Surf Ski Choices For Learning How to Paddle

Stealth Surf Ski

Selecting the right surf ski when you’re staring out can be daunting.  There’s so much to choose from out there and everyone’s got an opinion to offer.  I took a deliberate approach to selecting my first surf ski and while it might not be the right approach for you, I hope it helps you decide.

It’s been 18 months since I started paddling with Buck.  The first ski I bought was an Epic V8 Ocean ski and after about 6 months I changed to a surf ski (i.e. a ski built to Queensland lifesaving specifications).  This is what I’ve learned about the differences.

Before buying my first ski I did a lot of research both online and by talking to people in the sport.  As mentioned in a previous post, at the time I decided to invest in stability.

The Epic V8 was an excellent choice for me.  Within a few short weeks I was confident in challenging surf conditions.  I even began joining the Mooloolaba Surf Club Wednesday morning sessions which typically involves “ins and outs”; i.e. starting from the beach and paddling out through the break and returning to the beach.  The stability of the Epic V8 surf ski is amazing.  I was certainly able to hold my own.

After about 6 months of paddling the Epic V8, one of my fellow paddlers asked me to consider selling my ski to a friend of hers.  She even goaded me with the statement “it’s time you stepped up to something more challenging”.  I have to admit, I was keen to try something different.  So i agreed to sell my ski.

Fortunately for me the “Aussies” (Australian Annual Surf Lifesaving Championships) were held at my local beach; Maroochydore Beach.  I live across the road from the beach so it was easy to wander down to the beach and watch the action.  It was truly impressive to watch the skill of these athletes in what was quite trying conditions.  Anyway, as the event was wrapping up, some competitors would place their ski’s in the park across the road from me with for sale signs on them.  So I decided to buy one.

Surf Ski Storage Area

First row of Surf Ski's at Aussies Maroochydore

Incidentally, buying a second hand surf ski at the Aussies is a good idea.  Competitors come from all over the country and are often keen to sell for 2 reasons:

  • It's a long way home and transporting a surf ski is problematic, and
  • many competitors like to buy the newer models for the next surf ski season.

I was lucky enough to find a Stealth surf ski that was the perfect length for me and bought it without trying it out first.  Note:  it’s not a good idea to buy a ski without first taking it for a test paddle.  I would learn this lesson!

The Stealth surf ski was much more tippy than my old Epic V8 ocean ski.  I was OK paddling in the calm conditions of a river but not in the swell.  I just kept falling out.  After I couple of months I decided the ski was too advanced for me and I sold it.

Then began 2 months of trialing numerous different ski’s.  I tried about 20 before deciding to buy another Stealth.  That’s right, exactly the same ski that I had sold 2 moths earlier!  There were 2 main reasons for this:

  • I decided I wanted a surf ski rather than an ocean ski (more about this later), and
  • I realised the instability issue was not because of the ski but because of me. I needed to learn to paddle a surf ski. After all, there are so may people around the Sunshine Coast that seems to do so effortlessly.

The Most Noticeable Differences Between the Surf Ski and Ocean Ski

The most noticeable differences between the Epic V8 ocean ski and my new Stealth surf ski are as follows:

The surf ski is more robust.

When you’re learning to paddle in surf conditions, i.e. in and out of the beach, you’re bound to fall off from time to time and lose your ski.  The ski then gets washed into the beach and rolls around in the break.  If other paddlers have lost their ski’s too then there can be two or more ski’s rolling around each other and causing damage.  So a robust design is better suited to these conditions.

The surf ski is designed to handle the surf break.

Ocean ski’s are mainly designed for downwind paddling.  They catch “runners” and are very good at doing so.  Surf Ski’s are designed for competing in surf lifesaving carnivals.  They are built to a specifications determined by Surf Lifesaving Australia.

Surf ski’s are designed to operate in and out of the surf break.  A surf lifesaving competition race typically involves a beach start, paddle through the break to a buoy, paddle around the buoy to another buoy roughly parallel to the beach and then turn around the second buoy and return to the beach.  The first paddler to exit the ski and run up to the finish line wins.

An ocean paddling event is typically different.  These involve paddling from one location to another, often many kilometres, and mainly downwind.  A good example of this is the annual and famous Molokai Challenge.  Ocean ski’s are designed for speed and endurance in ocean conditions.

Surf Ski’s have more volume in the nose of the ski

A surf ski is designed to handle the surf break.  Therefore they must be able to paddle out through breaking surf and return to the beach in breaking waves.  When paddling down a steep wave, more volume in the nose of the ski keeps the front of the ski up.  It prevents the nose from diving into the water.  Some surf ski designs include a flared nose to help keep the nose of the ski above the water.  This also helps when paddling out through the break as it lifts the nose up the breaking waves.

I find surf ski’s easier to manoevre

An important aspect of surf ski racing is being able to turn sharply at the buoys.  A wide turning circle will enable competing paddlers to turn inside of you.  Ocean ski’s have no such requirement so, in my experience, tend to have a larger turning circle.  This was clearly evident when contrasting the Epic V8 and the Stealth surf ski.

I’ve also noticed that the surf ski tends to lean into the turn.  What I mean is when you press the right pedal, the ski tilts to the right.  Vice versa on the left.  This can make the surf ski more tippy.

In Summary

There’s a wide variety of craft available for paddlers.  When it comes to ocean paddling there are primarily the surf ski and ocean ski to choose from.  Which one is right for you will depend on your paddling preferences. If you’re going to paddle in the surf break a lot, you might consider a surf ski.  If you’re more into open water and downwind paddling, maybe an ocean ski is right for you.

I’m happy that I started with my Epic V8 as it was easy to learn on and much more stable.  I’m also happy to have progressed to the Stealth surf ski as it’s allowing me to paddle in the surf break with some peace of mind; although it is sometimes challenging and frustrating.

As a learner, you probably need to try a variety of ski’s to find something that best fits your needs.  Of course it’s not all about stability.  You might also want to consider comfort, whether you want adjustable leg length and many other factors.

In this post I’ve expressed views based on my experience.  If you have experienced the same or perhaps something different, I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Please leave your comments below?

Happy paddling!