Un-Sandbagging The Divisions



A recent exchange on social media centered on whether the Epic V8 Pro should be designated as a high performance “surfski” or as the more stable “kayak” at the upcoming Chattajack race.  Among other issues, the discussion included the fact that the V8 Pro had been previously listed at a width of 19.9, which has since been amended to reflect 20 inches.


At one time, racing any form of kayak or ski in the States was a lightly contested affair.  Piling everyone together in like-boats was the best way to go about arranging the categories.

Times-they-are-a-changing.  Participation is increasing and more and more races are showing up on the calendar in the same region on the same weekend. Events are actually starting to sell out.  Even the smaller races are pulling in better numbers than just a few years ago.

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..


The Chattajack race is getting extremely competitive and racers are looking for any advantage they can summon--which is creating the setting for much ado.

The American system of boat classification needs a reboot. First of all, there is no universally agreed upon form of assessment:

  • The Southeast uses the Sound Rowers system.
  • The Northeast uses the same system with the addition of the SS20 class.
  • The Gulf uses the K1 designation with the most categories of all with six.
  • Others have opted to simplify with only two categories, which apparently is the most confusing of all for many.

Why not throw out the entire system of measuring boats and adopt an entirely new method?

You’ll get no argument from me that in paddlesport, hull dimensions play a large role in speed, but it’s really not that simple when you account for stability, conditions and experience.



So why couch divisions on the dimensions of the boat?

For a sport that is as dependent on advanced technique as surfski, perhaps another form of classification might be more appropriate.  Not only is stroke technique an advanced process, but stability, wave riding, boat management, handling adverse conditions, general experience and tactics all play a major role for a paddler.


Have a look at running.  Everyone knows how.  Just go to any playground for your evidence.  Wanna get better at it? Do it more.  But learning how to put one foot in front of the other is probably not going to require a technique seminar from the current World Champion.  Oh sure, there may be a few secrets that will enhance your game a bit, but at the end of the day, your primary method of improving will be repetition and lots of it.


Not the case with paddling--not by a longshot.  Just put your average endurance or sprint athlete from another discipline on an elite K1 or Surfski, add a little bounce to the water, grab a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.  


Like many other technically demanding sports and activities, experience and skill are a far better method for determining race categories than equipment.  Who cares what kind of boat you decide to run on any given day? This is a multi-faceted skillset activity and whether your craft is an inch wider or narrower really won’t change your placing much.  In fact, wasn’t it Greg Barton who won the Blackburn Challenge on a Sea Kayak?  

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.


I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone deserves a participation medal, but when you line yourself up on race day it may be a bit more competitive when you’re not facing a former Olympian, World Champion or national level paddler when you just graduated to your first intermediate boat.



Worse yet are the guys that are at or near the top of the game who have been there for years that decide to “drop back” to the stable boat categories to poach hardware. In some circles, this is known as “sandbagging” and is an offense punishable by upgrade.

I’m not suggesting that an array of categories be created, perhaps a sport and expert dual system.  

It’d be worth it just to put an end to the eternal struggle of measuring hulls...