Surfski Shootout Down Under (The Big Kayak Test)

Saturday, 10 March 2007 05:58 | Written by 
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ImageIn July 2006, Rapid Ascent (one of Australia's leading Adventure Racing organisations) undertook a massive evaluation of different categories of kayak – including surf skis.

Kayak Test Report

The 132 page report, available on Rapid Ascent’s website, is split into eight downloadable sections.  We’re hosting the three chapters relevant to surf ski here on 


Evaluation Methodology

Rapid Ascent put a huge amount of effort into the exercise.  Apart from all the volunteers (including some 16 paddlers), they had assistance from Australian Canoeing, the Australian Institute of Sport and the University of Canberra. 

It’s well worth reading the chapters of the report that describe what they did and how they interpreted the results – they applied as much solid science as possible, while still allowing for subjective data. 

What they didn’t do

Surf ski is unlike other paddling in one important aspect it takes place on the unpredictable ocean but it’s virtually impossible to test performance in waves other than subjectively and the Rapid Ascent team didn’t try.  The testing took place at the Geelong Canoe Club located on the Barwon River, Victoria, Australia.

Necessarily the testing was of flat-water performance – although they tried to measure the effect of wind and fatigue as well as each craft’s turning capabilities 

The Surf Skis

I noticed an apparent anomaly in the weights of the V10 and Mako 6 under test:

The Mako 6 was weighed at 8.5kg.  That’s a phenomenally light weight; my own vacuum bagged carbon Mako 6 – the lightest version available - weighs 11.4kg 

The test V10 was almost twice the weight of the Fenn Mako 6 at 15.7kg.  Clearly this was not a V10 Ultra – the model that is most comparable to the carbon Mako 6. 

Surf Ski Comparison

From personal experience I know that testing of this sort, however carefully carried out, faces challenges peculiar to surf ski: 

  • You can’t replicate racing conditions e.g. most ski races (in South Africa at any rate) are 10km or longer.
  • You can’t replicate sea conditions – so you can’t objectively measure how the ski performs into, across and down waves
  • You can’t always get the skis you want for the test (e.g. a V10 Ultra to face off with a carbon Mako 6)

The Australian tests were far more exhaustive and scientific than our own effort carried out in April 2006, but faced similar constraints (short distance, flat conditions only, perhaps limited selection of skis) and as we said in the conclusion of our tests, the report should be just one of many sets of inputs when making a decision about ski selection.

Improvements in 2008 

At the conclusion of the report introduction, Rapid Ascents say:

Like any large field based experiment, the Big Kayak Test has yielded an excellent database together with some issues that need to be addressed in the 2008 round of testing. Firstly, we need to choose a time and venue with more consistent weather so that we can avoid some of the wind issues that affected us this year. Secondly, we need to ensure that our speed testers cover a wider range of abilities and that they wear recording heart rate monitors so that we can more effectively measure fatigue. And thirdly, we need to think about moving away from classic random sampling theory towards all paddlers paddling all boats so that we can develop a more complete dataset compared with this year. If you have any particular question or subject that you’d like to see examined in the next round of testing, please forward your suggestions to Brendon Grail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Results Summary 

  Surf Skis Tested (in order of fastest to slowest)
Summary of scores on a 5 point scale Fenn Mako 6 Epic V10 Fenn XT Unfair Advantage Spirit Racing Ski Dorado Finn Endorphin Cobra Surf Ski
1. Primary Stability 2 3 3 2 3 3 4 3
2. Secondary Stability 4 3 4 3 3 3 4 3
3. How easy is the boat to enter (and exit)? 3 3 3 4 3 5 5 5
4. How comfortable is the seat? 4 3 4 3 3 4 4 3
5. How supportive is the seat position? 4 4 4 3 2 4 4 3
6. How did the boat affect your body position? 2 4 3 2 3 3 4 3
7. Is the footbar and steering/pedal system effective? 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4
8. Is the steering effective? 5 5 5 5 4 5 3 4
9. How responsive did the kayak feel to your input? 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 3
10. How much did you have to adjust your natural paddling technique in this boat? 4 4 3 4 3 5 4 4
11. How wet did you get? 2 4 2 2 3 3 3 1
Speed Rating (Km/h)
12.11 11.87 11.57 11.55 11.41 11.33 11.07 10.92


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