The Surf Ski Conundrum
I’ve been coaching surf (ocean) skis for more than 10 years and the one question that keeps coming up is “What’s the best surf ski?”.
Put simply, many would argue the “best ski” is the one that wins the most races. Or the one that has sold the most or even the surf ski that won the last World Championships or won Molokai or won the last National Series will be the best. The thing is that the best surf ski for an elite paddler who has paddled for 10-20 years in all conditions and knows where to place the surf ski so they catch every swell in a downwind, does not mean it is the best surf ski for you.
While this question is easy to answer in theory and looking at results, for me, the so called “best surf ski” will come down to two simple questions:
Firstly, how is your balance? Balance is the first and only question I will ask a paddler. Why, because without balance or lateral control, your ability to learn, master or adjust your technique greatly reduces.
Secondly, what type of paddling do you wish to do? This is another important question because if you want to paddle around the edges, a marina, canal or venture out into open water, your end goal will determine what is the best surf ski for you.
As a coach of many paddler abilities, I find paddlers to be impatient when it comes to waiting until they’re ready to move up to a faster surf ski. The false in this is that paddlers think that a narrower, more unbalanced surf ski will make them go faster. On paper this is correct, but reality is a whole different story.
I have my own personal favourites and am q dealer however, I am a coach first. A coach who has paddlers best interests at heart and a coach who knows if I put you into a surf ski which is above your ability I will not be able to teach you any technique or surf skills until you master your balance. In addition, you will probably be doing more swimming than paddling when we are in open water. The issue is, if you do not learn how to balance in every condition early in your paddling career, then you will struggle with it for ever.
Almost every paddler’s end goal is to paddle in open water or paddle the perfect downwind. Great. However almost 95% of the worlds paddlers train on flat water. Training on flat water is great to be able to learn a more efficient technique, but flat water training is a controlled environment i.e. minimal side to side water movement. As a result, flat water training makes the paddler feels they are ready to move to a faster surf ski because they are able to balance their development surf ski in flat water. So they move up surf skis and after another couple of months they might move to an elite level surf ski. Now you can see the problem…
The challenge with always training in flat water is that while a paddler’s balance, confidence and technique improves, these three very important skills are not tested in open water or rough conditions. Therefore the importance of remaining in a more stable surf ski is imperative because in open water its never flat and a surf ski will move side to side, forward and backwards almost all the time. Open water is an uncontrolled environment where paddlers need to learn to be able to paddle in control.
The answer to the question “what’s the best surf ski” is:
“The best surf ski is the one you can paddle the fastest in the conditions you want to paddle the fastest in”.
My advice is always to take your time at the development surf ski level. Put you and your surf ski in every possible condition so you can and learn how to control the surf ski when both it and you are out of control. This also goes with technique. Once you feel the surf ski is holding you back meaning the surf ski feels like a glove and you can position anywhere with 100% power, then you know its time to move up. Moving up will effect your balance / surf ski control a little but a paddler with strong foundations should be able to learn to control this over a couple of weeks of open water practice.
In a perfect world, most new paddlers to the sport (i.e. under 5 years) would have two surf skis, an intermediate for open / rough water and an elite for flat water. It is better to have a surf ski where you can put 100% power 100% of the time instead of 50-70% power because 30-50% is helping you stay up right.
When I started Paddle 2 Fitness I thought everyone who wanted to paddle would already have a surf ski. This was mostly true, however the surf skis paddlers had purchased (new or secondhand) did not suit their ability. The surf skis were either the wrong leg length or well above their current ability i.e. balance. Now, paddlers come to Paddle 2 Fitness first. Everyone starts on a development surf ski and we go from there. Through weekly coaching sessions, these paddlers will learn balance, correct technique and surf skis on these development surf skis for several months so when they are ready to purchase, they have the skills and confidence to move up to the intermediate level surf ski.
Don’t rush the journey, as they say,”you must learn to walk before you can run”. When you learn the correct skills and as a result have the perfect downwind, then and only then will you have found “the best surf ski”.
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