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.

The surfski is used in surf lifesaving competitions all over the world including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the USA and in Europe. Since its introduction, surfski racing has been managed by the International Life Saving Federation. The standard ILS surf ski race is about 700m, from a start in the water, out around a series of buoys and back to the beach. Events include:

  • Surfski
  • Surf race
  • Paddle board
  • Ski relay
  • Taplin Relay
  • Oceanman (new name since ILS Rulebook 2007, in history it is Ironman)

It was not long before people began going further afield in these new, extremely seaworthy craft, and ocean racing began to emerge. The earliest races were the Scottburgh to Brighton in South Africa, a 46 km event first held in 1958; the Port Elizabeth to East London in South Africa, a 240 km event held every two years since 1972; and the most famous of them all, the Molokai race in Hawaii, a 52 km event first held in 1976. The Molokai is also considered the unofficial World Championships of ocean ski racing. There are also major surfski races held in South Africa, Australia, and Dubai, with "The Doctor" in Western Australia and the Southern Shamaal and the Dubai Shamaal, the newest surfski races.

More recently, there has been a huge growth in ocean surfski racing in mainland USA, Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific countries. There has been a move in many of these active surfski racing countries to transfer the ocean events to the International Canoe Federations as the Lifesaving Federations often do not have the resources to manage long distance races with up to 500 competitors. The extremely popular ICF World Ocean Racing Championships in Portugal in 2013 is set to reshape the sport on the international stage, however some controversy still exists between the ICF's involvement and the traditional ocean paddling fraternities, with many nation's national canoeing bodies still uncommitted the ocean paddling as a discipline within their funding structure. While this controversy appears to be centered around a lack of consultation or communication between the ICF and the traditional surf ski paddling fraternity, there is a strong sense that this is all about to change, with all eyes on the second ICF World Ocean Racing Championships scheduled in Tahiti in 2016.

As well as ocean racing, surfskis are becoming increasingly popular as a versatile racing craft for open class races that take place in sheltered bays, lakes and rivers. One advantage of the surf ski over the traditional kayak is that if the conditions tip the paddler into the water, a "wet entry" is possible by simply climbing back onto the boat and continuing paddling without first having to drain the boat of water. The "getting on" instead of having to "get in" factor is a significant differentiator between traditional kayaks or multisport boats and surfskis. This simple fact makes for an instant appeal factor for any paddler within a short drive of the ocean!

(Much of the above is courtesy of Wikipedia - see for further info.)