A quick overview
A surfski is a relatively narrow, long kayak with an open cockpit, designed for speed on flat water and efficient movement in downwind ocean conditions.
Most of us on Vancouver Island have little exposure to surfski paddling. We see these long skinny boats at the front of races like MOMAR (Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race) and Royal Lepage Snow to Surf, but aside from being fast and tippy, most don’t really know what they are really about.
Originating from the surf lifesaving world, surfskis were originally used to quickly get through the surf to rescue swimmers in trouble and efficiently get back to the beach. The sport in this context is very popular in Australia, South Africa and other tropical locations.
The boats evolved to a design more suited to ocean paddling – longer and narrower. Fast and sleek, a skilled paddler can maneuver these boats in rough seas, using a combination of fitness and the movement of the ocean to cover distances at speeds in excess of 20kph.
Here on Vancouver Island, we have a climate that allows for paddling year round in conditions suitable for any paddler. Lakes and sheltered bays offer the perfect conditions to learn the sport. Flat water is where you get started, establish balance and learn proper paddle stroke technique - but it is also a perfect setting for a serene cruise or a fast paced workout for skilled paddlers.
As storms roll though, many opportunities arise to paddle these boats as they were intended. 15-20 knot winds create waves from a foot to over a meter. Paddlers often choose a point to point route for a “downwind run” where they ride the waves for a higher speed, rough water experience. If a point to point downwind is not possible, plenty of fun can be had by doing out and back “Laps” off of a beach or in and out of the protection of sheltered water.
Surfski paddling as a sport is growing on Vancouver Island. Multisport Adventure races are often a gateway as athletes see the speed advantage of a surfski and learn to paddle these boats for a competitive edge. For many, this is the start of a new obsession as they start to see the diversity of experience and environment that this sport offers.
The learning curve can be very steep in this sport, but surfski manufacturers are making leaps in their boat designs, increasing stability and expanding their offerings to suit paddlers of all abilities and goals.
To learn more about this sport, feel free to have a look at the resources page of this website or visit the VI Surfski Facebook group and engage with any of the members. Veterans of this sport are always eager to help newcomers get started. As safety is a major concern in this sport, please be sure to read the safety section of this website attentively.