Surfski craft combines paddling, rowing, and surfing into one perfect form of exercise: Stretching Out

August 20, 2018 GMT

Surfski craft combines paddling, rowing, and surfing into one perfect form of exercise: Stretching Out

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle and surf boards. You name it, I’ve ridden and written about it.

Trust me, then, when I tell you: there’s nothing else quite like a surfski. A cross between a kayak and a rowing shell, a surfski boat takes advantage of human, wave, and engineering power to move through the water with the greatest of ease. No other non-motorized craft I know enables two people to move so quickly.

It’s certainly a sight to behold. When I first spotted Will Hanson, owner of Aspire Fitness Studios, driving around town with his 24-foot surfski (surfski.info) strapped to his roof, I could hardly believe my eyes.


The thing wasn’t just enormous. It was beautiful: Long enough for eight but only built for two and barely wide enough for one. No wonder so many people stopped and stared when Hanson showed up at Merwin’s Wharf the other day to take me for a spin on the Cuyahoga River. They’d never seen anything like it. I hadn’t either.

There were brains to this beauty, too. In addition to its striking appearance, Hanson’s surfski also boasted a small rudder with a pedal turning system and a mechanical bailer that automatically kicked into gear at high speed.

Hanson’s rationale for investing in a surfski was clear. An avid competitor in adventure races (triathlons with boating instead of swimming), he sought a boat that was lean and mean and would give him and his brother an edge over racing kayaks. He chose an Epic brand boat after finding a racing model for two at a price he liked.

I suspect he also liked the exercise. More so even than kayak paddling, powering a surski is all about core strength and stability. Simply put, the stronger your torso, the smoother and faster your ride will be.  

I admit, the boat made me nervous at first. Because Hanson’s surfski was so skinny and aqua-dynamic, it wobbled like crazy. It took all the balance and hip strength I had to keep from capsizing us. And this was while we were still sitting at the dock. When we pushed away from the post, I gasped.

But all (okay, most) of my trepidation vanished when we started moving. Once Hanson and I were paddling in synch and twisting our cores to power each stroke, scooping water with our spoon-like oars, the boat stopped quivering and I was able to relax enough to fully savor the rush of flying through the water.


And make no mistake: fly we did. I hadn’t set out to help Hanson set a new personal top speed when I agreed to co-pilot his surfski, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing. After hitting his previous record of 6.5 mph with minimal effort, we gunned it a few times and soon found ourselves cruising along at eight.

That was on flat water, too. Had conditions that day permitted, we might have paddled out to Lake Erie and attempted to “surf” waves as the boat’s designers intended. How fast we might have gone in that scenario, I don’t even want to imagine.

What I can and want to imagine is getting back in a surfski. All my initial nerves notwithstanding, I had a blast in that boat. The list of watercraft I like to use is now one item longer.