Surfskis are relatively expensive. And they take some serious practice paddling to get a good sense of their comparative performance characteristics and the different elements that contribute to or detract from your comfort paddling one. Even if you can afford a new ski, buying used is not a bad idea in the beginning when you are gaining the experience you need to discriminate surfski differences. And of course, the more surfskis you can try out and spend time in before making your buying decision, the better. If local surfski representatives have demos available for trial, by all means take advantage of such opportunity and pay attention to what generation of the surfski you are testing. Different generations of the same surfski model can have considerable differences in design and performance. ( i.e. the latest gen of a model you try from a rep and the 1st gen used surfski you see for sale can be significantly different - better to not buy without a trial in the specific surfski for sale, or without at least a trial in exactly the same model and generation)
One consideration that is not always adequately emphasized is weight. Most models of surfski now are typically made in several versions of the same shape, each using different construction materials - the lighter the material the more expensive the version. A heavier version of the same model will be more stable but slower to accelerate. But difference in boat weight can also be very important to you before you even get on the water. If you will be loading, unloading and carrying your surfski by yourself, the dry land handling difference between a 33lb ski and a 27lb one can be very surprising. For some paddlers a heavier surfski may quickly become onerous just getting to and from the water.
3 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing a Surfski (largely quoted and paraphrased from Mocke Paddling)
Mistake 1: Choosing Speed Over Stability
So many new paddlers fall into the trap of buying a surfski for speed rather than for stability. The mentality of choosing a boat that you will grow into and therefore a boat that is slightly beyond your ability doesn’t work for surfski. The ironic consequence of choosing a surfski for speed rather than stability is it results in decreased speed and ability because paddlers spend so much more energy trying to stabilize the boat than going forward. This leads to feeling discouraged and less paddling or only paddling in conditions that they can handle in that craft.
from Bob Putnam at Coast Outdoors:
“The male paddler,(sorry guys) is particularly guilty of over-estimating their ability and under-estimating their limitations. (….). From my perspective where I get to help people make surf ski purchase decisions and have the “what surf ski should I buy” conversation several times a week - I find that people are generally impatient and want to get into the “Fast Boat” before they are ready. Part of it is also economics. When paddling an easier boat will help them develop better stroke technique and learn to downwind paddle. We are continually talking people down from the fast boat to the many great stable skis that are available now. Some people listen and some don't. We recently had a unique individual who would not listen, and could not understand he would be in over his head. This was despite, doing several on-water tests where he kept saying “Oh I think I'll get this” We were getting to the point where we were having to be very blunt about his ability in relationship to the particular model of surf ski he wanted to buy. He still didn't listen. ”
Bob Putnam's Surfski Stability Scale:
Mistake 2: Not Having Fun In The Waves
Being fast and stable on the flat does not necessarily mean that the boat will handle the surf well. Make sure you try your boat out in the surf before you decide. A good ‘tell’ of how well a surfski is doing in the waves is the amount of fun you are having. If you are struggling to push over waves or nose diving constantly, you should look at trying out some other skis. (This is probably not a critical consideration for beginners, but more important as you progress and are looking to upgrade your surfski)
Mistake 3: Discounting Comfort And Fit
Some indicators of a good fit include:
You can further enhance your fit by adding a seat pad to your craft or by putting some surf wax in it, though keep in mind that your stability could be affected with a seat pad.1) (You will probably be surprised by how much a little under seat padding or a different size rudder can affect your stability in different water conditions). On the other hand a secure seat pad that allows hip rotation may get rid of a number of kinds of rubbing discomfort, and can allow you to find a good leg drive position and/or reduce or eliminate interference to leg drive from a higher seat hump under your legs.
Bob Putnam - “Comfort is also key. If it doesn't fit your butt don't buy it. After years of observation I have determined that every butt is different. You could call me a Butt-ologist. So to say that the Evo has a better seat than a Legend or Huki is irrelevant as it is butt/seat interface that is important. ”
More good advice on choosing your first surfski: