Follow these surfski paddling basics to become a better ocean paddler
1 Never sacrifice stability for speed Your ski selection and set up will have a very big impact on your paddling. You will enjoy your paddling much more when you are completely comfortable in your surfski, than if you are unstable and uncomfortable. Don’t try a racing boat first time out, there are loads of great beginner boats out there. When you are sitting on the ski, make sure you can fit a fist under your knees, no more and no less.
2 Remember the rudder When you get onto your ski watch that you aren’t sitting on the sand with your rudder in the ground, it will bend, break and then there is no more paddling for you. Walk out with the ski until knee-depth, put your paddle across your foot straps, swing your leg BEHIND you and get onto the ski like you are mounting a horse.
3 When in doubt legs out Although the ski is designed to go with your feet in the footwell pushing on the pedals for direction, having your legs hanging overboard is like adding 50% more stability to your surfski. So the surfski school number one motto is “when in doubt legs out” at any stage of a paddling session. If you’re going to crash, feel wobbly, turning, it’s never a bad time to put your legs out.
4 Always face the ski into the wind and waves A ski is 6m long, it’s important that it’s facing directly into the waves and wind. If it’s slightly off centre it will spin around and take you out.
5 Don’t stop paddling When you start out, you need to think of paddling like riding on a bicycle, if you stop pedalling you’ll eventually slow down, stop and fall off. Same thing applies to a surfski, you need to be moving forward to have steering and control.
6 Never let go of your paddle Once you pick your paddle up to take your first stroke you may not let go of it until you’re back on the beach. Your paddle is used to continuously paddle as well as brace (slap the water to stop you from falling out).
7 To catch a wave head straight to the beach If you decide to catch a wave, here is the order of events – pick a wave from behind the impact zone, paddle hard for the wave, don’t stop paddling because you need to be moving faster than the wave to have steering, push both pedals down firmly so you go straight to the beach, if you start to broach (go sideways) put your legs out (handbrake on).
8 There is a right and wrong side to a surfski Always make sure that you are on the sea side of your surfski. It’s the water and waves, then you and then your surfski. If it’s the water and waves followed by surfski and then you, the waves will break onto the surfski and then the surfski will break you.
9 If you fall out, don’t panic Put your paddle across your boat (perpendicular to the ski) pull your tummy up over the bucket of the seat, kick your legs until you are lying on the ski. Swing your leg over the back of the boat, stay nice and low and slowly sink your butt into the seat. Leave your legs out and start paddling. Once you are moving forward put your legs in.
10 Never call it rowing! Rowing is with an oar and rowers go backwards. We sit on top of the surfski and use a paddle, and go forwards; it’s called paddling.
Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue.