3 min read
17 Feb

A few days ago a friend of mine shared his takeaway from paddling his new surfski in a post called “Shorter boats for shorter bumps”. 

He posted that in a Surfski Kayak Facebook page and sparked off quite a discussion.

To me, the claim that shorter surfskis are better for shorter waves is a no brainer. Of course, if the distance between two waves is shorter, surely a shorter boat would fit and surf those wave better?

Another friend disagreed with this logic and stated that longer boats would actually be better for shorter waves, because longer surfskis “spend less time between two waves when trying to link them”. (This is a bit confusing for me to be honest)

I was tagged and asked for an opinion and I have to say I didn’t really want to argue what I considered to be such a clear logic.

But then I figured that if anyone wanted to make a sound argument on this, there was one major missing piece of information:

What is the definition of a short and a long surfski?

I had some ideas, but I wasn’t making the arguments, so I decided to put the question out there and see what people think and as you would expect this question opened a bit of a rabbit hole.

My initial idea was to write about the benefits of short vs long surfskis, but now it looks like it makes more sense to look into some of the claims regarding long surfskis and see how they stand up to scrutiny.
My hope is that after reading this article and the follow up, you will have a better understanding to enable you to decide which surfski will give you the best experience on the water.

Here are more or less the three basic options for short / long surfski definition:

  1. 560 cm and below is short as the Nelo 560 was the first mass-produced racing surfski designed with this shorter length.  
  2. 580 cm and under is short because the original (modern) surfskis came from lifesaving and in lifesaving standards the length of the surfski is set at 579 cm. 
  3. 600 cm and under is short because…I guess it is a nice round number? 
  4. One very important point, someone made, was that the real difference between long and short surfskis only makes sense to discuss in the elite level design because in general shorter surfskis are automatically wider and more stable.

Please comment on which definition you agree with?

For me, for the sake of having a clear and fair starting point, I would just take the 580 cm line and look into some claims and facts based on those parameters.

As I am writing this I realise there is still a problem. What do we call a surfski, which has a length of 580 cm exactly?

Maybe we will get back to this later, but in the mean time, here are some of the most common claims made in support of long surfskis and how they affect you:

Long surfski benefits

  • ⁠All current winners of surfski races and generally top surfski paddlers use long surfskis (and I am guessing you should also use one for that reason?). 
  • Long surfskis are better for surfing large ocean swells. 
  • Long surfskis are better for surfing short waves.
  • Longer waterlines are faster as it can be seen in rowing shells where a single boat has 700 cm + length. I am not sure how this is relevant, but I am looking forward to exploring the topic.  
  • Long surfskis are also narrower and allowing you to punch through the waves in downwind as it has less resistance compared to shorter surfskis.

Short surfski benefits

On the other hand, the claimed benefits of shorter surfskis are as follows:

  • ⁠Easier to transport and store. 
  • ⁠Better manoeuvrability.  
  • ⁠Better acceleration.  
  • ⁠Lighter weight.  
  • ⁠Better for downwind surfing in short and steep waves.  
  • Better flat water speed?

I will address all these claims with some facts and perspectives, which will hopefully help you see things in a different perspective.

One thing that I found interesting already, is that 

Most of the surfskis on the market today are short 

If we consider 580 cm as the dividing line between short and long surfskis.

Epic Kayaks, for example, currently has a total of 14 single surfski designs. Of those 14 designs only the V10 sport, V10, V12 and V14 are longer than 580 cm. I would estimate that about 80% of Epic Kayaks sales are in the shorter surfski segment.

Nelo Kayaks has all their surfskis within the short segment under 580 cm.

Nordic Kayaks has total of 11 surfski models and 8 of them are in the short surfski segment.

Fenn Kayaks stands out with all surfskis in their lineup currently longer than 580cm, with the exception of their Bonito surfski meant for kids.

What is your opinion on surfski length and the possible benefits/disadvantages?

Please comment below.

This is an example of downwind surfing in Tarifa with a short surfski, Nelo 540 

This is a longer surfski in downwind conditions in Tarifa, Fenn Swordfish 

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