boat. I went from a PRS to a v10 sport and was pretty comfy. I'm not small though, with a race weight around 75-80kg. I'm not an ocean paddler at all - unfortunately I had a pretty ugly shoulder injury that has restricted my movement and honestly I'm way too scared of falling off as I can't lift my arm high enough to get back on!! I paddle purely in the river and see a few women but they are mainly in kayaks. And to be honest, I used to paddle a kayak but had a knee that used to lock up so switched to a ski as I felt safer with a tad more leg freedom - funny how we get to try new things.

After my shoulder injury, I was looking for a more stable boat as I was a bit iffy balance-wise going through a couple of years of rehab, so I found a Blufin secondhand which I'm loving. Due to the arm, I can only lift a very light boat onto the car so I was lucky to find a full carbon one. I'm not at my race weight (I wish!!) but I reckon the bucket width will be fine when I am, and yeah I know the buckets are huge in those things!!

I've never raced and do think there are a lot of people who don't like the idea as they aren't good enough. I'd put myself in this boat and always have. Unlike marathon or triathlon, it seems people generally think they have to be front runners to compete. One race I did enter was a nomination race. Guess your time over a course, no watches etc and closest to the guessed time wins. It was great. Everyone had fun, even the hardcore racers. If more things like this were available, I think more people would enter races and perhaps catch the bug.

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5 years 2 months ago #33139 by leolinha
I usually compare the sport of surfski paddling with stand up paddling. Why is the latter thriving so much?
I guess that the word "equipment" is the answer. A stand up paddleboard is cheaper, easier to find, easier to carry by hand, easier to transport on the top of a car, easier to store at home and, of course, easier to paddle. The board itself is a much less sophisticated piece of equipment, as it is not hollow. No stringers, no seams, easy to repair and customize. No steering system to worry about. There aren't any fitting and comfort issues with a paddleboard, if you can stand on it, it's fine.
Of course you can't go as far and as fast with a paddleboard as you could with a surfski; but most people are afraid of going too far anyway.
I use to say that open ocean paddling and racing is the essence of surfskis, it's in their DNA. Although a surfski is a very versatile craft, racing in the ocean, preferably downwind, is the main point of this sport. However, I guess that most people won't get that far when it comes to choosing a watersport to practice.
In short, my view is pessimistic: I doubt that surfski paddling will ever become a popular sport.
Nevertheless, there are things that can be done to improve this.
The first big step was already taken with the legendary Epic V8 and the advent of the truly stable surfskis.
Another thing that can help: more races in "surf life saving" style, where people can watch the whole race from the beach. Regular surfski races have almost zero appeal to the general public. It must be boring to watch a race start and then see nothing for more than an hour, just to see the winners coming scattered through the water...

Current: Epic V8 PRO, Think Evo 3
Past: Epic V8, Epic V10 Sport

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5 years 2 months ago - 5 years 2 months ago #33140 by SpaceSputnik
Sea kayaking is quite popular. Stable and cheap skis like V7 and V5 can serve the same purpose as sea kayaks except multi-day trips (supposedly V6 can, but there is no plastic version of that). As long as required safety skills go it's quite a bit easier for a beginner to master a reliable remount and actually be safer than a beginner in a sea kayak. A great deal of people using sea kayaks only have rudimentary self-rescue skills, don't carry safety gear and do not regularly practice anything.
SUPs are surely less complicated. But I first tried a SUP about half season with my V7. Not in a hurry to try it again. Other than the simplest way to get on water, they don't seem much fun to me. I suspect that many people paddling them never tried a kayak or a ski.
Last edit: 5 years 2 months ago by SpaceSputnik.

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5 years 2 months ago #33155 by Davidw
Very few youngsters paddling surfskis here. Mostly they are kitesurfing, so it's not a financial issue.
SUP is also more of a trendy sport than surfski and there are more youngsters on SUPs than surfskis, although still not many compared to kiting. 
I surfski and SUP and my take is that SUP's are a lot less threatening to paddle or downwind on because you can almost always get back on a SUP with little trouble, whereas learning to remount a surfski is much more challenging. 
So a SUP is more accessible and safer. I've seen guys fall off their SUPs 50+ times on their first downwind and come back for more. No-one will remount a ski that many times.
Personally I find a SUP downwind much harder work (not a bad thing) and much more involving than a Surfski downwind. And I also feel safer on a SUP, knowing I can always remount.
If I just want speed and fun I surfski. If I want more of a challenge or conditions are extreme I SUP.

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5 years 2 months ago #33157 by Impala
Guys, get over it ... we are in a niche sport for risk-tolerant person with a certain monetary and time surplus who are willing to deal with complicated equipment.

niche - if not anything else, the fact that 95% of the population don't have downwind conditions round the corner is enough to limit entry significantly

risk - yes, it is relatively risky, and this is why many people rather won't join. Young fathers, women. Both are risk-averse, and that is not meant condescendingly, but as a praise.

money and time - That's why it is a greying mens' occupation, and only for those that have both plus still sufficient health. Other people  may have two of the three, which is not sufficient.

equipment - particularly in colder climates, kayaking or surfski forces an avalanche of equipment on you. Last week, shortly before a flatwater race in freezing conditions when we were rummaging through all our stuff, I frankly told my mate that these are the moments I just want to quit my sport and go back to running.

Hadn't downwind surfski three times a year come to the rescue, I would have quit years ago already.

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5 years 2 months ago #33164 by Impala
Sorry for my somewhat unconstructive previous post, that was not really addressing the question.
The best thing to do for paddlers of all locations, ages, genders and skill levels is to organize downwind camps. We did this two years ago and it was a great success. 15 or so paddlers, from 16-60, men and women (even though not really balanced), and from beginner to world elite all in one group. We had a minibus and a big trailer for shuttling, and decided to form 2-3 skill level groups for the downwinds. That summed up to 3 DW over one extended weekend, which was really nice. For me personally it was one DW too much, so I shuttled instead, which was of course very welcome. Camps like this require a bit of planning and organization, at best more than 3 months ahead, and involving a club  
or trader (who have the trailers ;) ) definitely helps. Two such camps a year plus 2-3 races are enough for me and many others to hang on to the sport.

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5 years 2 months ago #33165 by SpaceSputnik
I just want to say it doesn't have to be all about downwind. When I was getting my ski I haven't even heard the term. And it still remains somewhat of an unknown to me. We tend to get confused bumps on lake Ontario (which can get challenging). The best I have ever gotten was sort of awkward stop and go kind of thing. Not exciting to be honest. I can get a lot more speed skiing or riding a mountain bike. On the other hand distance paddling on a flat river can be quite amazing and even going the distance on lake O can be very rewarding as well as challenging.
So..the whole downwind ethos is still mainly a fairy tale to me and probably largely will remain as such.
So...if we ease off on the downwind emphasis and spin it as an accessible craft that for most of us is works better than a sea kayak we would do better. Almost anyone can get into a V5 or V8 and have a great time.

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5 years 2 months ago #33206 by Spacehopper
I reckon women make up 30% of our local ski paddlers - due in some part to:

- Our local Epic dealer running a 'begin to surfski course' for our club, this also built on the 'begin flatwater paddling course' that has brought a good bit of new-blood to the club's K1 side in the last few years.
- Having the local Epic dealer (and lending our own boats out) has enabled maximum 'bums on seats'- getting people in a ski is the key part of getting them keen enough to buy one.
- Treating our ski evenings as fun wave catching with tortoise/hare type informal races rather than any 'serious' training. It allows everyone to feel part of it. Lately we've had more serious flatwater paddlers come along and this definitely causes an issue as they aren't as willing to wait for our slower paddlers, so I think this will slow any further growth.

I think the UK SUP vs SKI race calendars are instructive. Most SUP races arestill flatwater while ski racing has focused on downwinds (but is now getting more round the cans events). SUP racing has grown fast, skis racing not so much...

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5 years 1 month ago #33280 by Surfskilfe
Getting women into any sport let aline surfskiing is a bit of a task. The problems are time (unfortunately child care falls to women), self esteem (women are in general less confident in starting new sports, and lack of women models. (i m a 30 something lady, with 2 young kids, so i m in the problem demographic) and lots of women have no idea what a surfski is! 

The reason sup has taken off is that there are women doing it everywhere, women like to do things surrounded by other women. This is generalising but mostly true. 

Once you get a few of the "up for it" women involved the rest follow. 

Surfskiing is dominated by men, but I m trying my best to get my (women) friends involved. Its a long slow quest but I was paddling SUPs in 2008, it took 5 years before it really took off... Before then it was a lonely world, but now its fantastic. 

Who's to say it won't happen with surfsking... It just takes time... 

I m starting a surfski hostel / hire business that might help with the cost and availability... 

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