International Surfski Federation

Tuesday, 15 September 2009 05:46 | Written by 
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Is it time for Surfski racing to have its own International Federation? In my opinion, the answer to that is a resounding yes…


Unified Approach;Unified Rules

Why do we need a surfski federation? 

  • To define and develop the sport.
  • To develop a set of uniform racing rules for application across the world.

Why do we need to define the sport?

Consider two contrasting examples:

French Championships
  • Held in a protected bay on mostly flat water
  • Triangular course
  • Skis have to have deck lines and compasses
  • Non-French nationals aren't included in the championship results - they're segregated as "guests".
Perth World Cup in Australia
  • Open ocean downwind course
  • Deck lines and compasses are never used by anyone, let alone in a race
  • All paddlers wherever they're from are welcome and are included in the official results
Different Sport?

There could not be a greater contrast in the two events - they might as well be from different sports entirely.

Talk to the elite French paddlers, and there's no doubt what they want - they want open ocean paddling and to compete against the best in the world.  And they're working hard to improve their open ocean skills. 

The problem is that there is no unifying surfski paddling code for the French (and other) paddling authorities to look towards for guidance - so (it seems to me) the sport is developing along its own lines in different regions - and the result is flat water, crazy safety regulations (compasses!  An escort boat per five skis... and so on).   Surfski racing in Europe could become sea-marathon paddling with the best escort-wake rider winning...  What a dreadful prospect.

Downwind, Open Ocean Paddling

Talk to Dean Gardiner and the answer is clear - "Surfski racing is about surfing your ski for #$%* sake - it's in the very name of our sport!"  Talk to any paddler in Australia, South Africa, Hawaii or any of the "surfski-developed" nations and the answer is the same.  Individuals may argue the proportion of a race that should be downwind, but there is no doubt - the key to surfski paddling is the ability to draw energy from water movement to make the craft go faster.  And the best (and most radically fun) place to do that is in the open ocean.

Here's what another well known ocean paddler has to say...

Clint Robinson - Ocean Paddling Future from Rambo's Locker on Vimeo.

And yes, it's true that sometimes (ask the Molokai organisers), Mother Nature doesn't play along and what was planned to be an outrageous downwind extravaganza does become a flat boring grind.  But hey, that's what's wonderful about nature.  But the point is that races should be planned to be in big water, and to have a significant downwind component.

Safety Gear

Compasses are totally unnecessary; deck-lines, while arguably useful, do not add significantly to safety.  Neither should be compulsory.

The safety gear used in Australia, SouthAfrica and Hawaii - where true open ocean paddling is practised should be adopted as standard: 

  • -          PFDs
  • -          Leashes (far more effective than deck-lines)
  • -          Mobile phones in pouches
  • -          Reasonable escort boats for the conditions.  In Hawaii one escort per paddler is reasonable given the situation (50km in open ocean), but one in five in a protected bay is over the top.
  • -          Rigorous sign in and sign out procedures

Event Rules

Stuart Knaggs has put a lot of effort into editing the ICF draft rules for Ocean Racing.  (My own opinion is that while Surfski and OC1, being similar in outlook, can be included in the same rulebook, sea kayak racing is very different.)

Click here for the edited draft rules

The newly formed Australian Ocean Racing Technical Committee is currently reviewing these proposed rules.

If you have comments, suggestions or other feedback, contact Stuart on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

International Surfski Federation

In my opinion, by forming a surfski federation, it does not mean a rejection of ICF.  Example: Waveski is a paddling discipline recognised by the ICF, but has its own World Waveski Association (  Surfski paddling should be developed and nurtured by surfski paddlers and a federation is the way to do it.

If we don't do it, we'll see a fractured surfski universe with the sport developing in different directions in different locations.

Click here for the proposed constitutionfor the International Surfski Federation

Over the next few weeks I propose that surfski organisations from each country should nominate members to serve on the ISF committee. will gladly assist with this process and I nominate myself as interim coordinator until the committee is formed.  As soon as I receive some names, I'll initiate an email dialog to facilitate communication.

Let's take this sport to the next level!

All comments, brickbats and constructive suggestions welcome!

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