The History of Surfski Paddling

(Above) Harry McLaren, the first maker of surfskis, second from the left, with Ray Dick, Herb Reckless and Bert McLaren, left to right. 1919 on the Hastings River, Port Macquarie.

Current Use

Surfskis are used worldwide for surf lifesaving, surf kayaking and for training and competition on flat-water or ocean (downwind) racing. They are most popular in warmer coastal regions such as Australia, California, Hawaii, and South Africa, as paddling a surfski inevitably involves contact with the water. In cooler waters, paddlers often wear neoprene or thermatech paddlegear.

Surfski Construction

Some cheaper, heavier surfskis are made from polyethylene. Light weight surfskis are made of composite layers of epoxy or polyester resin-bonded cloth: fibreglass, kevlar, carbon fibre or a mixture. To cut weight, the number of layers of the material and the amount of resin may be minimised to just that necessary for structural integrity or increased for extra strength and durability in heavy surf. Often this is done through a process of 'vacuum bagging', where the wet laminated mould is subjected to a vacuum pump that suck all the excess resin out of the composite in order to improve rigidity, and reduce weight.

What is a surfski?

(Above: The NZ-popular Flow Kayaks Sharpski elite racing ski. (Courtesy of Flow Kayaks))

A surfski is a long, narrow, lightweight kayak with an open (sit-on-top) cockpit, usually with a foot pedal controlled rudder.