With the advent of boats like the Epic V6, Stellar S18S, etc., that blur the line between what previously constituted a surf ski, the good news is, it's never been easier for someone wanting to try out this genre of paddlesport. If you have any degree of skill at paddling a relatively nimble sea kayak, away you'll go in one of these user friendly beginner boats.
First and foremost, learn your remount. A simple YouTube search will turn up a number of vid clips on the accepted methods. Basically, there are two: sidesaddle and cowboy. The sidesaddle method is by far the most preferred, and most reliable in any kind of conditions. The cowboy is perhaps best suited for skis with deep buckets and high, narrow side rails. The beauty of a ski is that once you have the remount down, you'll be back in your boat in a matter of seconds, as opposed to needing a bombproof roll, or resorting to paddle floats, pumping and dumping, let alone 't' rescues and the like. It's no coincidence that open ocean racers have almost all transitioned to skis-as the craft become faster and less stable due to their beam, the ability to remount unassisted is invaluable. When you're confident you can get back in easily, you'll push the limits of 'doable' more, and your skills will grow. To start off...a primer...
Keep your footstrap fairly loose, but tight enough so you can still put pressure against it when pulling back. Using a footstrap from the getgo enables a number of things to happen:
1. It gives you something to hold on to if you come off-keep in mind that aside from the V6, relatively few skis have decklines of any kind.
2. It gives you something to pull back against, when driving with the legs during the forward stroke-think toestraps or clipless pedals on bicycles.
3.) It gives you a contact point to work a bit of body English in rougher waters-skis lack the knee braces, backbands, etc., so your core needs to be strong. Contact points are your bum, hips, and heels-and the footstrap, if you're using one.
Make sure your footplate is the proper length-knees should be slightly bent: not too close so you feel like you're sitting in a clown car at the circus, and not so far that you can't toe the foot pedals. Since this is one of your main contact points, you'd be amazed at how something as small as a cm. adjustment one way or another affects stability.
Be sure you're tethered in some way to your boat. It's amazing how quickly a lightweight ski will blow away from you. Paddle leashes tethered to the boat and/or a leg leash.
When just starting out, keep your legs out hooked over the sides-this offers a great deal of stability-it's also terrific when you stop. "When in doubt, legs out," is the catchphrase used by surfski god, Dawid Mocke. In shallow water, straddle the ski, and just lower your bum into the bucket. Forward momentum is your friend-using something like a wing paddle is best suited to skis, because every stroke is a brace stroke.
It's important to note that stable boats like the Epic V8, Think Big Eze, etc., are worlds away from the elite skis. To say that something is a surfski means less in terms of generalized stability, than to its design of open cockpit, understern rudder, and venturis/bailer in the footwell. Too many people start off in a boat that's beyond their skill level, get frustrated, and give it up. (I did.) Oscar Chalupsky says, and I believe rightly so: "Stability before ability." Even your most stable skis will be a far sight quicker than the standard sea kayak, and the first time you get on a run, you'll have an epiphany as to what they're really all about.
While I have a couple of Elite boats now, I also have an intermediate, and a very stable one, too. My V-8 is about as much fun as one should be licensed to have in big conditions. Have fun trying them out!
YakCatcher Rod Holder
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