Introduction to Surf Skis


Newbury Kayak and Canoe began carrying surf skis in 2017, making them the newest addition to our paddle craft inventory.  We think they represent an exciting type of paddling for folks on the North Shore and we thought you’d like a bit of an intro…

Let’s start with a three sentence summary:  A surf ski is a narrow, lightweight, open cockpit watercraft with a round”er” hull and a foot operated under stern rudder.  They are typically used for life saving in the surf zone or for ocean downwind racing, but are also great day-touring or exercise boats.  Fast, efficient paddlers, they may need a bit o’practice to keep stable.  

Henry McLaren of Port Macquarie, Australian is credited with building the first surf ski in 1912 and drawing the first formal plans in 1919.  These early versions looked more like “sit on top” surfboards, with foot straps to help improve the boat-paddler connection.  



Today there are two broad categories of surf skis:  life saving spec and ocean/downwind. 

“Life saving spec” surf skis are built to standards set by the International Life Saving (ILS) Federation.  They are designed to work in and out of the surf zone, so are built to be more rugged and maneuverable then their downwind cousins.  

Ocean/downwind skis are longer, with less rocker, and are optimized to catch and accelerate on ocean swells (not so much breaking surf).  If you watch this Hawaiian surf ski championships video (about minute 6:55), you’ll see the how this can be handy (30km/hr with no paddle) (

Some manufacturers (eg. Stellar) have introduced a “recreational” class of ocean/downwind boats that retain most of the original design’s sleekness, but with more width and a flatter hull behind the cockpit for added stability.  They are also shorter, and tend to have flip down/flip up rudders (like those used on kayaks), making launching/landing more convenient.   Added bow and stern hatches let you carry a bit of gear for a day paddle.

Surf skis have a unique profile, with a high/deep narrow bow, an open cockpit designed for a centered knee position and a low, flat back deck.  In the pictures below you can see the wider hull behind the paddler in the recreational ski compared to the narrower profile in the intermediate boat.





Bottom line, if you like the open feel of a sit-on-top, but have been frustrated by their weight and performance, are interested in day paddling, or want to move really, really efficiently through the water and ride those swells, you will want to try a surf ski.  I have and they are just a lot of fun.

We have 14', 16' and 18’ Stellar composite surf skis and a Pyranha 17.5 surf ski in our demo fleet for anyone looking to try them out.