Padding Out A Surfski--Flex Maslan

One man's take on personalizing fit in his ski--coming from a kayak and looking to keep it tight.

Author: Flex Maslan

Surfskis are high-performance craft that need to be a good fit to achieve optimum performance. Although different, I would group surfskis with low volume Greenland style kayaks in the sense that they should really fit the paddler like a glove. The goal is to feel as one with the boat. This is why there are several makers and many models of surfskis – different boats for different folks!   


At 6’2″ and 160 lbs (188 cm x 72 Kg) my dimensions indicate a good fit with the SES model in Stellar’s surfski lineup. Although I am at the top end of the height range, there is plenty of room for even longer legs. I contemplated the SEL model, which would also fit me well, but do not need the extra volume (weight capacity). The Stellar SES surfski is a great fit for my lightweight anatomy and I made it even better with some custom foam padding!


I sourced two sheets of self-stick adhesive backed closed cell foam on eBay for $10.50 delivered (no affiliation). It even came in gray to match the colors of the “Grey Ghost“!


The foam is 6mm thick which is just a hair less than 1/4″.


Stellar provides a very solid adjustable 3 point attachment system for the footplate on the SES surfski. The foam padding makes my feet feel like they are on a pillow and actually slightly improves rudder response!


Stellar does a very good job in chamfering all the exposed edges of the aluminum foot plate parts. However the bottom adjuster lever could prove to be painful to toes when doing remounts. So in a flash of inspiration while paddling, I realized the best cover for this piece was probably already somewhere in my garage! A rubber 90 degree spark plug wire cap is a perfect fit and slips over the aluminum piece. It allows for full functionality, but I doubt I’ll be moving it much since my foot plate is already properly adjusted.


Mine happens to be red because that’s what I found in the garage, but black is a more common color if that matters. These are typically for old school engine distributor caps and should still be available in auto parts stores, online or local junk yards.


Moving towards the seat is a raised part of the surfski bucket that also contains a molded bottle holder. I put these two pads there not for paddling but for carrying. I find it easiest to carry the lightweight 20 foot boat on top of my head, and this is where the balance point actually is on my SES!


The way I carry the ski is usually with the left hand holding next to the seat while my right hand grabs the foot strap in front with the boat balanced on my head. That’s where the foam padding comes in!


One of the reasons I like the SES is that the seat bucket fits me well. The foam pad adds comfort and pretty much eliminates any pressure points!


The two cutouts really help to “locate” me in the seat and are for the bones in my pelvis called the “Ramus of ischium” (also known as the bony part of the butt).


The foam thickness and density are just right and do not impact the stability of the surfski!


I’m pretty happy with my foam customization! I never get numb legs and feel no pressure points anymore. I can achieve really good forward leaning form with proper rotation and excellent leg drive.


Man and boat, merged into one!


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Ask the Engineer: 5 Points of Surfski with Greg Barton---by Chris Laughlin

Surfskis are relatively simple.  Not a whole lot of moving parts, components or general outfitting to worry about.  That doesn’t stop the sport’s enthusiasts from partaking in the favorite pastime of performance-oriented athletes everywhere: relentless analysis of their equipment from every angle!


While simple, surfskis do have plenty of subtle differences between brands, models, constructions and components that can make a noticeable difference between each boat and from one paddler to the next.


Always hashing out the best blends of speed and stability, the surfski community at some point looks past personal comfort, and starts to look at what affect their equipment options actually do have on their individual performance.  When you pay the extra money for an Ultra layup, what are you actually gaining?  And what might you be losing?  Does the rudder just steer the boat, or will it impact your speed and stability?


When Greg Barton designs an Epic surfski, he looks at all of these variables with a unique depth of experience as a world-class paddler, combined with the degree and training of a mechanical engineer.  Anyone who has talked boats with Greg on the beach quickly understands the level of detailed thought that goes into every aspect of his designs, whether it be based on speed, weight or function.

Barton at The Mayors Cup


Below, Greg gives his thoughts on some of the main points that surfski paddlers consider when considering their equipment, and how they each affect performance on the water.




The Correlation Between Boat Weight And Stability


Weight does have a small effect on the stability of a kayak.  A lighter weight boat reacts more quickly, so it can feel a little less stable compared to a heavier version of the boat, particularly when encountering a wave or gust of wind.  However, if stability is a concern, it is better to get a more stable hull than a heavier boat.  The stability gained by moving one model (say from a V10 to V10 Sport) is much more benefit than any amount of added weight.  The speed benefit of a lighter boat outweighs the stability benefit of a heavy boat.

Surfski Rudders: Drag, Stability, Control

The rudder on a sufski has a small effect on stability.  The rudder tends to dampen the movement of a boat and can make it feel more stable under speed.  But a rudder also imparts a tipping moment to the boat when it is turned.  The deeper the rudder, the more it will kick or tip the boat while turning.  So a large, deep rudder is both more and less stable compared to a smaller rudder.  More stable while travelling straight, but less stable when turning.  With experience and time in the saddle with a given rudder, you can learn to anticipate how turning will tip the boat and compensate for it.A larger rudder has more drag and will slow the boat down if not needed for control.  My recommendation is to match your rudders size to conditions - larger rudder for steep downwind waves (where control and broaching are an issue) and a smaller rudder for milder conditions.  Rather than relying on a rudder for stability, you are better off choosing the appropriate boat for the conditions and your skills, then choosing a rudder that is sized for the conditions.  

Boat Stiffness, Flex And Speed

A stiffer surfski will be faster.  It does not flex as much under speed and the rocker profile will remain consistent when weighted with the paddler.  But there is a point of diminishing returns.  For example, there is a larger performance gain moving from a plastic kayak to a composite, but less gain moving from a medium stiff composite to a super stiff composite kayak.

A more flexible boat could dampen movements (like a heavier boat) and thereby make it feel more stable, but the loss in performance outweighs the stability gain.


Put Your Footboard, And Pedals, Where It Matters


Your footboard should be positioned for comfort and to promote good technique.  During the stroke, you should be pushing with your leg on the same side as your stroke.  Your knees should alternately be moving up and down on each stroke to drive hip rotation.  If your footboard is too far away, the back of your knees can bottom out, reducing the potential leg drive.  Too high of knees will make it more difficult to achieved good leg drive.  Generally, on a surfski, you want your leg to be just shy of touching the deck between seat and footwell when using full leg drive.  You can move one notch forward or back from this position for comfort, but adjustments beyond that will decrease performance.  This spacing generally gives the best stability. You need to be well connected with your legs without the knees being too high.


The foot pedal angle will depend on your foot size, the paddling conditions and personal preference.  You want to be able to achieve good leg drive without inadvertently pushing the pedals.  But you want to have good pedal control with your toes when needed for steering.  For most paddlers, this will vary between in line with the footboard (slanted about 25 degrees forward when the rudder is straight) to vertical when the rudder is straight.  Those with big feet and/or paddling in calmer conditions will prefer the pedals more forward (in line with the footboard) while those with those with small feet and/or steep surf conditions will prefer the pedals more back or close to vertical to give better control.  I personally have small feet and keep the pedals close to vertical, sometimes even angling slightly back from vertical (towards the paddler) if I'm paddling in very steep waves, such as at the Gorge.


The angle of the pedals can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the white plastic turnbuckle between the front of the rails on Epic surfskis.  If even more adjustment is needed, you can adjust the line connection at the rudder spreader bar.

Less Boat, Less Drag – The Epic Transom

Due to the rocker profile, the transom, or cut off stern seen on Epic surfskis is out of the water much of the time.  It only dips into the water with heavier paddlers, at extreme speeds or when waves pass by.  Flow at the extreme stern of a boat is detached or separated, so the final few cm of the hull do not effectively contribute to streamlining the shape.  Cutting off the last bit of the stern results in a boat that acts like a slightly longer boat (less form drag) without the boat actually being longer.

Story by Chris Laughlin


Surfskis and Body Symmetry---By Dr Daniel C. Batchelor


Ever since I was a young boy, I've loved the water. I grew up on a lake but even now several decades later, I still feel the need to be in and around lakes and oceans. I feel grounded when I'm on the water.

As a competitive kayaker, mountain bike racer and triathlete, I'm also a Doctor of Chiropractic who specializes in the treatment of athletes. As a doctor/athlete, I fully appreciate the importance of body symmetry and its effect upon the function of the musculoskeletal system.

As opposed to many other sports such as tennis, baseball, hockey, golf, bowling, skateboarding etc, kayaking is a very symmetrical sport. Both sides of the body are utilized evenly and as long as the athlete enters the sport with a body that is symmetrical, kayaking tends to enhance that body symmetry.

If your structure is out of balance, it is vital that you get it fixed prior to incorporating any type of serious kayak training into your fitness program. Prevention is everything.

Most kayak injuries that I treat occur when kayakers lift kayaks to put on their vehicles. The second cause involves improper form while paddling and the third cause of kayak injuries occurs while performing "The roll", on sit-in kayaks. Other causes include using a paddle with a blade that is too large, incorrect seating position, etc.


Any gear or joint that is not in alignment with another gear or joint, will wear out prematurely. This is where chiropractic care enters the picture. Structure and function are interrelated. Issues such as leg length discrepancy, muscle imbalance, lack of flexibility, and joint alignment, etc can be sorted with proper treatment.

Most of my patients are athletes. I treat many members of the Atlanta Rowing Club including team members of the Georgia State and Georgia Tech Rowing Teams as well as hundreds of kayakers each year. I also train several times per week with many of my competitive kayaking friends and patients in preparation for upcoming kayak races but on the off season, we still kayak for the fun of it.

I run, bike and kayak on alternate days. If I have a kayak race 6 weeks in the future, the kayak training takes precedence over other sports. I still perform the other sports but kayaking increases in frequency and intensity. As soon as I peak physiologically and complete the kayak race, I return to an equal balance between all 3 sports again. This method helps prevents overuse syndrome and injury.

Even though I am a Doctor of Chiropractor, I realize that the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. That is why my brother who is also a Doctor of Chiropractic is the main member of my pit crew. He keeps me in balance.


If you are on the fence and trying to decide what type of kayak to purchase, consider the surfski, but before you begin any type of serious training, consider having a Chiropractic exam performed to assess and correct any structural biomechanical imbalances that might impede your fitness program.

Roswell Chiropractor Dr Dan Batchelor is Metro Atlanta's top doctor/athlete. He is the winner of over 350 endurance races and has treated thousands of patients over 3 decades. Be the best you can, let the doctor who practices what he preaches, show you how. 770-992-2002 270 South Atlanta st, Roswell GA 0075

How to Face the RACE Pace

Having a good old sprint finish with Dawid Mocke, Fish Hoek, Cape Town

Having a good old sprint finish with Dawid Mocke, Fish Hoek, Cape Town

Sean Rice discusses the importance of Race Pace in his most recent Blog post:

The build up to any goal, race or event can be exciting, tiring and sometimes completely overwhelming. Every paddler no matter your experience will go through the ups and downs of the build up.  With summer making its way up North and the start of a new year of racing we are all sure to go through this process again soon. (Well I definitely need to start getting my game face on!).

While preparing for the up and coming race season, I have compiled a few tips on how to face the race pace!

1. PLAN!

  • Obvious right? Yes but how you plan is important! You will need to know your time frame, resources at your disposal and of course, have at least one solid and realistic goal! Without these you are not planning. You are wishing!

Write down a program or ask for a coach’s advice. Get it onto paper and then commit! Sometime the hardest part of training can be knowing what to do and not losing focus. With a well-structured program, you’ll know exactly what has to be done.

2. Talk about it!

  • Believe it or not, but some people are interested in what you’re gearing up for. If some people aren’t, then go find different friends! No seriously, it is good to tell people about your goal or event. This conversation will keep you motivated and you’ll have something to prove! You might even get some inspiration from passed achievements of others or recruit some new training buddies.

3. Roll with the punches!

  • If only all training sessions were as fun or easy as your first. Unfortunately the reality of a structured training program is that you will go through many ups and many downs. Keep your chin up and look forward. The tough days make the good days even better! Just keep going forward.

4. Train hard and rest easy.

  • A big part of the actual benefit from the training you will be doing will come from the recovery afterwards. Going hard 100% off the time could lead to fatigue or injuries that interfere with your whole journey. Train smart and listen to your body. 

5. Mix it up.

  • Having the structure of a reliable training partner or venue, as well as a solid training plan is vital to achieving your goal, but sometimes some spice is nice! Surprise yourself and body with something different every now and then. Join your mates for a different downwind, paddle somewhere you normally wouldn’t, chase ducks and geese around the estuary, drag your kids around on the back for extra resistance, anything! Just keep it fun and interesting. 
Photo taken from TC Surfski

Photo taken from TC Surfski

Most importantly - practice your smile and fist pump for the finish line photographers! Picture yourself completing your goal or event and that is sure to get you out on the water when the body says NO!

Go for it!


Masters Class: Less is More -- Erik Borgnes

Borgnes at Phatwater

Borgnes at Phatwater

Preface: Erik Borgnes is like the rest of us; a paddler with a job (Physician-Radiology) and a family. Yet, in spite of a busy schedule, he finds a way to take his training to the next level.  After his recent course record and subsequent interview at the Chattajack, I was shocked to find that the 50 year old Borgnes spends only three days a week on the boat.  Even more compelling was that he often spends this time on a 400 meter pond and a 1 mile lake!   

The holy grail for the Masters athlete is to find a non-invasive but highly effective training plan that cuts through superfluous methods and focuses on maximizing efforts. Critical for those (all?) of us that don't make a living paddling but want to do our best come race day.  I was struck by the simplicity and clear reasoning behind his program.  Nothing is convoluted.  Nothing is wasted.  

Thank you Erik for the great insight.  Honestly, it was a struggle not to keep this for myself.-JD


Joseph Di Chiacchio asked me if I would lay out my 3 day a week on-water training plan for him, so here it is:  I'll preface this by saying that my training plan isn't anything groundbreaking.  It's more or less just basic "stuff" that has been concentrated along certain lines and has had other lines completely removed.  It's what I do now and I think it works pretty well for me.  Of course, your results may vary....

I find that it's a constant struggle to fit the training time that I'd like to have into my busy work and family schedule.  I know others feel the same way.  So, with limited time to train, my program over the years has become whittled down to about three days on the water each week.  With such limited time, I like to plan my paddling so that almost every minute on the water has a purpose and a direction of concentration.  I work on one specific facet of paddling at a time - and I’ll break it down into what I view as important, and why I think so, below. 

As we are told, we all have a genetic potential for how much work we can do at maximal effort - our max VO2.  Supposedly, this is largely genetic, but more importantly, after we've trained for several years, this doesn't improve anymore and supposedly drops by about 1% per year from when we were about 30 years old.  What does improve year over year, though, is our efficiency (though, in incrementally smaller amounts), which we can train with technique work and with time on the water.  Strength, strength endurance, power, and power endurance can improve, too.  These ideas are what I base my on-water training program on. 

If you think about the distance racing that most of us masters are doing, you’ll probably see that there’s really very little time that we are in “the red zone” where our heart rates and ventilatory rates are near their maximum.  Because of this, I think that long max VO2 type intervals are pretty much a waste of time for us.  Why?  They offer limited specificity to how we’re racing. And because the stress is so high during each interval, the specific total training load, for how we race, from each workout session is reduced.  Plus, I think the additive training stress of these types of sessions over a season leads to overtraining and burnout in a masters age paddler.  So, instead of stressing my max VO2, I’ve come to see training optimization simply as maximizing the training load at lower “gears," done in such a way where the load is directed towards stressing the working muscles rather than on the cardiovascular system.  (Just to be clear, I do paddle near my max VO2 occasionally during paddling races, and that's fine.  I also occasionally go into and out of my red zone when out on a run or a bike ride about once each week or two).

Here's another way to think about it:  Suppose my VO2 max on a bike or running is 60 ml oxygen per minute.  In the boat, it might be 45?  (I really have no idea, though I know it will be considerably lower).  In any case, if I were to surmise that my heart and lungs can deliver oxygen and take away CO2, etc. to my working muscles at 60 ml per minute in those other sports, then it's probably not the rate limiting factor in paddling, where I'm only at 45 ml per minute - at least that's the logic that makes sense to me.  So what this tells me is that to improve my endurance speed, I need to increase my paddling muscles' ability to do more work - not my heart and lungs.  I can do this by increasing the number of muscle groups that I use effectively when paddling, and I can also build up the power and strength capacity of my paddling muscle groups.  

I break down surfski racing into four key things that I need to work on.  For one, I need to be as efficient as possible at my steady state 1-3+ hour racing speed.  I also need to be able to adjust to changes in the pace, up or down by about 0.5 mph or so, and do so with as little added stress as possible.  I need to be able to quickly power up and sprint for a wave or for a wake in front of me.  And lastly, I need to have the endurance to finish a long race comfortably.

The backbone of my year ‘round training is my mile intervals and it's been that way for years.  I’ll start out in the spring with about 4 or 5 and, if I’m training up for a long race of up to four hours or so, then I’ll do up to about 18 of these 1 mile long intervals.  As for speed, I’ll paddle each one at or just under my 10 km racing speed - which is about the speed that I would do a flat water 10 km time trial.  For me, that number is about 7.9 to 8.0 mph on a good day.  So, for my one mile intervals, I’ll do one mile at 7.7 - 8.0 mph, then take 30 seconds to a minute to turn around, and then repeat until I’ve completed my session.  If it’s windy, then I’ll watch my HR monitor too, and base my effort on my HR while heading into the wind, and on my speed while paddling with the wind.  I try to stay just a tiny bit below my 10 km race pace effort and HR to minimize the stress load.  Because these are over in 7-8 minutes, and because the intensity isn't too high, I find each one easy enough to get through, and also that adding more of them isn't too onerous a thought.  The interesting point comes after you've done 8, 12, 16... of these, because you come to understand that the specific stress on your paddling muscles after 16 intervals at your 10 km race pace is very different from that of 16 miles at your LSD pace.

The second type of session that I’ll do is an interval session that’s done at a speed just above my 10 km race pace.  I do mine at about 8.4-8.6 mph.  The critical thing about this interval is that the time / length of the interval is long enough to maximize the feeling of being at that steady state speed, but short enough so that I don’t climb up into my max VO2 / red zone area, so I’ll end the interval at about the point when I’m starting to breathe faster and I’m feeling near the point of crossing over into “oxygen debt.”  For me, these are about 1 minute 40 seconds long, or about 400 meters at that speed.  Once I stop, I’m mostly recovered in 30 seconds and then I’ll meander back to the start and then begin the next interval about 3 or 4 minutes later feeling fully recovered.  The second key thing about these intervals is that I'm going for volume at that interval speed, and not trying to maximize the speed that I do each interval.  So, again, I’ll start out the season at 10 or so and work my way up into the 20’s. To think about these another way, if I did 10 of these, I would have done 4 km at 8.4 mph and stayed well away from my max VO2.  On the other hand, if I were to paddle at 8.4 mph for 4 km in one long interval, I'd have hit my max V02 somewhere along the way, failed to maintain my speed, and limped in at the end.  If I had attempted to cover that same distance broken up into 1 km segments, each one would be spent at my max VO2, and I'd be pretty thrashed by the end.  Also, it would take me a week to recover from doing either of these latter two sessions.  By breaking them down into about 400 meters each, though, I can paddle twice the distance in a single training session with less stress and easier recovery.  And that’s my goal - to maximize the specific training load and to minimize the training stress.  Again, doing one of these isn't difficult, but doing 10, 15, 20, etc. changes things entirely.

The last type of session that I routinely do is the LSD session where my objective is to simply paddle for at least 3 hours using good efficient technique.  Why 3 hours?  I feel that that’s just beyond the time in me when my working muscles start to feel burdened by the changing metabolic state of running out of glycogen, and if I'm not trained up for distance, that's where I'll start to bonk.  This is really a very different type of session from the others.  This is simply an energy supply and adaptation session where the goal is to paddle, taking in only water (no calories), until you feel a bit “bonk-y”, and then to force yourself to continue on for another 30 minutes or an hour so that you load or stress your energy systems.  After several of these, done once every 7-10 days or so, that “bonk-y” feeling won't even appear because you’ve adapted, and then stretching it out to 4 hours or longer will be easy to do.  

If I get another session on the water, I’ll do something that trains maximal power - yet again, another session that’s completely different from the others above.  For these, all I’m focused on is delivering maximal power to each and every stroke as efficiently as I can.  I gauge my technical and power efficiency by the maximal speed that I reach.  These intervals are 30 strokes in length, counting both sides, and done from a rolling start of about 6.5 to 7.0 mph.  I try really hard to make each and every stroke “perfect” in its execution from start to finish.   These are surprisingly tough mentally because I feel as if I have way too much data coming in to process regarding my timing, my catch, my pull, exit, legwork, etc from each individual stroke.  Also, the idea for these is to use big powerful strokes, a lower stroke rate, and let the increasing power of the strokes push the boat faster as opposed to allowing an increasing stroke rate to pull the boat faster - if that makes sense.  So, your stroke rate increases as a result of increasing speed, and not the other way around, in this training session.  For these, I’ll do 20-30 of them with a couple of minutes of easy paddling in between, so this is an easy 1 hour session for total time on the water.  

I do 1 mile intervals because one lake that I train on is only 0.98 miles long.  Years ago, when I trained on a longer lake, I did 9 minutes at my interval pace, and rested for 1 minute because it allowed me a convenient way to keep track of my time in 10 minute blocks.  My 8.4 mph intervals are that speed because that speed feels about right on the other lake that I train on, which is 400 meters long.  Doing 8.3 mph intervals over a slightly longer course or 8.5 mph over a slightly shorter course would likely be just as effective.

I have no illusions that my way of training is the best way to train nor that it's optimal for everyone.  But, I can say that it is very simple, the sessions are easy enough to get through, and I find that I'm never subconsciously dreading to get out on the water.  Instead, I find that while I train hard most every week, I'm usually feeling refreshed and ready to go for the next one.  Lastly, whatever you decide to put into your training plan, I think that having confidence in that plan is vital, because if you aren't confident in the value of what you're doing, then your interest and effort won't be as high as they could be.