Latest Surfski News

Tuesday, 17 October 2023 07:11
“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” I thought to myself a few moments after launching on the brand new V10 4G for the first time. It was getting dark; it was raining; the squalls were lifting sheets of spray off the water… directly offshore. What WAS I thinking? The answer is that I’m a sucker for new toys – and if I get my hands on one, I HAVE to play with it. Damn the weather, full speed ahead… Since then I’ve paddled the boat many more times, in much pleasanter weather. Here’s what I think of this,…
Thursday, 08 June 2023 12:42
East London, South Africa: Angus Warren watched helplessly as the shark’s teeth crunched through the hull of his surfski. “It seemed to go on and on,” he says, “pushing and chomping. I was thinking, why is it not working out that it isn’t food? “I can’t tell how long it took, but I had enough time to shout a couple of times to the others.” The next thing he knew, he was in the water…
Thursday, 27 April 2023 18:42
CAPE TOWN - Hank McGregor and Josh Fenn convincingly claimed back their Prescient Freedom Paddle title on Thursday in a dramatic race marked by tough conditions and a rain-delayed start.  Conditions were extremely tough - a brisk northwester blowing spray from the big confused chop into the paddlers' faces as they headed out to the island.  Huge breaking surf on the far side of the island ensured a wide line but the wind dropped as the fleet started on the journey back to the finish, making it that much more difficult and energy sapping to catch the runs.  
Tuesday, 25 April 2023 11:50
Last Friday, however, I paddled with Dawid on a windless autumn evening in Cape Town. Cruising from Fish Hoek to Muizenberg, we paddled together, stopping at all the coves to surf a few waves. In short, the operative word was "fun". This was a different Dawid - off duty - and, well, I've never paddled with anyone so noisy before. Whistling, singing, shouting to folks on shore - yahooing as he caught a wave. Heading home at dusk we crept up behind a group of seals lazing on the surface. Dawid began barking like a five-year-old paid by the bark...until…
Thursday, 09 February 2023 07:39
A look back - aaaaargh! A mountain. Let it go through... A smaller one, with a glimpse of something massive lurking further out to sea. Catch it, catch it! Sprint, sprint, you’re on it, here’s the break zone, keep going, keep going, the roar from behind and the sudden acceleration as a massive foamy caught up to me, keep it straight, keep it straight... Phew. Arrived. Panting. Stop the watch. ok. Made it. Empty the boat, pick it up to prevent it knocking you down. Done.
Saturday, 26 November 2022 17:16
The South Africans cleaned up today at the most prestigious surfski race in Australia – arguably the most prestigious race in the world - taking five out of the top six places and the entire podium at the Shaw and Partners “The Doctor” in Perth. Defending women’s champion, Kiwi Danielle McKenzie won the women’s trophy.
Saturday, 19 November 2022 13:01
Gold Coast paddler, Cory Hill, took first scalp in the five-event ocean ski racing series, the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, winning the inaugural race today, the 24km Fenn West Coast Downwinder from Fremantle, just south of Perth, to Sorrento Beach. In fine conditions with a 16 knot SSW wind courtesy of the famed Fremantle Doctor, the start off Port Beach was intense with the top paddlers in a terse battle to make the first break.   But it was 33-year-old Hill – the 4-times DOCTOR champ who relishes the Perth conditions – who was able to shake the field…
Tuesday, 16 March 2021 13:54
It’s not easy to catch a rolling, runaway single ski in 30kt of gusting wind – and as they attempted to grab it, Alex and his doubles partner lost their balance and fell into the water. By the time they’d remounted, the single ski was gone – blown away by the strengthening near-gale. They turned and paddled back upwind to find their buddy.
Wednesday, 03 March 2021 12:08
Accident reports are easy to write when the story ends happily, but this one didn’t and it’s with a very heavy heart that I’m writing this, with a view to learning what we can from it.
Wednesday, 15 July 2020 09:13
When the NSRI found Duncan MacDonald, he was approximately 6km off Smitswinkel Bay, drifting rapidly further offshore. Gale-force squalls whipped sheets of spray off the waves, reducing visibility almost to nothing. What Happened? Given the small size of the surfski community, there’s always intense interest whenever there’s a rescue. What happened? What did they do wrong? What can we learn from it? Clearly there are lessons to be learnt from any mishap – so here’s a description of what happened, shared with the permission and cooperation of the folks involved in the hope that we might all learn from this…
Friday, 24 April 2020 11:41
Durban – As the continued coronavirus lockdown grips the country, Canoeing South Africa will host a 24 hour Canoeing4COVID-19 event this weekend as a way to raise funds for members of the broader paddling community that have been badly affected by the lockdown.
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 14:35
“Hey, Rob! Help!” The shouts penetrated the sound of the howling wind and crashing waves – and even through the noise it was obvious from the tone of his voice that something was seriously wrong. I turned and headed back upwind.
Tuesday, 03 March 2020 14:43
Many paddlers use Personal Locator Beacons, or tracker apps like SafeTrx on their mobile phones. But handheld VHF radios are also a great choice to consider – especially when they’re DSC-capable like the Standard Horizon HX870E.
Monday, 24 February 2020 12:01
I finally got my hands on a demo Fennix Swordfish S this weekend and did two Miller's Runs in succession to see if I could feel any difference in handling between the 2018 Swordfish S and the new Fennix model.  Conditions were challenging: False Bay was covered in whitecaps, whipped by a combination of a 25-30kt southeaster and small, confused seas.  The result?  I definitely want to spend more time in this boat.
Thursday, 26 December 2019 10:30
The shark smashed like a freight train into Roger Swinney’s surfski in an explosion of noise and spray, knocking him off into the water.  “I managed to get back on the ski,” he said, “but I fell off again and as I remounted the second time, I saw the swirl and tips of the shark’s fins. “I didn’t see it clearly, but from the force of it and the movement in the water, it looked big!”

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Relax – a few extra pounds may be a good thing. In your surfski.

Sunday, 12 July 2015 09:40 | Written by 
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Hank McGregor - on the ultra-light 8.9kg/20lb V14 GT. Hank McGregor - on the ultra-light 8.9kg/20lb V14 GT.

There’s just nothing like the feel of taking your feather-weight 24lb (11kg) surfski off your car racks with one hand, carrying it to the water with one hand, and with one hand setting it down gently onto the H2O while all about you other paddlers are lugging kayaks apparently constructed of depleted uranium. Until you get into your boat and paddle it into some rougher water.

Ultra-light; Ultra-reactive

Then you notice your ultra-light boat is also ultra-reactive, reaching up and threatening to toss you into the drink every time you make an error. Now this can be a lot of fun if you have the skill to handle the boat. But what if you’re just not quite there, the waves are kicking up, and the wind’s blowing a bit? Do you need to humble yourself and drop back one level in your ski? Not necessarily. At least if you don’t mind using a little extra on-shore muscle. And keep in mind that even “heavy” surf skis at 34 lbs or so are still exceptionally light in the world of kayaks.

Among the surf ski community, the common mantra seems to be: buy the lightest boat you can afford! But that may not always a good idea. Arguments have been made that the lightest ski is the fastest ski – and that’s essentially true, all else being equal. Unfortunately, all else is not equal. If we all had equally good balance in all skis and all conditions, we could “buy” time reductions in our races by simply buying lighter boats, and certainly the elite-level racers typically go for the lightest, fastest skis available. Now for the rest of us – those who have families, hold down jobs, don’t live on a bay, and find ourselves aging a bit – we generally don’t have the time or opportunity to train to perfection. But we can “tune” things a bit in our favor.

One overlooked aspect of surf ski weight is balance. The distributed mass of a surf ski (the boat weight due to the layup, rather than people/gear/etc. on board) significantly affects the stability of the boat, and unless you’re reasonably stable in your ski, you won’t be as fast as you could be. Right at the start of a race, when you could be really launching that light boat, if your stability is lacking you’ll be paddling tepidly until you get moving, while all about you the water is frothing with the wakes of those who launched right past you. Even if you’re moving along on flat water and generally feeling comfortable, when beam chop kicks up or a motorboat comes hauling past you, if your stability goes out the window in those waves you’ll suddenly find your stroke falling apart and you’ll be bracing when you should be hammering the water.

Not ideal for good race times. Even if you’re just playing on the waves in big water, if you don’t have the stability to paddle aggressively enough to get on a wave or if you fall apart when some cross-chop comes into play, it won’t be nearly as fun as it could be. But don’t lose heart. Saving money – by going with a less expensive, heavier layup - may actually improve your paddling!

The Theory

As you paddle your boat, you’re generally dealing with 4-degrees of freedom: 1 translational degree (forward motion) and 3 rotational degrees (pitch, roll, and yaw). In waves there will also be some vertical translation and some lateral translation, but we can ignore those directions for purposes of this discussion. We’ll also ignore forward motion for the most part and focus on the three degrees of rotation. Think of three axes running through you and your boat: a longitudinal axis runs end-to-end in the boat; the boat rolls around this axis from beam waves, rocking you side to side.

Another could be thought of as running perpendicular to the longitudinal axis and basically going through your rear end out either side of the boat and parallel to the water. This is your pitch axis; the boat pitches up and down at the front and rear from going into or being passed through by waves. The third axis could be thought of as running straight down through your head and back and out the top and bottom of the boat. This is your yaw axis; angled waves, eddies, etc. will catch either the nose or tail of the boat and cause the front and back to yaw side to side. It really gets fun when water conditions cause your boat to pitch, roll, and yaw all at the same time!

For the purposes of looking at this mathematically, we could consider the boat to act as a pendulum in each direction, with the pivot point being the intersection of the axes (basically where your bottom sits). For some good images of pitch, roll, and yaw in a boat, see

I also like the image below, taken from

 pitch roll yaw

It’s all about the Math

The Rotational Inertia of a body (how easily something can be made to rotate) defines the torque (the force to make it rotate) needed for a given angular acceleration (how quickly something is rotated) of a body around an axis. Just like the way an ice skater can speed up or slow down their rotation in a spin by extending their arms or bringing them in, so also changing the mass in a boat or the distribution of the mass about an axis of rotation (like making the ends heavier) alters the rotational quickness of the boat.

Simplifying things a bit, a little more mass distributed throughout a surf ski can slow down the reactivity of the boat to the forces that want to pitch, roll, and yaw the boat, thereby increasing the “stability” of the boat. As a rule of thumb, our lightest skis tend to be around 24 - 26 lbs; the next step up in weight (and down in cost) typically results in a boat of around 32 - 34 lbs, or roughly 1/3 heavier.

Using the simplified formulas of I=mr2, with I = rotational inertia, m=mass, and r=radius (distance from pivot point), and τ=Iα, with τ=applied torque, I= rotational inertia, and α=angular acceleration, you can combine the two formulas to show that angular acceleration (how quickly the boat reacts in a given axis) is proportional to the inverse of mass (assuming r and τ remain constant, because in the same boat model r will be the same, and we’ll assume τ is constant for each layup and comes from the forces of the waves against the boat); i.e. α= τ/(mr2), with τ and r constant between boats, the α is proportional to 1/m.

So now our 1/3rd heavier boat should theoretically cut the rotational acceleration of the boat by roughly 1/3! With the rotational acceleration of the boat reduced (pitch, roll, and yaw rates slowed down), it’s easier for our bodies to react to the (now slower) changes in boat angle, and thus the boat will feel more stable.

Experience: Weight and See

The mathematics are borne out in real-life observations by a number of paddlers. A few years back, my wife was paddling a fiberglass Think Fit – pretty much the first “cross-over” boat, combining sea kayak dimensions with a surf ski cockpit. She was comfortably stable in the boat, but thought she would like the lighter Kevlar version in case she wanted to take it somewhere herself. At one USCA Nationals race she had the opportunity to try out a Kevlar version of the Think Fit another paddler brought to the race. After trying it out, she changed her mind about wanting one, saying she felt a lot less stable in it.

That really surprised me, and I assumed at the time it was probably just how she was feeling that day.

Now I realize the lighter layup moved the stability of the boat out of her comfort zone. A couple of years later I owned a carbon Stellar SE surf ski, enjoying the light weight of the boat and feeling quite comfortable with it on flat water, but when the waves picked up I found myself “stability challenged”. I got to where I could handle some decent waves reasonably well, but I never felt fully comfortable in those waves. Yet, when I went to Traverse Bay one time and borrowed an SEL in the heavier Advantage layup, I charged out into the bay and played for hours in the waves, having a blast and feeling very confident the whole time. I kept wondering at the time “Did they change the hull design between these two?”

Assuming the hull design was different (even though it was advertised as the same), I almost ordered a carbon SEL. In the back of my mind I wondered if the heavier layup had made the difference, but it was hard for me to believe it was that dramatic. About two years ago I picked up my Epic V12, fabricated in the heavier performance layup. I was delighted with the way the boat paddled; it felt quite stable to me (more stable than the Epic V10 Ultra I owned previously), which really surprised me since I heard from several owners that the V12 felt “nervous” and “twitchy”.

Looking back, all of those owners had Ultra or carbon layups. Something was coming together here… More recently I had the opportunity to try out a number of boats at a Stellar dealer conference, including an SEL in Advantage Layup (heavier) and an SEL in Excel Layup (lighter). Trying out those boats back-to-back confirmed what I had been wondering since my Traverse Bay encounter: the heavier boat was definitely more stable. I was comfortable in the Excel layup, but completely relaxed in the Advantage layup. It felt like a solid intermediate ski, but with the speed of the elite ski that it is. Interestingly, another dealer & paddle racer commented in the meeting after we returned (without any discussion between us) that he thought the SEL (an elite-level boat) in the Advantage layup was just as stable as the SEI (an intermediate-level boat) in the Excel layup. As the owner of an SEI in Excel, I wholeheartedly concur. I think it’s even more stable.

Bringin’ it home

So what does all this mean practically? As I see it, depending on what’s most important to you, it’s possible to tune your boat to fit your needs. If you’re racing and you want fast flat-water speed, but you’re still developing stability skills, you may be able to move up a step in boat class by going with a heavier layup in a longer, narrower boat. You’ll gain more from the more efficient hydrodynamic shape of the hull than you will from a lighter but shorter/wider hull.

If light weight and easy off-water handling is important, while all-out speed is less so, you may be able to move down one class and go with a lighter layup to keep the same stability. As for speed: sufficient stability to employ a fully-powered stroke is more important than having the lowest-resistance hull when it comes to obtaining YOUR highest speed on the water. A lighter hull may be worth a few to several seconds in an hour race, assuming you have the stability to handle it. If you don’t, you may actually lose time because you’ll be bracing or paddling tepidly when conditions degenerate – and they always do.

As with most things in life, balance is the key. In more ways than one.