Kayak or Surfski? If you’ve ever signed up for the Chattajack as a double bladed paddler, you’ve had to answer this question during registration. For many, this designation is easy, but for others it can be a bit more complicated.
Having a look at race classifications abroad can get even more complicated, as different regions can’t seem to agree on which categorical system to use.
The first thing to understand is that by and large, boat category is determined by hull dimensions. The topside of your craft is generally irrelevant. Although weight, position and setup are important, length and width of a boat are by far the most important factor in determining the potential for speed in a craft.
The most widely recognized system in America is the Sound Rowers classification method, which relies on precise measurements of hull length and width to arrange a generally fair and simple system as follows:
High Performance Kayaks/Open class - This is almost all 18+ ft long kayaks (depending on width) plus some shorter boats like ICF K1's and wildwater kayaks.
Fast Sea Kayak class - Too long or too narrow (or both) to fit into sea kayak class. Too short or too wide for HPK.
Sea Kayak class - Starting at 14.1 feet in length up to approx. 16-17.5 ft in length depending on width.
Rec class - This is anything at 14 ft or less in length, period. No width data is needed.
In some areas, an “SS20” class is added to this system as well. SS20 or Surfski 20 denotes a surfski design with a width of 20 inches or more, effectively separating true Sea Kayaks from Surfski’s.
In the Gulf region, a “K1” spectrum is the standard. This system utilizes a wide array of categories, representing about any form of boat, determined on hull dimensions rather than topside:
K1 Bite ≤ 10′ N/A
K1 Short 10’1″- 12’6″ N/A
K1 Medium 12'7"-15'6" ≥ 22″
K1 Long 15’7″-17'6" ≥ 21″
K1 Fast ≥ 17’7″ ≥19'6"
K1 Race Unlimited ≤ 19'5″
*(K1 Race) Skinny surf skis and Olympic K1 boats
And still some, like the Chattajack and the Shark Bite Challenge, have only two classifications---Kayak and Surfski.
Chattajack race director Ben Friberg has received some questions regarding this matter and has clarified the intent to loosely follow the Sound Rowers guidelines. He wanted to keep it simple, so he has used the two class system to denote the surfski as all high-performance craft (width less than 20 inches) and kayak to encompass all the rest including fat surf ski's 20 inches or wider; Similar to the Shark Bite Challenge classification.
For Chattajackers, one word of caution, Friberg strongly advises against “rec style” boats entering the race for obvious reasons. Yes, this is a great bucket-list event if you've always wanted to have a go at an Ultra Marathon distance, but your chances of being pulled after missing the time cut are almost assured, and with a race that sells out as quickly as CJ, you’re likely using up a spot someone else could have had.
Friberg also warns that “A rec boat would also be a massive headache on a day when Mother Nature isn't happy. On those days you want every advantage you can give yourself. We haven't had Mother Nature truly test us on a race day yet. It will happen eventually.”
So, if you’ve had trouble deciding which category you belong in, here is your answer. If you are in any craft that has a width of less than 20 inches, you should be registering in the “surfski” category. This is for all high performance designed boats regardless of the top deck. It includes high-performance Sea Kayaks, Surfski, Wildwater boats and ICF K1 sprint and marathon boats.
If your boat is 20 inches wide or more, regardless of whether it is a “surfski” or “kayak” you belong in the “Kayak” division.
This is a very simple method which really keeps things easy and fair. It wouldn’t be much fun racing a fourteen foot Necky against an ICF sprint Nelo Cinco would it?
Examples for Surfski division:
Epic: V14, V12, V10L, V10, V10 Sport
Think: Uno Max, Ion, Evo
Stellar: SES, SE, SEI, SR,
Fenn: Spark, Glide, Elite, Swordfish, XT
Westside: Thunderbolt, Marauder, Dark Starr
Vajda: Hawx, Hawx 46, Next
Nelo: 560 series
Almost all K1 and Wildwater
Examples For Kayak Division:
Epic: 18X, V8, V7, V6, V5
Think: Ace, EZE, Nitro
Stellar: S18s, S18r, S16, S14
Vajda: Oscar, Raptor
All Sea Kayaks from 14-foot length or more