Learning to paddle a surfski in the past has been a test of one’s tenacity and desire to learn the sport. I remember countless paddles where I couldn’t talk, look sideways, or even adjust my position in the bucket without falling in. I endured countless itchy noses for fear of taking my hands off my paddle. Bit by bit I became comfortable in a particular condition and then tried something a bit more challenging. Headwind, turning in chop, balancing through confused seas and rebound waves. Then finally progressing to my first downwind. It can be a slow progression to learn this sport, but each ability level is fun and with time in the bucket, anyone can progress.
Modern boat designs are shortening the learning curve significantly. Manufacturers are now easing the barriers to entry by creating more stable boats to suit any body type. The cool part of this is that the slowest, most stable surfski can still rip it up in the wind and waves and be faster than any traditional sea kayak on flat water. In fact, there is a growing trend to purchase more stable boats instead of the elite racing rockets that can be a handful to master.
It is important to master the basic skills - balance, forward stroke, bracing, turning and of course remounting - on flat water, close to shore before you start to venture out or challenge yourself in rougher water. Choose calm, sheltered locations to get started and gradually challenge yourself as you feel more comfortable. Make sure you master your basic skills before you progress to a more difficult situation.
Find a paddling buddy. Join the Vancouver Island Surfski Facebook group or send an email to us through this website. There are many great people on the Island who will join you or connect you with someone for a paddle. We have all had the benefit of lessons from someone more experienced and are more than happy to help a newcomer to the sport.
Gradual progression and caution is key when learning this sport but each step is fun and there are endless new challenges to be had. Conditions and environment, from ocean movement to weather and wildlife, are completely different on any given excursion. This is a sport that will challenge and excite you forever.
Boats and Gear
When starting in this sport many people look for deals. This often means finding a flashy boat on Craigslist and never really being able to master it properly. There are boats for beginners and boats for experienced paddlers and many options for all abilities. Even veterans of the sport are choosing more stable boats these days for the benefit of confidence and stability in all conditions. Research your purchase thoroughly, talk to local dealers and get on some demo boats. Dealers will often charge a nominal fee for a demo, but credit the cost to a boat purchase. This is a good investment in making sure you know what you want.
Set yourself up for success and start with a boat you will enjoy and be able to master your basic skills in. You will have plenty of time to upgrade to your carbon fiber race rocket when you have the skill to enjoy it.
Photo: Ian Daykin's (and formerly Ben Garret's) V-10L on a beach somewhere around Tofino.