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.

Early surfskis were constructed in the same way as early surfboards, being laminated from light wood and sometimes covered with fabric. In the 1960s, the first foam surfboards and surfskis were carved from a single block of expanded polystyrene foam, strengthened with wooden stringers and covered with a thin layer of fibreglass. In the late 1980's, legendary surf lifesaving waterman Peter Creese from Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club crafted a sleek, sub-9kg custom made surfski by hand shaping high-density polystyrene foam affixed either side of a super-light, hand crafted wooden cross-membered stringer framework, and using a hot nicrome foam cutting wire removed most of the foam volume of the boat by carving out a series of interlinked compartments. He then linked these compartments with a complex set of pressure-equalising tubes, and included a drainage chamber to trap any errant water droplets that found their way into the chambers. As a young junior member of the club, I watched Peter (who was the Springbok Captain for our national South African team, the highest national honour possible) craft this ski daily, in awe as he turned out the most advanced racing ski the world had ever seen. Ridiculously lightweight, Peter would go on to win any and all of the long-and-short distance races he entered, until cancer took him in the prime of his sporting career. The art of custom-designing and building surf skis was a passion with most of the active senior members of the club, and it was this culture of innovation that helped to shape the popular FENN Millennium production boat from Fish Hoek in South Africa, that would slowly start to revolutionise the manufacture of production surf skis the world over. As the demand for surfskis grew in the 1970s, this custom method of production proved too costly and moulds were made from the most successful surfskis so that moulded craft could be made more cost effectively out of glass-fibre. At the same time, there was a divergence in ski design, one type becoming known as the lifesaving specification surfski (spec ski) and the other being the long distance or ocean racing surfski.

Ocean racing surfskis differ from spec skis in that they are longer, have sharply pointed bows and under stern rudders. The front of the modern lifesaving type surfski is often flared to prevent nose diving on returning to shore when surfing down large steep waves. Ocean racing surfskis are also usually longer than long distance racing kayaks; they have more longitudinal curvature (rocker); they typically have less transverse primary and secondary stability but more longitudinal stability because the paddler is seated more towards the centre of the craft to enhance wave riding ability. An ocean racing surfski must have enough volume in the bow to provide buoyancy when punching through surf, a long waterline to make use of ocean swells, a sleek, narrow shape to reduce water resistance, as well as enough stability to make paddling in rough conditions feasible.

(Much of the above is courtesy of Wikipedia - see www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surf_ski for further info.)