Should You Buy a Kayak or a Surfski?

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If you’ve spent more than a few minutes shopping for kayaks, you’ve probably noticed surfskis as well. What’s the difference? Should you buy a kayak or a surfski? Keep reading to learn about how surfskis differ from ‘yaks, and which would better suit your needs.


How Kayaks and Surfskis Compare


Many think of surfskis as a type of sit-on-top (SOT) kayak. Generally, surfskis are narrower, longer, and more lightweight than kayaks. Surfskis are designed for lakes, rivers and open ocean paddling in varying conditions. The hull shape is designed to be sleek and fast for touring, fitness paddling or racing. Surfskis are steered by a foot-operated rudder under the stern.The bow of the boat is shaped specifically to pierce large waves or rapids as well as shed water when submerged. The large volume of air in the bow also helps bring the boat back to the surface if the boat dives into a wave when running down it. 

Most models use a self-bailer to remove water in the cockpit area. The SOT cockpit means a surfski’s hull will not fill with water in the event of a capsize. Also, the craft is easy to remount. Traditionally, surfskis have been used by lifeguards and water-rescue teams and are excellent for ocean racing. That said, surfskis can also be enjoyed by recreational paddlers for exploring or for exercise. 


Surfskis are responsive, making it easy to paddle fast and efficiently. Some surfski craft’s narrower bodies may require a bit of practice to stabilize, but there are surfskis designed for recreational to pro-level paddlers. Performance Kayak’s Stellar Surfski Line includes a full catalog of kayaks, surfskis, paddles and accessories, each serving a unique purpose. 


Stellar offers more than 20 kayak models, along with 10 surfski models built with speed and stability in mind. The staff at Performance Kayak will gladly help you choose the best craft for your needs and ability. If you are curious about surfskis, do not let the narrower body intimidate you! Stellar has surfskis that are comparably stable to kayaks. For example, the Stellar S16S is a surf ski that is every bit as stable as a kayak. 


Stellar’s recreational class of surfskis is sleek, but these boats are slightly wider, with a flatter hull behind the cockpit. This gives the crafts better stability. Like kayaks, this class of surfski features rudders that flip up and down to make launching and landing easier. Stellar’s intermediate boats feature narrower profiles, making them super lightweight and fast.


Where Will You Paddle Your Kayak or Surfski?


So what should you consider as you think about whether you should buy a kayak or a surfski?


First, think about where you will be paddling. Lake? River? Ocean? Bay? Whitewater?  Both kayaks and surfskis are designed with water type in mind. If you will primarily be paddling in water that is still, you may have a greater number of options available to you. 


Consider the depth of the water where you will paddle. You will need an over stern rudder for lakes and rivers that can get shallow. If you paddle in an area with rocks and logs this is a great option to avoid damage. If you plan to paddle inland waters, the kickup over-the-stern rudder is what you need.


If you will be paddling in the ocean, you should rely on under stern rudders. Under stern rudders come in a variety of sizes to suit the conditions and amount of steering pressure needed in ocean paddling. The larger rudders are better suited for high wind and larger swell to keep the boat on track and not broach. Large rudders also keep steering in the waves when a smaller rudder may come out of the water, causing loose steering. The smaller rudders are ideal on flat days or inland waterways where waves are not too large and where weeds are more common. 


Other Considerations to Choosing a Kayak or Surfski


Next when deciding whether to buy a kayak or surfski, you should consider your main goals for paddling. Are you looking to use your boat recreationally? To paddle hard to get in shape? To race? Your preference will affect the amount of stability your boat will need to provide.


You might also consider when you’re paddling. Though it’s true that it’s never too cold to paddle assuming you have the right gear, the open cockpit of a surfski means you’re opening yourself up to a bit more exposure to the elements. For that reason, some cold water paddlers opt for the kayak over the surfski.


Finally, see and try out boats before buying. Performance Kayak staff are happy to listen to your needs and offer many options that you can see, learn about, and sit in. The experts at Performance Kayak can help you consider size, comfort, and stability to ensure you the best possible performance.


We hope you learned a little bit more from this surfski guide. There are many different types of paddling options to choose from. As the weather warms, we hope you visit Performance Kayak to explore and learn more. We are ready and able to help you as you progress in your paddling.