Choosing the right craft

on May 25 in Equipment, Skis, Slides, Think by

Ski paddling around the world is going from strength to strength, with people joining the sport in huge numbers. The increase in numbers is fantastic for race organisers and of course those involved in selling new craft. With that in mind, what should you be looking for in a new ski?

If you are new to motor sport, you don’t rush out an buy a brand new V8 Supercar. Ideally you will look at buying a cart, and learn the basics of driving. Without having a solid foundation in driving skills you will never master the faster cars up the range. So why should a sport like ski paddling be any different? Well, in reality, it isn’t, yet everyday you will see guys paddling skis which are beyond their current skill set. Friends advise them that is they spend lots of time paddling, they will master the more advanced ski, that over time it won’t be as tippy. Unfortunately, not getting the right craft to start with will have long term implications on your paddling technique, your stability, your ability to use the ocean to your advantage, and ultimately your enjoyment out on the water.

So how do you go about choosing the right craft that suits YOU? By answering the following questions, you can go a long way to getting on board a ski that will allow you to perform well and improve as a paddler.

- What level are you at?
- Where will you do most of your paddling?
- What are your paddling goals?

Lets look at some possible answers.
What level are you at?

This is the most important aspect when choosing a new craft.
Are you a beginner just starting out in paddling? Have you maybe got some experience in paddling from a fitness squad for example and are making the step into ocean racing? If you answer yes to either of these questions, then it is very important you walk before you can run. A ski which offers lots of primary stability will allow you to learn correct forward paddling technique, while also giving you a solid platform to try your hand in the harbour or ocean. At this stage, you need to be nice and stable and not have to worry about falling off. If you’re stable you will start to learn the feel of the ocean, how runs feel as they come under your ski, how side chop effects the run of your craft and how to use the ocean to your advantage. This is the stage in your paddling where you will set the foundations to build a successful career upon. Use the time wisely and efficiently and you will set yourself up for many happy years of paddling ahead.

The next stage is what we term intermediate, and I believe, the hardest one in which to choose a craft. Paddling at this stage, you will have built a good foundation in paddling technique and will have a reasonable feel for the ocean. What is really important in this stage is not to make the jump to a more unstable craft too early. If I can use the example of a racing car again, you decide to move to a faster car when you really can master your cart, not when you have improved a lot, but are still hanging on for dear life on a race track. You should have 100% confidence in your equipment and support strokes are a thing of the past. By getting out regularly in messy side chop and down wind runners you feel totally comfortable, then you are ready to make the step up.

Advanced and elite paddlers are you guys with a very solid forward paddling stroke and who have little to no stability issues in almost any conditions. You will have built up a great foundation over the years and by getting onto an elite level ski, you can perform to your optimal level.

Where will you do most of your paddling?
The great thing about surf skis is that they can be used in a variety of places and conditions. When you are looking for a new ski, it is good to ask yourself where you will do most of your paddling. If it’s in the flat water, with the occasional trip to the ocean, then you may be able to handle a tipper ski, but bear in mind that it might be more of a challenge in the ocean. Also worth considering, do you drive to your favourite stretch of water? If so, a lighter ski may appeal, as lifting skis on and off roof racks can be hard work. The important thing to remember is that you need to match you skill set with the stretch of water you will do all your paddling on.

A very important aspect of where you paddle is how safe the craft you choose is. If you are paddling in the ocean, chasing runs, battling rebound chop from cliffs and the like, you need confidence in your ski that it won’t let you down. As the sport grows, more and more attention is being paid to the safety aspect of craft and also paddlers wearing PFDs. Most race organisers now insist you wear a leg leash, and anchoring it to your ski is very important. Your ski should have strong internal stringers which support the structure, as well as providing rigidity to the craft. While we all crave high performance, don’t let it be at a cost to your safety and well being.

What are your paddling goals?
For most of us, going to the Olympics or World Championships isn’t on our agendas. We paddle because we love it, we enjoy the outdoors, the fitness levels we gain and the fun we have out on the water with our friends. But it is still important to have goals. To beat your best mate at a local time trial, to finish a big high profile race, to improve your 10km PB as examples. With your goals in mind, you can make your choice of ski also. For many beginner paddlers who quickly progress to intermediate status, why would you reduce the enjoyment factor by getting on a ski which is too much of a challenge? You may find that you are actually quicker on a more stable craft as you are able to apply more power on each stroke, and not have to worry about falling in. If you local time trial has some challenging conditions, but your best mate has jumped on the latest and greatest ski he has seen an elite paddler on, without having the ability to get the most from that ski, odds are you will beat him on a more stable craft. If you want to smash your 10km time, that will be very hard to do if you are just paddling with your arms because you are on a ski which is too tippy. Being on a suitable craft which you can apply all the power from your torso and big back muscles will pay dividends and in no time you will be reassessing your goals with a new PB logged in your training diary.

For advanced to elite paddlers, most will tend to choose the fastest skis on the market, but having the skill set to get the most from these craft, you will excel.

I hope this article helps you in choosing a new ski. I have specifically refrained from mentioning any brands or models as the sole intention is to help aid in craft selection, and not to confuse or influence paddlers. Being a distributor of skis here in Australia, I speak to many different paddlers every day, each one will be of a different ability. The important thing for me is to match them to a ski on which they will perform to their best ability and the one which they will gain the most enjoyment from. After all, we all paddle for the love of the sport and the enjoyment we get from the best outdoor sport on the planet.

Now go for a paddle…..

Stewart O’Regan
Think Kayak Australia