One of the many great aspects of the recent Cali Paddler Retreat 1.0 was the opportunity to try out different paddlecraft. Paddling a surfski was on my bucket list and I was excited to learn Epic Kayaks had signed on to be one of the participating vendors. Chris and Sammie Barlow represented Epic at the retreat.
Chris is a former Olympian and earned multiple Pan Am Games and National Championship medals during his paddling career. He is the founder of the San Diego Canoe & Kayak Team and was twice named USA Canoe & Kayak Coach of the Year. Sammie Barlow is a 2020 Olympic hopeful and Cali Paddler Team Paddler. Sammie has earned multiple wins in surfski and marathon kayaking and is a National Champion in sprint kayaking.
Paddling a surfski
One of the great things about Epic Kayaks is they produce surfskis for different levels of paddlers. Chris joked that a surfski is nothing more than an outrigger canoe without the training wheels. I began paddling OC-1s last summer and the learning curve of paddling a new craft is still very fresh in my mind. After a brief land explanation of how to hold the paddle, Sammie handed me off to Chris who adjusted the seat in an Epic V8 surfski and pushed me out into the ocean yelling out, “Dig deeper!” as I vigorously paddled away.
Photo: OnIt Pro
I made it out through a couple of small waves and then spent some time focusing on my stroke. Unlike a canoe or SUP, you paddle a surfski with a double-bladed paddle. I caught myself taking a couple of double strokes on one side. That really isn’t a good way to go, because as Chris pointed out earlier, there isn’t a “training wheel” on a surfski!
I managed not to flip the surfski which is undoubtedly a testament to the great beginner friendly design of the Epic V8 more so than my skills as a paddler. There is a set of foot pedals in a surfski which control a rudder system, just like in an OC-1. Unlike in an OC-1, I had the distinct feeling I needed to maintain forward motion or I was going to flip over.
One of the few things I knew about surfski paddling before the Cali Paddler Retreat 1.0 was that they are great in the surf. I hung out outside for a choice wave and then dug the paddle blades deep. The surfski easily picked up the wave and I kept the nose pointed straight towards the beach as I zipped through the line up back to shore grinning from ear to ear!
What was it like?
Based on my experience, I highly recommend giving surfski paddling a try. Here in Southern California, the SoCal Winter Series is a great time to experiment with and try out different paddle craft. The network of SoCal outrigger canoe clubs host the Winter Series races, which are open to all paddle craft.