One of the most common mistakes made by paddlers choosing a new surfski or standup paddleboard is purchasing a craft that is too unstable. Sleek and narrow paddle craft can be fast, but only if you are stable when paddling. There is a popular myth running throughout the paddling community that you can “learn” or “grow into” a less stable surfski or standup paddleboard if you just commit to trying. In reality, you will quickly become discouraged and find you are either constantly falling, constantly bracing, or both. Either way you are not paddling, which, if you recall, is what you set out to do.
Wider paddle craft tend to be more stable. As the title of this article states, stability drives ability. If you are not stable, you will not be able to paddle. And that whole speed thing. Guess what! You will be 100 times faster on a more stable craft that you can comfortably paddle than you will be on a less stable craft that causes you to struggle.
When choosing a stable craft, don’t overlook the types of conditions you plan on paddling in. You may be able to paddle an elite surfski or 24 inch wide standup paddleboard in glassy flat water conditions. But if you intend to paddle in the ocean where wind and waves are constantly in flux, I recommend you go with a more stable option. Having a stable craft will enable you to focus on learning to paddle and progressively master more challenging conditions. With a stable craft you can be out there in the heat of the action instead of sitting in on the beach discouraged.
Many surfski manufacturers do a good job of defining the skill level each of their models are designed for. At present, I’ve only spent a limited amount of time in a surfski, but I’m impressed with how Epic Kayaks categorizes their models. Epic uses a naming convention built around a number. Broadly speaking, the lower the number the more stable the surfski.
Standup paddleboards are a different industry and there are boards designed for different conditions (flat water, rough water, whitewater, etc) making efforts to define the skill level for each board in a similarly linear fashion a bit cumbersome. Nevertheless, the antidote stability drives ability still applies.
If you’re looking to get into OC-1 [outrigger canoe] paddling things are much simpler. An OC-1’s outrigger or “ama” provides stability making it possible for a beginner to paddle an elite canoe. Terms and conditions may apply!