Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Which Surfski for Me?


Surfski paddling on the new breed of ocean racing skis, has moved very quickly in recent years from the exclusive domain of elite surf lifesaving athletes, to one where even the most modest of recreational paddlers can now enjoy the rush of chasing a wave in these sleek boats.

The turning point, without question, was the breakthrough Epic V8, released in 2010 & offering a super stable ski, and genuine performance for paddlers entirely unskilled in the sport of ski paddling. The attraction was easy to identify. These craft are light in comparison to most kayaks in the same price range, simpler to paddle with a very responsive rudder, with the advantage of hull speed for fitness, and stability for the fun part of the sport on open water. If you're not looking to journey or develop kayak-specific skills, they're a very uncomplicated & accessible craft.

Other manufacturers have followed on with their own more user-friendly designs, so the picture for a prospective buyer is now much more clouded, for anyone attempting to weigh up the relative merits of different skis, in different stability & performance categories.

To simplify, but by no means comprehensively define these different skis, we've put together a guide to the boats we have both paddled enough to gain a good appreciation of the attributes of each, and also sell as part of our stable of skis from the leading brands Epic, Fenn, Think & Carbonology. We have demo boats on hand for most of the designs summarised below if you'd like to give one a try in live conditions.

photo by Alan Coker (www.allancoker.com)
Note, our impressions of these boats are based on our own paddling. Both Rob & I consider ourselves competent enough on each of the skis listed to paddle them well in moderate conditions, so we're not speaking from the perspective of elite ski paddlers, more for the viewpoint of enjoying the skis in the conditions for which they were designed.
We have coached & instructed scores of paddlers over the past couple of years specifically aimed at making them competent enough to enjoy open water in their ski, as opposed to shaving a few minutes off their race time. In many cases our views vary slightly from the manufacturer's own spiel; we're attempting to simplify this at-times confusing market place with a simple statement about how each ski differs, from our brand-neutral viewpoint.

The sorts of typical conditions I enjoy paddling are summarised in the short video below, to give you an idea of where we paddle these skis & the kinds of adventures you can have! It's not a race, it's not scary, it's just great fun, accessible to all with the right boat & a bit of dedication.



Broadly, the sport has evolved into four categories; Entry Level, Transition, Intermediate, and Elite:

Entry Level Skis

With the starting point that surf skis are designed for moving water, each of these ski designs combine varying degrees of glide and 'run' in the following seas in which they excel, with stability to allow the less experienced paddler the opportunity to get to know the dynamic environment of the ocean.


Vajda Raptor (ABS Plastic)
An entry level ski made from a tough, durable & incredibly stiff thermo-formed ABS plastic known as Styrolite. A flat planing hull provides stability, while the narrow forward section of the boat provides a close catch & excellent ergonomics. Features the same durable snap closing KajakSport hatches that feature on Rockpool & Tiderace expedition kayaks, ensuring a rear hatch seal with integrity, and enough capacity for a long weekend away camping. Suited to slightly lighter paddlers, with a weight range up to about 95kg. 
Length 534cm
Width 53cm
Weight 20kg
Paddler Weight 55-95kg
$2290

Epic V7
The new Epic V7 sets a new standard for rotomold performance. It is lightweight, extremely efficient, and easy to handle. The V7 is outfitted with the same high quality fittings as every surfski in the Epic lineup, including the carbon fiber footboard and pedals and the hugely popular Epic designed bailer. In addition, it features an aft storage compartment with a lightweight hatch. 
Length 520cm
Width 54cm
Weight 20kg
Paddler Weight 65-110kg
$1990

Fenn Bluefin
A super stable, heavily rockered ski designed to catch waves & run on the sea. If you're looking for the perfect boat to get you out into rough water & actually riding waves, there isn't a better boat on the market to inspire confidence & do what a surfski is supposed to do. You can see a video of the Bluefin in action HERE
Length 590cm
Width 53cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$2800 (Fibreglass - 17kg) $3350 (Vac Glass 14kg) $3800 (Hybrid 12.5kg) $4500 (Carbon 10kg)

Think Eze
Unquestionably the best entry level ski on the market for smaller framed paddlers. Short, nimble, light & quick for it's length, with Think's renowned disciplined seating position. 
Length 520cm
Width 51cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 50-85kg
$3495 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4595 (Elite 12.5kg)

Think Ace
Along with the V8 the base line ski in the market, designed to be easy to paddle for even the greenest paddler. Features carry handles, and also the lightest ski for the price. 
Length 522cm
Width 53cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 75-110kg
$3495 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4595 (Elite 12.5kg)

Epic V8
The ski which single-handedly broadened the sport of surfski when it was introduced a few years ago. Stable, solid on the water, and built to Epic's exacting standards. The easiest surfski to paddle on the market. You can see a video of the V8 in action HERE. 
Length 549cm
Width 56cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$3195 (Club - 17kg) $3995 (Performance 15.5kg) $4995 (Ultra 12.5kg)


The Transition Skis
A recent development to the genre, skis that have a bit more to burn, yet retain a level of stability the an ambitious beginner can live with.


Think Zen
The latest arrival into the transition genre, more nimble than it's rivals at 5.6m long so an excellent one for garage storage, and designed with stability in mind. This is a ski we're excited about, we think 560cm is a great length for most paddlers ability. 
Length 560cm
Width 52cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 60-100kg
$3495 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4595 (Elite 12.5kg)


Epic V8 Pro
Bridging the gap between entry-level and intermediate, this is Epic's latest ski & it sits on it's own in a sub category.If you've been wondering about a step up from your V8 to the V10S but haven't quite been able to make the leap, then this boat is such a logical step. It feels like a V8 with a lot more glide, and as such requires way less effort to push through the water, and as far as ocean paddling goes it also turns more instinctively. You can read a review & see a cool video of the ski in action HERE. 
Length 570cm
Width 50cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$3195 (Club - 17kg) $3995 (Performance 15.5kg) $4995 (Ultra 12.5kg)

Carbonology Boost
The Carbonology Boost is welcome addition to the 'ambitious starter' genre. It's 5.95m long, 50.5cm long, super manoeuvrable and predictable in the runs & only $3300 for the 14.5kg layup. If you're getting into ski paddling & wanting to have a crack, or looking to come back down to a design more manageable in the rough stuff, this should be in your list of boats to test. 
Length 595cm 
Width 50.5cm 
Weight See Below 
Paddler Weight 60-100kg 
$3300 (Glass Epoxy- 14.5kg) $3900 (Hybrid 12.5kg) $4500 (Carbon Foam11.5kg)

Intermediate Skis
Intermediate level skis by definition should look after a paddler with good technique, allowing them to get the boat out into more challenging water and enjoy it, rather than dread it. Fast enough to ride ocean runners but without the sheer glide of the elite skis, these are designs that are sympathetic enough to allow a good percentage of improving paddlers to graduate into.

Fenn Swordfish
A dynamic, nimble, surfing ocean ski in the Fenn tradition of producing skis that are meant to be in waves. Now with an improved seat & 'hump' position, manufactured in South Africa. The Swordfish is a unique ski, with performance just below the true elite level, whilst maintaining stability to burn. You can see a video of the Swordfish in action HERE.
Length 610cm
Width 45cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$2800 (Fibreglass - 17kg) $3350 (Vac Glass 14kg) $3800 (Hybrid 12.5kg) $4500 (Carbon 10kg)

Think Evo
Probably the fastest intermediate ski, with almost universally approval for the intermediate paddler looking to progress to the ocean. Blessed with above-average glide, and all of the extras that come as standard on Think surfskis. HERE'S a short video of the Evo running along in Botange Bay 
Length 625cm
Width 48cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 65-100kg
$3495 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4595 (Elite 12.5kg)

Epic V10 Sport
Like the V8, a trailblazer into intermediate skis when originally it was an elite ski or nothing. Now even more stable, big & buoyant & as reassuring in the rough stuff as any design ever was. 
Length 600cm
Width 48cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 75-110kg
$3195 (Club - 17kg) $3995 (Performance 15.5kg) $4995 (Ultra 12.5kg)

Elite Skis
As the classification suggests, elite skis for paddlers with an elite attitude to developing & maintaining their rough water skills. Nowadays almost universally stable enough for an average paddler to handle on dead flat water, but require dedication to master on moving water, let alone in the dynamic environment of the sea.
Think Uno Max
You only have to sit in the Uno Max to appreciate the pinpoint ergonomics, this boat just feels fast. As stable as any of the elite designs, with an incredibly disciplined feel on the water. Sea Rice's craft of choice as he powered his way to the World Championship.
Length 645cm
Width 43cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$3495 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4595 (Elite 12.5kg)

Think Ion
A buoyant and dynamic ski which feels light on the water & accelerates beautifully. Sits with the Epic V10 just below the stability & ability of the true elite skis, now remodelled with extra stability. 
Length 642cm
Width 44cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$3495 (Performance - 15.5kg) $4595 (Elite 12.5kg)

Epic V10
The ski which popularised the ocean racing genre, with plenty of glide, predictable, stable for it's minimal beam & designed for the rough stuff. An icon with a new configuration, bailer, and shape. Probably the most user-friendly elite-level ski doing the rounds. You can see a video of the V10 in action HERE. 
Length 650cm
Width 43cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 70-110kg
$3195 (Club - 17kg) $3995 (Performance 15.5kg) $4995 (Ultra 12.5kg)

Epic V10L
A stable elite ski for lighter paddlers, reconfigured to drop off the wetted area & increase overall acceleration. A very different animal to the original V10L, hugely popular with smaller-framed, skilful paddlers. 
Length 615cm
Width 44cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 50-85kg
$3195 (Club - 17kg) $3995 (Performance 15.5kg) $4995 (Ultra 12.5kg)

Epic V14
Along with the Think Uno Max a true elite ski for elite paddlers. Used to great effect in flat water races like the Hawkesbury Classic where it can generate K1 speeds with higher comparable stability, but in the purest form an ocean racing performance beast for paddlers with advanced skills. 
Length 640cm
Width 43cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 65-110kg
$3995 (Performance 15.5kg) $4995 (Ultra 12.5kg)

Fenn Elite S
A surprisingly stable elite ski with the well documented Fenn surf ability exemplified by a narrower hull and longer waterline. The seat is further forward making the ski sit flatter in the water. The rudder is further forward making the ski even more maneuverable than the older Elite.  The hump between the seat and footwell has been reduced and the footwell is lower. There is some volume taken out of the nose.
In essence the Elite S has all the re-known surfing characteristics of the Elite while bringing in the flat-water qualities that the Glide offer and lower volume Spark offer.The head-turner at the moment at the pointy end of the sport.
Length 644cm
Width 43cm
Weight See Below
Paddler Weight 65-110kg
$2800 (Fibreglass - 17kg) $3350 (Vac Glass 14kg) $3800 (Hybrid 12.5kg) $4500 (Carbon 10kg)

8 comments:

  1. Mark, thanks for this comprehensive overview.

    As you seem to be one of the few dealers that cover so many different brands, I wonder if you could share your experience regarding a comparison between the Vajda Hawx 52 and the EPIC V8 Pro concerning stability, speed and glide and remountability? I am also interested in the seating positions, as I would expect the Vajda to have a higher K1 like seating position.

    As I understand, both are a cut above pure entry Level, have similar width while the V8 PRO is a bit longer.

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  2. I haven't paddled the Hawx 52 as much as the V8 Pro, but I'd agree with you that they are similar in their performance & stability. Vajda boats have excellent ergonomics from the perspective of flat water racing, Epic are probably a little more versatile & non-proscriptive, less likely to mess with paddlers that don't have perfect posture etc. They're both hugely stable for remounting, but I couldn't give accurate speed info as I haven't paddled both over a set course. Hope this helps.

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  3. Thanks a lot for the fast answer! Highly appricated.

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  4. fantastic comparisons. thanks so much. you just did for me in a few minutes It took me a month to figure out on my own. priceless

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  5. Hi Mark, Really appreciate the time that you have taken in putting your knowledge down here for all to see. I have been paddling a Fann Bluefin S for little over a year and am looking to challenge myself further. I have also recently been paddling an Epic V8 Pro though have got comfortable in this very quickly. I am around the 87KG mark and was thinking of a Hawx 46. Would that be your call or would you suggest I try something else. Paddle a lot in the Swan and if the winds are right, in the ocean as well. Many thanks in advance, Andy

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  6. G'day Andy,
    Any of the intermediate skis are within reach if you've been paddling the V8 Pro. It's a good bridge. I wouldn't recommend any of the intermediates over the other, they're all good, do your best to get out & trey as many as you can.
    Mark.

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    Replies
    1. Many thanks Mark. Really appreciate that you took the time to respond.

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  7. Been trying some skis out recently and just read your summary. Really helpful and spot on with the ones I have paddled. With so many choices and paddling conditions it is not easy locking one down.

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