TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Surfing

Field Review by Tom Holtey
A comparison, with tips about kneestraps, backrests and outfitting of similar surf kayaks.

Rrrapido - minimal outfitting
Ocean Kayak Rrrapido
Cobra Strike nicely outfitted
Cobra Strike
Outfitting Surf Kayaks

I had a chance to try two surf kayaks at Kailua beach's Flat Island, HI. The surf was much smaller than I would have liked, but when you are in the islands for only a week you can't be choosy. Conditions were: surf 1 to 2 foot, with moderate winds, maybe 10 MPH. I surfed on a shallow reef break that encompasses the island. Flat Island is about 100 yards from shore. FYI: I am about 5'9", 175 lbs.

NOTE: While the Rapido is no longer in production the Cobra Strike is. (I guess this review comes a tad late) I would assume that there are many Rapidos out there in the "used" market. I hope this review can be of help to folks.

OK Rapido - Waikiki Cam HolteyOcean Kayak Rrrapido
This is my brother Cam on a better day. The Rapido is reasonably stable for a "wave ski" but a beginner may find it to be tippy. It is a squirrelly boat, to be expected from a flat bottom hull. The foot wells could be a bit closer to the seat to fit me. A backrest could have "scrunched" me closer for a better fit, but this yak was not out fitted as such. That of course would have tipped the weight forward a bit and that could affect performance. The boat is highly maneuverable on a wave face. Care must be taken on edge control. The rails really can bight into a wave face for great grip, but it is not forgiving if it grips too much. There is some tendency to pearl, but a proper decent line down the wave face should fix that. This kayak is also very rollable, a major bonus for the surf zone in tough conditions. The Rapido is also easy to re-board if you fail to roll. Tracking is .... Heck what am I saying ... this is a skegless surfboard! (no tracking) A skilled lightweight rider paddling this boat can do some very acrobatic surfing.

Cobra Strike - Tom Flat IslandCobra Strike
The Cobra Strike is more stable than the Rapido. It is just as squirrelly, but tracks better, sporting a single skeg. While the Strike is still quite loose the skeg makes up for the softer rails. That is not to say the boat can't grip, it is just more forgiving. The skeg is removable for those who wish to do 360s. I used the older version and found the footrest to be too far forward to fit me well. This yak was also not outfitted with a backrest, so I could not adjust the cockpit length to fit me. (Once again this would have brought my weight up front, and could affect performance.) The Strike is also rollable with knees straps of course, or seat belt. I would say that the Cobra Strike is better suited for heavier and/or less skilled riders, but still able to deliver a high performance ride.

Santa Cruz Surf FestThe Strike is a Danny Broadherst design, who also did the Vision and Point 8 (originally Nu-Kanu, Competition Kayak, now Malibu Kayaks.) So if you like these larger versions you will like the Strike too, or vise-versa.

Notes about outfitting these two surfboats, and others like them:

The two kayaks above were not outfitted with strap eyes to allow for the use of backrests or back bands. While this is standard fair for wave skis, and the Strike and Rapido certainly are skis, I found this to be some trouble. These two yaks belong to my brother, who while younger than I must be much more "buff" than I am to go with out back support. I experienced some rather uncomfortable pain, mainly in my legs, while paddling these kayaks.

Shane UniversalI must stress that it is not the individual kayaks that caused this discomfort, but the lack of back support. (Or better yet, my lack of fitness!) In fact I remember, back in the old days, the first time I paddled a sit-on-top, it was a Shane Universal, a sort of kayak/wave ski. It was not outfitted with a backrest and I was uncomfortable then, even as a "buff" young man.

knee strapsAt Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:

Knee Straps
Like these contoured ergonomic design, padded knee straps, with quick release side-squeeze buckles.

Paddle Leash
Use a paddle leash in surf & wind (NOT in whitewater) to maintain control of your kayak. Cobra Fin

Surf Kayak Fins/Skegs
The addition of skegs/fins add performance, increases the ability of the Kaos Finkayak to hold position while trimming along the wave face and aids in tracking.

We carry fins for both the Cobra Revision & W.S. / Dagger KaosSurf Helmet

These water sport helmets can be used for all paddling disciplines that can involve risk, such as white water rafting, river boogie, rock gardens and sea caves.

I had noticed this sort of discomfort from time to time on a variety of boats, without back support, in the form of a molded seat or back band accessory. Many of my students and kayak customers also had similar discomfort. It would often be in the form of low back pain, or less likely leg pain. I took this to be from the strain if sitting upright without support. Those who tend to "fall back" get leg pain and those who tend to "fall forward" get back pain, The solution is quite obvious; install a backrest! While we should be strong enough to "take it" many of us are not.

Cobra Strike nicely outfitted

For surfing you will want a very low profile back band, or an equally low kayak seat. Stay away from kayak seats with stiffeners or built in rods. The seat should be quite soft and "bendy" to allow for full freedom of movement. You should be able to almost lie down on the back deck, this is necessary to prevent pearling on steep wave faces, adjust trim for decent and speed control, and aids in rolling (sweep roll).

If you have not had trouble from the lack of a seat there is no need to run out and get a back band, but I do find that a back band does act like a kind of knee strap for my butt. It helps me to wear my kayak and thus get better control. Also as I have mentioned above the seat can be adjusted to help a paddler fit into the cockpit better when the leg length is not right. This of course can tip the weight of the kayak forward making it bow heavy (A seat can not be used to bring a rider stern-ward.) On shorter kayaks such as surfboats and wave skis this can affect the performance, making takeoffs extra tender and increasing the chance of pearling. On longer boats such as touring kayaks and play boats this will have little if any effect.

Rrrapido - minimal outfitting

Knee Strap use for performance wave riding is critical. An alternative to knee straps is a seat belt. Use of one or the other is mandatory for Eskimo rolling, a good skill to have in the surf zone.

Paddle Leash use is a controversial topic. Some folks like them others do not. Some leashes can be an entanglement hazard, while others are safer, more like surfboard and boogie board leashes. On some breaks it is courteous and in good surf etiquette to use a leash.

Wave skis are often outfitted with seat pads for traction, performance and comfort. See also Seat Pad Review

Any wave ski or surf kayak can be outfitted for comfort and performance with the addition of a backrest and knee straps, learn how from more articles right here at TopKayaker.net:

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