Choosing stability - by Roz Barber

roz barber next level kayaking hobart tasmania australia stability article surfski

We all know that the longer, skinnier skis go faster than the shorter, wider ones....right?? 

Well they do, with some conditions attached. Those long skinny skis need someone who is able to paddle them properly, in the conditions they are tackling, for them to be fast. Elite skis need their paddler to have the right level of experience to be fast. question is "why, if a paddler has access to a more stable ski, will they still choose something less stable and only just 'survive' challenging conditions, as opposed to enjoying the bumps and properly learning how to handle their boat?"

I believe that part of the issue is stable skis are known as ‘beginner boats’Why don’t we simply call them ‘stable’? I am no longer a beginner, but I do enjoy paddling my more stable ski when the days are big or rough! 

Over time I have observed that less experienced paddlers feel that they will learn how to paddle a ski that is slightly above their ability if they persevere. This is rarely ego driven, this is a genuine belief. At some point they will be able to paddle that ski in more challenging conditions, but not before creating a lot of bad habits during the survival stage, or worse, putting themselves off paddling believing that it is too hard or not much fun. 

I have been in the fortunate position of having two boats, one for flatwater conditions and one for rough water, plus a coach who believes in pushing paddlers, but also advocates the use of more stable boats when required. I know this is why I can now paddle some of the conditions that I do. My situation has led to consolidating my belief that a paddler should almost always choose stability when they are faced with more challenging conditions. Of course, the levels of stability required will change over time as the paddler gains more experience.  

Some gains to be made when sticking with a more stable ski are: 

  • The ability to keep paddling forward with purpose
  • Developing trust that you will stay upright 
  • You will learn how to paddle messy/rough water, rather than surviving it 
  • You will enjoy windy, rough water days a lot more 
  • You will be able to remount more easily, should you fall in 
  • You won’t be left on the beach if the surf is bigger than expected 

The negatives when paddling a less stable ski for your ability or conditions: 

  • Technique is compromised 
  • You paddle to survive, losing the ability to keep the boat running 
  • Remounting a less stable ski is more challenging 
  • You may end up missing out on a session as you can’t get off the beach
  • You risk losing the love for an incredible sport

Most the paddlers I see are taking the sport up later in life, few of us are true naturals that can hop into a less stable boat straight away. If you want to paddle a longer, skinnier, ‘tippier’ ski...the process is methodical in order to get there.  

To get to that intermediate or elite ski it simply takes time. Be patient, start in a stable ski, there are so many to choose from. Spend the hours on the water that turn into years...and you will make it. Challenge yourself progressively, paddle with groups who look out for each other, get lessons, whatever it takes to help you improve.  

In my opinion the biggest factor that will get you into a more advanced ski, in time, is to start by getting a ski that is right for your ability now. You will always have more fun, and go faster in a boat you are paddling effectively and that is suitable for your ability. 

When it comes down to it we are paddling for fun, whether for fitness, social interaction or racing. It is always about the fun factor - so why not hop in that more stable boat and simply enjoy!

roz barber next level kayaking hobart tasmania australia stability article surfski

If there is magic on
this planet, it is
contained in water.

Loren Eiseley