Suggestions for first surfski

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40745 by Really clever username
I'm a kind of experienced sea kayaker, and thinking about getting a surfski. I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and I want a boat that will be fun on the bay, that can catch and stay on smaller, faster-moving waves, and that isn't going to scare the crap out of me when things get rough. And also a way to get on the water quickly after work (once daylight starts lasting longer) without feeling the need to carry a spray skirt, paddle float, pump... all of which end up needing to be washed afterwards. There are at least two Epic dealers within reach, a Stellar dealer over in Lodi, and a Fenn/carbonology dealer way down in Costa Mesa, probably seven hours away. Plus whatever turns up locally secondhand (there's a Nelo 510 for sale around here now). So, there is a ton of information about the V8 online and a little bit about Stellar and Fenn skiis.

So--most of the reviews I've seen say that the Fenn Bluefin is probably better than the Epic in waves. I'm not sure how the Stellar Osprey/S18 compares, or the Nelo. The Osprey has some cargo capacity, which is appealing coming from sea kayaks. I also need something that will fit my wider-than-average butt. Suggestions? Other skiis I should look at, in the unlikely even they turn up used around here? Most of the boats I see second hand are intermediate to advanced, which is a non-starter if I'm going on the bay.

Thanks!

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3 months 2 weeks ago - 3 months 2 weeks ago #40746 by mrcharly
Try before buy.
'sea kayak' is a very broad church, from boats that are floating barges to skinny things as tippy as a K1.
So it is very difficult to assess what you'd be comfortable paddling.
You can't compare by looking at width; my nelo 510 is the same width as my wife's capella, but the stability is chalk and cheese. Most surfskis quickly narrow to the bow and stern, unlike most sea kayaks.
I rate the 510 for beginners. Anyone with experience paddling will find it quite stable. The main issue with a 510 is the weight (22kg). Still lighter than most sea kayaks!
Oscar and others manage to make the 510 shift, and even this unathletic bloke was averaging 9.5/10 km per hour on calm deep water.
Last edit: 3 months 2 weeks ago by mrcharly.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40748 by Really clever username
Well, I mostly use an NDK Romany right now, which is about 21" wide, but is very stable. Probably a little too much primary stability for a boat intended for rough water. I've also spent time in a Pygmy Coho, which is about as stable overall, but with less accent on primary stability.

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  • fitz
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  • Fennix Swordfish S, Epic V10 Sport
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3 months 2 weeks ago #40749 by fitz
Replied by fitz on topic Suggestions for first surfski
You’re a lucky guy. You live near Epic and Stellar dealers and can also drive to a Fenn/Carbonology dealer. By all means try out as many of their surfskis and also Nelo. All quality surfskis. Pay for some lessons, hopefully in skis you are thinking about buying. It’s worth the research to find one that fits you and has stability that you can handle. I did not have that option. Ten years ago the only surfski for sale in my country, Panama, was a Stealth Strika. I bought it and learned how to paddle it and never really liked it. My next ski was an Epic V10 Sport Ultra 2nd Gen which is a really nice intermediate ski and probably available from time to time on the second hand market though it sounds like a V8 might be better for you. I also own a Fennix Swordfish S (which is too much for me to handle when it's rough) and a Carbonology Boost LV which has great stability and also carrying handles on the sides of the cockpit which I really like. You might want to try that one.

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3 months 2 weeks ago - 3 months 2 weeks ago #40751 by SpaceSputnik
I would strongly suggest to go very defensively stability-wise and don't get into beam measurements between sea kayaks and skis too much. Skis, even the most stable ones, are very different boats and even on something like a V8 you will likely feel a degree of discomfort coming from a sea kayak for a measurable amount of time. As a matter of fact your sea kayaking muscle memory may get in a way until you get a hang of it and become able to reconcile the the different motorics required for these different craft. Experienced sea kayakers who try my relatively stable Nelo 520 look a bit tentative on it even in the calm. It's just not the same.

I paddle sea kayaks in the cold season (which is most of the year here in Toronto) and my Nelo 520 in the summer. I only got the Nelo a couple of seasons ago after a several-season stretch of sea-kayak only. Even though it was not my first ski, this hiatus was long enough to make me pretty tentative for the rest of the summer on the 520. After 2 seasons of the seasonal switching I am ok on both, and I even switched to a bit tippier sea kayak for the off-season touring.

Other than the cockpit, the surfski hulls are very very different compared to your Romany or pretty much any hard or soft chined British-like craft, so the beam measurements don't really transfer. Skis have oval cross-section and thus far greater propensity to roll side-to-side and really handle the best when your keep your body pretty strictly balanced side-to-side, your stroke starting forward and ending rather soon. These hulls become less stable outside of those parameters. UK-influenced sea kayaks tend to be quite a bit more forgiving in that respect.

In regards to the fit. I find that on skis the design of the bucket can pretty much make it of break it. Since you can't outfit them to the same degree as sea kayaks the bucket fit can vary your experience from torture to fun. I personally *hate* Think buckets, lukewarm towards Epic and love my Nelo 520 and I am making progress at an increased rate in that ski, so this is very important. Since you probably don't yet know what a well-fitting ski feels like, I'd say try as many as you can. Good fit should feel comfortable and non-restrictive at the same time, allowing for a good degree of leg-initiated rotation when the back of your knees don't bump into the boat too soon.

As far as storage...My first ski was a V7 with a rear hatch that as a sea kayaker I found appealing. But I literally never used it and never sought it in my skis following that one. It just a completely different school of thought. No gear whatsoever, no pumps, no floats or spare paddles or any sort of other gear (a pfd being an exception of course). I do take a small dry bag with a couple of just-in-case necessities, a pair of sandals for landing on those bare-feet days and never felt compelled to take anything else. Makes for a much quicker gear/de-gear load/unload routine which is great for frequent local outings in warm weather. In colder weather or longer trips, etc., a sea kayak and all typical practises associated with that usually make more sense. I never wish I had load capacity on the ski. If/when I need that, a sea kayak is a better choice of a craft from various other perspectives.
Last edit: 3 months 2 weeks ago by SpaceSputnik.

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3 months 2 weeks ago - 3 months 2 weeks ago #40752 by Atlas
Replied by Atlas on topic Suggestions for first surfski
You can't go wrong with a composite beginner ski.
Although I like the Nelo 510 (I do own one): the weight might detract from its appeal for a quick after work paddle. Also because it is plastic; it's a bit longitudinally flexible so it won't have the same "pop" onto waves as a lighter (and more importantly) stiffer boat. The Nelo 520 is almost the same design but is composite so it is much stiffer and (depending on the layup) could be well under half the weight of a 510. It's a really nice boat if you are comfortable on it. It's great fun in rough and or downwind conditions and very easy to handle off the water. It is however not a true beginner ski. Although it is 520mm wide; it has a round hull which gives it less primary stability than most sea kayakers are used to. That is a double edged sword however because if you happen to be comfortable with that stability profile; you will more than likely find a 520 to be very well behaved in rough, choppy water.
The Bluefin is hard to beat in pure, downwind conditions. (I have one of them too for those big, wild, solo winter downwinders). However there are more versatile skis out there.
The Stellar S18S is a really nice stable downwind ski. They have a beautiful finish and an excellent fit out. There is a version with hatches too. However; I find the bucket unbearably uncomfortable. YMMV.
Carbonology Sport will make you a Cruze with a hatch and dual rudders (you can swap between under stern "surf" rudder and an over stern flip up rudder) if you ask nicely. I rate Carbonology Sport boats.
Having said all that; there is a good reason that (to my knowledge) the Epic V8 is the most popular surf ski ever made. It has a great finish, an excellent fit out. It might not be the best in any particular category but it just does everything (except carry large amounts of gear). If and when you want to upgrade; they are the easiest ski in the world to sell.
As has been mentioned before; it's really important to test paddle any ski you are considering buying. You need to spend at least half an hour but ideally an hour or so in the boat because there are certain fit issues that might not become apparent during a short test paddle. Paddle the ski in some rough but manageable conditions if you can.
FWIW; I think you are definitely on the right track looking to buy a beginner ski. They are loads of fun and nowhere near as slow as many people think. So many paddlers make the mistake of buying a ski they think they can "grow into" which is bullsh!t. If you just want a fancy looking, light weight sit on top kayak for calm water then you can get away with it. However if you are going to use a surfski for what it was designed for; you must be stable. Rant over.
Good luck.

Current boats
Epic V10L Ultra, Epic V9 Ultra, Carbonology Sport Boost X LV, Fenn Bluefin, Nelo 510, Fenn XT double, Nelo 600, Expedition Kayaks Azure, Mirage 732.
Previous boats
Spirit PRS, Fenn Swordfish, Fenn XT, Fenn Swordfish S, Think Zen, Epic V10L Club, Carbonology Sport Boost LV
Last edit: 3 months 2 weeks ago by Atlas.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40753 by SpaceSputnik
Agree with Atlas on plastic skis. The V7 I had was horrible to carry. You can't shoulder them as you do a sea kayak. I'd rather carry my 60lb Delphin than a V7.
And on the water a light ski just feels better.
Loading the 520 on a V rack is a breeze as well, just push it from the back and it's on. These things do matter...I'd never buy a ski that is over 27lb, whereas I have no issues buying a 50lb sea kayak.

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3 months 2 weeks ago - 3 months 2 weeks ago #40758 by qmento
The Carbonology Cruze X and Fenn Bluefin are fine choices. Both are very stable and comparably priced. They are also easy to manage in rougher conditions, add a DK rudder to either and they surf very well. Also, the SoCal dealers are very nice people. I'll stick my neck out and say that the fit and finish of Carbonology skis are better than Fenns. No experience with Stellars and not a fan of V8s.
Last edit: 3 months 2 weeks ago by qmento. Reason: I wanted to add something.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40761 by Really clever username
I wear pants with a 38" waist; I'm not sure how pant sizes work in metric-speaking countries since I haven't bought metric clothes since 1992. Are there any boats I can just rule out because they can't hold a 220 lbs/100 kg 6'/180 cm person?

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40763 by BrettD
I’m about your size and have been paddling for about 7 years. Previously and currently I have had Think Ace, 2 x Epic v10 sport gen 2, Epic V8 pro, Fenn bluefin x 2, Fenn XT and Fenn swordfish.

If I only could have one ski it would be a Fenn/ Fennix Bluefin. You can get a light carbon or hybrid layup and it is easy to handle on and off the water. They surf really well in the rough and are fast enough on the flat. They are a relatively easy remount and I find give me confidence to get out and paddle in any conditions.

Compared to my theoretically faster skis the bluefin is actually faster in most conditions due to its stability and my confidence I can always get back on if I do swim. Stability before speed should be the mantra, especially if you are not blessed with excellent balance. Or as I say nothing is slower than swimming in the water next to your ski.

I haven’t paddled a Cruze, and a v8 only a few times but they probably have similar virtues. Clearly my main message would be to buy a stable ski, then never sell it as you can always loan it to friends or use it yourself when conditions demand.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40764 by BrettD
I’m about your size and have been paddling for about 7 years. Previously and currently I have had Think Ace, 2 x Epic v10 sport gen 2, Epic V8 pro, Fenn bluefin x 2, Fenn XT and Fenn swordfish.

If I only could have one ski it would be a Fenn/ Fennix Bluefin. You can get a light carbon or hybrid layup and it is easy to handle on and off the water. They surf really well in the rough and are fast enough on the flat. They are a relatively easy remount and I find give me confidence to get out and paddle in any conditions.

Compared to my theoretically faster skis the bluefin is actually faster in most conditions due to its stability and my confidence I can always get back on if I do swim. Stability before speed should be the mantra, especially if you are not blessed with excellent balance. Or as I say nothing is slower than swimming in the water next to your ski.

I haven’t paddled a Cruze, and a v8 only a few times but they probably have similar virtues. Clearly my main message would be to buy a stable ski, then never sell it as you can always loan it to friends or use it yourself when conditions demand.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40766 by Really clever username
Yeah, I've been keeping my eyes open for a Bluefin appearing locally. No luck so far. Anyway, I'm going to sign up for a lesson or two in the skis that have local dealers before I think about running off to Southern California.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40767 by qmento
You're a big guy and the Cruze has a big bucket. Bigger than a Bluefin or V8. I should have mentioned this earlier, but the reason why I like the Cruze and Bluefin better than the V8 is that they track a lot straighter in choppy conditions and low speeds. Flip the skis over and you'll see a pronounced "v" on the bottom of both South African skis. Unless Epic has changed things recently the bottom of the V8 flattens out after the nose. The "v," I've been told, is to prevent wider skis from yawing back and forth with each stroke and when buffeted from the side. From my experience it works.

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3 months 2 weeks ago #40768 by NikGo
Replied by NikGo on topic Suggestions for first surfski
There's a new Bluefin locally for sale. Just saw a message from Cyril on the NorCal Paddlers group:
m.facebook.com/groups/1783308801982437/
(Screenshot attached). Looks like a good price. Cyril might have more boats for a demo.


Also, you can try various surfskis at a couple of clubs around the Bay Area:
Bair Island Aquatic Club (EpicV8, V8Pro) - gobair.org
Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club - BPRC.

SeaTrek and CityKayak should have some surfskis for rent.

I'm not so sure if Bluefin is any noticeably better than the V8 for surfing. V8 is a great beginner boat, it would be hard to go wrong. The surfski school in Tarifa, Spain used to have them exclusively, for example. I haven't tried the Bluefin, but a friend owns it.
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3 months 1 week ago - 3 months 1 week ago #40770 by Arcturus
I find it very odd that you consider a Romany to be unsuitable for rough water.

That said, if you want to ditch the sprayskirt, float, and pump (I did, too), go RENT an Epic V7, and never mind if it is rotomolded. Epic makes V7 in a lighter layup as well, I think—but check on that.
The V7 has a deep, wide bucket that should accommodate you. I was lost in it, but I am a small, lightweight woman. The V7 felt very stable, and it should make for a decent learning transfer from the stability of a Romany while having better glide and speed (it was, even for me).

My first ski was a Nelo 520 S (small cockpit), which I still own. Even though its beam is almost an inch wider than that of the Pilgrim Expedition I paddled for 10 yrs, the shape of the boats differed dramatically. You absolutely *cannot* predict how stable you will feel based on the beam alone. I soon got used to the lower stability of the 520 S, but frankly I was being corked on it because no matter what the manufacturer says, it was better suited to someone whose weight would sink it down a bit more—probably needed another 15 to 20 lbs on me, which would make me FAT.

The day that I sat on it among other surf ski paddlers and noticed the crosswind didn’t shift them sideways as it rapidly did with me, I decided it was time to evaluate getting a ski designed for someone small. I’d been paddling the 520 for 2+ years at that point.

The following spring I did buy a different ski, which I really like (and take note that it, too, required getting used to lower stability). HOWEVER, the time spent on the 520 S was good prep. I think it was better than starting with a too-tippy ski and wasting energy on merely staying upright on flat water instead of working on wing paddle stroke, biomechanics, etc.

BTW, before buying the second ski, I took a lesson on a Bluefin. As others have already said, that is a model worth trying also—but if you can rent an Epic closer to home, try that also.

Oh, yeah, ditto the comment that the Carbonology/Fenn dealers are great to work with.
Last edit: 3 months 1 week ago by Arcturus.

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3 months 1 week ago #40771 by Really clever username
The Romany is actually quite good at rough water, it's just that it would be better with less primary stability. It gets bounced around from side to side more than something like a Pygmy Coho. I'd still rather be in the Romany because I know I can get it to go where I want in winds and waves.

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3 months 1 week ago #40772 by Really clever username
Thanks! I sent the guy an email. This would be my first ski experience, so I'll have to try out a couple of others before making any sort of expensive decision.

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3 months 1 week ago - 3 months 1 week ago #40775 by SpaceSputnik
If I understand it correctly Pygmy Coho looks somewhat similar to my Point 65N X-Ray - a hard chine v hull that tapers towards the waterline. These is a really good type of hull, a tiny bit light on primary at standstill, nicely neutral in waves and quite a bit faster than a typical British hull made for coastal play.
Not quite as fast as my Nelo, but pretty darn fast nonetheless and more sure-footed than the Nelo.
Last edit: 3 months 1 week ago by SpaceSputnik.

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3 months 1 week ago #40776 by Really clever username
The coho is a multi- chined hull-- really a faceted round- bilged hull. It's fairly fast by kayak standards, but I haven't been out in it with a GPS to measure the speed. It's very nice when the waves are hitting you from the side since the motion isn't abrupt and there's plenty of secondary stability; it also cuts through waves/ chop beautifully going upwind. Big problem is that the thing is an absolute pig going downwind in dynamic water.

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3 months 1 week ago #40777 by Really clever username
Well, I did my first surfski test drive saturday, in a Fenn Bluefin. It was interesting--the stability profile really is totally different from a kayak, and it took me a little while to stop twitching. I sort of alternated between having a big grin on my face and spastically trying to rebalance. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing 10-20 knots with gusts up to 30, rain was coming down, and visibility was only a few hundred feet. So I stayed in harbor doing loops, ovals and figure eights while the nice surfski man told me to remember to breathe out and to look at something distant, not the bow of the boat. I'm pretty sure with a few more hours under my belt I'd be fine, especially if the winds stayed under 10 knots for a while. Sadly I didn't remember my sports watch, so I don't have any idea what kinds of speeds I might have hit.

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