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Beyond basic surfski/downwind/paddling related terms (mostly in English), we've also included some local slang from prominent paddling communities around the world - just to add a little color - but that is by no means meant to be comprehensive in any way. On the other hand, if we have missed any major surfski or downwind related terms (again, we are English centric), please remind us with an email - email


Australian slang for “afternoon”


term used in Bellingham, WA. for the local older paddlers (60+ yrs old) who are still tenacious racers and downwind enthusiasts. Also sometimes referred to as “ancient murrelets”1) 2) 3) 70+ yr old paddlers are called “Grand Barnacles”

Photo: Reivers Dustin - Click to enlarge


Bob McBeath and Duncan Howat Smoking the Youngsters in the 2018 S2S Canoe Leg

Boat Classifications

  • Canoe 4) - paddler sits or kneels and uses a single bladed paddle, Kayak - paddler sits and uses a double bladed paddle (these are, of course, just traditional conventions - each of these can be paddled with the other type of paddle, although single bladed kayaking with the lower sitting position is not typically terribly efficient nor is steering easy without a rudder)
    • Canoes typically do not have hard decks (exceptions: slalom canoes, OCs) or cockpits (except slalom canoes). Surfskis belong to the style of “sit-on-top” kayaks that do not have a cockpit but instead have an recessed seating area sealed off from the hull. Sit-on-top kayaks typically are easier to remount than kayaks with cockpits and their sealed hulls should not take on internal water in upsets and rough water. Proper sea kayaks will also have bulkheads so only the cockpit can take on water, but that volume of water can be substantially more than what a sit-on-top kayak takes on. And sit-on-top kayaks typically have drain holes which effectively drain water simply due to the floatation of the kayak. One might call a modern sealed hull outrigger canoe a “sit-on-top canoe”, though we are not aware of any example usage.
  • Ocean ski, Spec ski - the modern surfski, “ocean ski”, evolved for open ocean wave surfing and downwinding from a version, “spec ski”, that was designed and is still used for breaking through shore break and for life saving. Spec skis can be and are used effectively for downwinding although they are generally not quite as fast as ocean skis for pure downwinding.
  • SS - surfski, OC - outrigger canoe
  • Multiples
    • SS1, SS2, SS3 - single, double, triple (e.g. Carbonology S3) surfskis
    • OC1 - single paddler outrigger canoe, OC2, OC3, OC4, OC6 likewise indicating number of seats built in these canoes for paddlers
    • V1, V2, etc. - “Va'a” Tahitian style outrigger canoes, rudderless
    • C1, C2, C4, etc. - single, double, 4 person canoes - can be Olympic style sprint canoes (paddled kneeling on one knee) or other canoe types such as marathon racing canoes. Native North American racing canoes run from C1 to C15 (aka WC or “War Canoe”).
    • K1, K2, K4, etc. - single, double, 4 person kayaks - can be sprint, marathon, or slalom kayak types
  • Dragon Boat - 8 to 20 person canoe with two columns of paddlers sitting side by side. Each paddler only paddles on one side, in contrast to almost all other canoes where you regularly swap sides with your paddle. Olympic sprint canoers also paddle on just one side
  • HPK - high performance kayak (eg. surfski), SK - sea kayak, FSK - fast sea kayak etc. these are designations that were developed to provide some uniformity of boat speed classification for racing - based on width and length of boats. There are some beginner surfskis whose dimensions qualify them as FSKs in races using these ratings. Classification Reference

Boat Design Terms

Boat Orientation and Dimensions

This is a subset of common boat terms that may be more likely to be heard in reference to surfskis (particularly from paddlers with experience with other types of boats)

  • bow - front end, stern - rear end
  • port - left, starboard - right
  • aft - the area towards the stern of the boat.
  • fore, forward - the area towards the bow.
  • heel - lateral or transverse tilt
  • transverse - at right angles to the boat's fore to aft center line
  • waterline - the intersection of a boat's hull and the water's surface, or where the boat sits in the water.
  • keel - the lowest point of the boat's hull, the keel typically provides stability and prevents sideways drift of the boat in the water; most surfskis are rounded transversely, so they really do not have a defined keel on the bottom in which case the term simply refers to the bottom centerline running fore to aft.
  • beam - the width of the boat, measured at its widest point; generally, the larger the beam, the more stable the boat.
  • draft - the distance between the waterline and the keel (bottom centerline) of a boat or lowest fixed piece of running gear which in the case of surfskis and OCs can be the bottom of a long surfing rudder. Thus draft is the minimum depth of water necessary to allow a boat to float freely.


using one of your paddle blades in a “fixed” position to press against the water for stability and support


when a sailboat turns sharply back into the wind because the rudder cannot compensate for the forces bearing on the boat's direction it is “broaching”. The same term is used in downwind paddling, when your boat turns sideways (usually at speed, on a wave) though you are trying to steer it forward with the wave. More speed, turning too far, and less rudder surface area in the water (using a smaller rudder and/or because your rudder is lifting above the water) all contribute to a greater tendency to broach. Broaching in surfskis is also common when paddling at a low speed and being overtaken by a steep or breaking wave (such as slowing down too much in a surf landing zone).


Latin American Spanish term for a small canoe. In Puerto Rico “cayuco” is an idiomatic term for a difficult situation: “Esto està cayuco” = “this is a big mess”. A popular annual multi-day race in Panama is the Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Race through the Panama Canal (crocodiles are a protected species in the Panama Canal).


Australian slang used to describe something as “great”. That was a cracker downwinder, mate. 5) “Corker” can be used similarly.


If you are traveling in open water (paddling, foiling, kiting…) on wind driven waves (or a combination of swell and wind waves), you are downwinding 6) , or going on a downwinder. Paddlers (OCs, SUPs, Surfskis) get added speed and propulsion by surfing on such waves. “Downwinding” can be done in the form of repeated laps or by paddling solely in one direction, but saying you are going on a “downwinder” typically implies going in one primary direction from point A to point B downwind the whole way, having setup a shuttle for pickup at the end point and retrieval of vehicles from the start point. The exhilaration of downwind paddling drives the growing popularity of surfskis more than any other single factor.

  • Terms for downwind conditions: 7) 8)
    • = BIG
      • Awesome, Nuclear, Epic, Puckery, Survival, Rock-a-Hula, Gorgelike (these terms usually just imply bigness while others like Ticklish and Manky also imply some size plus turbulence - also “Fiddly” whether just big or big and turbulent seems to imply nervousness inducing)
    • = MEDIUM - SMALL
      • SlightCaps, Bumps
    • = NOT SO GREAT
      • Lumpy, Micro Bumps
    • = NOTHING
      • Duck or Mosquito Farts, as Flat as (- “someone's beer?” - “LG's roof?” - fill in your own…), Pondwater
    • Applied Across the Range of Size Levels
      • Technical (waves from multiple directions), “Chunky Munky” - choppy, difficult, maybe also “technical”.
        • more about “technical” from the UK - “…was messy— purists would call it ‘technical’ - it sounds better, because it gives the impression that you know what you are doing. I call it survival!! Andy Nicholson from Hayling calls it ‘paddling at your limit’ T-bone calls it ‘fekking scary’”

Drafting/Bow Wake Riding

Paddling either directly close behind another water craft (drafting) or alongside and trailing about 2/3 of the lead boat's bow (riding the lead boat's bow wake) reduces the effort required to maintain the same speed as paddling without any draft would require. The directly behind draft effect (water slipstream) for boats is strongest when closest. But care has to be taken to avoid annoying the lead paddler(s) or damaging your and their boats by bumping into them when too close. Drafting is generally not practical when downwinding, but serious racers will try to use it to get any ounce of assistance possible in other situations though drafting in choppy water requires a fair amount of skill both to stay close enough to get benefit and to be efficient enough to avoid using more energy than paddling solo would consume. See also WRS, Drafting technique

Eponyms - words created because of the close association between a person or place and the word. Examples: nicotine, boycott, diesel (after Rudolph Diesel, not Vin).

  • “Lipp” - Named after Alan Lipp, a Lipp is a unit of measurement (aka a “Lipp Unit”) used for downwinding in which 1 Lipp = a 30 second ride/run/wave surf without paddling. One Lipp is considered outstanding and even 1/2 a Lipp is pretty good. 2 Lipps = 1 PHAT Lipp , the holy grail of downwind paddling..9) 10)
  • Patling” is paddling with your legs out of the cockpit, feet in the water. Named after “Pat” who paddled 13 miles with his feet out across Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota on a windy day.11)
  • Wilson” A Wilson is completing 10 Miller's runs in one day. Named after South African paddler Wayne 'Wild Dog' Wilson. (No, it was not named after Wilson Reavley after the locals watched how many hamburgers he could eat in one sitting when he was visiting South Africa)


“feather” of your kayak paddle refers to the angle your blades are offset from one another. Feathering your blades may be helpful in paddling upwind - reducing the wind effect on the recovery side blade. When one blade is in the water, the one in the air (if feathered) slices through the wind rather than catching or having to push against it. Oscar Chalupsky (somewhat controversially) in recent years has recommended surfskiers adopt zero feather to simplify bracing and because feathering is not needed when paddling downwind. There is a fair amount of argument about 0 feather, but it has gained some adherents, including Boyan Zlatarev in Tarifa.12)


also known as wind fetch or fetch length is the length of water over which a given wind has blown without obstruction. A longer fetch along with stronger winds contributes to larger wave size. Some refer to “fetch width” which can contribute to waves coming from more directions although a number of geographical and weather factors can also contribute to multiple wave directions without necessarily having a large fetch width.

Grand Ducky of Fenwick (more commonly know as the Duchy of Grand Fenwick)

Reivers Dustin's adopted homeland. He uses his dual citizenship to compete for the Ducky13) in the Think International Challenge race series.


Swedish for “Cock-a-doodle-do Surf Maneuvers” or daybreak downwinding/surfing.



A typical or average Australian male. Ocker is also used as an adjective meaning characteristically Australian (also occa, okker) (Can be used to describe someone uncouth, etc., but we're sticking with the more positive definition here, mate, because the Aussie surfskiers we have met are a fine bunch.)14)


South African term for “person”, “guy”, “bloke” - male or female

Outrigger Terms

  • ama - Polynesian term for an outrigger float. Used for the ones on the side of an OC and a Va'a and also commonly used when referring to the outside floats on catamarans and trimarans. Amas are usually mounted on the left but can be mounted on the right (which surfing OCs do in Hawaii to catch “rights” while avoiding digging in with their amas and flipping)
  • iako - Hawaiian term for a pole (2 per canoe) that connects an ama to an outrigger canoe (Polynesian term is “aka”)
  • huli - term commonly used by outrigger paddlers to mean tipping one's boat (usually flipping) and falling in the water which can be a little more dramatic in an OC given the two boat parts. In rough water OCers sometimes manage to huli boat over ama. Huli is becoming more common in usage with other types of boats to also refer to falling in the water.

Photo: Paul Reavley - Click to enlarge

OC in middle of a huli

Pearl (nosedive)

Term from surfing meaning a nosedive. Strictly speaking in surfing it refers to a nosedive into the wave you are on, which is rare with a surfski unless you are on steep waves such as shore break. Having a surfski nose submerge more commonly involves burying your bow into the base or back of the wave in front of you when you are downwinding. The degree that the nose gets buried can often be moderated by leaning your torso backward which will usually reduce how far your bow gets buried thereby reducing your speed loss and diminishing how long it takes for your bow to pop up on top of the water again. Extreme nosedives on steep waves can lead to “pitch poling” where the rear end flips over the front. This usually occurs only in the very steep waves found in shore break, boomers, or very big seas and lends itself to boat and boater injury.

Put-in, Take-out

  • Put-in where you put your boat in the water to launch
  • Take out - where you take your boat out of the water to end your paddle trip.

Rhumb Line

The path between two points on a surface that allows a constant bearing. On a curved surface like the earth it is not the shortest path, but it allows the simplest navigation. On a two dimensional surface it is also the shortest path. Wikipedia: “Over the Earth's surface at low latitudes or over short distances it can be used for plotting the course of a vehicle, aircraft or ship. Over longer distances and/or at higher latitudes the great circle route is significantly shorter than the rhumb line between the same two points.”

Rips and Races

The following are the traditional definitions of such currents. It is not uncommon, however, to see “rip current” used to refer to an actual tidal race.

  • Rip Currents (aka Rip, aka Rip Tide - hence the common confusion between “rip tide” and “tide rip” - a misnomer because these currents are not caused by the tide) are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are common along ocean coasts as well as along the shores of some large lakes such as the US Great Lakes. Typically these currents flow outward perpendicularly away from shore. If caught in a rip current, don't fight it! Swim or paddle parallel to the shore to get out of the rip before heading more directly back toward shore.
  • Tidal Race (aka Tide Rip) is a specific type of current associated with the swift movement of tidal water (either ebbing or rising) through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, bays, and harbors. These tidal currents are stronger and faster where constriction or narrowing of a channel occurs, but such constrictions are not always visible, they can also occur underwater from bottom depth variation. Depending on circumstance such tidal currents can be a nuisance or a danger or they can be the source of excellent waves to surf.15)


another word for “money” according to Reivers Dustin's Uncle Claude.16) Uncle Claude was right. Spondooley or spondoolie is a modern variation of 19th century slang “spondulix” meaning money or cash.


Term from surfing meaning “excitement”, “euphoria”, “thrill”, “exhilaration”, “delight”, etc. Also used as in “I'm stoked” meaning I'm “excited”, “euphoric”, “thrilled”, “ecstatic”, “exhilarated”, “pleased”, “delighted”, …

Tidal Bore

A tidal bore, or simply “bore”, happens when the leading edge of an incoming tide forms a wave (or series of waves) of water that travels up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay's current. Well known tidal bores around the world.


“Time on Water”


“outblowing” - the Dutch cure for the winter blues which is basically spending time in the wind.

The Dutch practice of jogging or walking in the wind, especially in the winter, for the purpose of feeling invigorated while relieving stress and boosting one's general health. Combine this with the positive effects of being on or near water and downwinding would seem like a double benefit for paddlers in colder climes like Bellingham, WA.


repeatedly missing waves and sliding back down their backsides is called “wallowing”

Wallowing may be due to any or all of these:

  • waves that are just going too fast - e.g. trying to catch swell when you should be catching slower moving wind waves first to get your speed up
  • too much water in the foot/seat area (does your surfski drain as quickly as it should?)
  • fatigue - take a break
  • bad timing - usually accelerating too late If you were waiting for the opportune moment, that was it.” Jack Sparrow - Pirates of the Caribbean


From (Univ. of Tennessee)

“Water waves are surface waves, a mixture of longitudinal and transverse waves. Surface waves in oceanography are deformations of the sea surface. The deformations propagate with the wave speed, while the water molecules remain at the same positions on average. Energy, however, moves towards the shore (with the wave). Most ocean waves are produced by wind, and the energy from the wind offshore is carried by the waves towards the shore.”

Wave Basics


  • “Weathercocking” is when the boat tends to turn into the wind (upwind).
  • “Lee cocking” is when the boat tends to turn away from the wind (downwind). Side wind will tend to have more of a lee cocking effect on surfskis that have large bow profiles and/or bow volume particularly with a lighter paddlers.

With many types of boats the following is often suggested: If a boat weathercocks, adding weight to the stern can help balance the handling. If a boat lee cocks, adding weight to the bow can help balance the handling. This is not necessarily practical for solo surfskiers, but can suggest ways that you might want to consider arranging paddlers in doubles if the conditions merit.

Wind Directions

the most commonly used terminology refers to the direction wind is coming from:

  • “south wind” - wind from the south, “east wind” - wind from the east, etc.
  • Sometimes people may say a “southerly” or “northerly” wind. If used correctly these terms also refer to the direction these winds are coming from even though as adjectives they may sound somewhat opposite. A southerly is coming from the south, a westerly comes from the west, etc.


“Wash Riding Scum” - derogatory racing term for paddlers who draft and either never take turns pulling from the front, or draft continually until race end then sprint to beat the boat(s) that carried them on their backs for the entire race. Attitudes about wash riding without turns in the lead can vary depending on local race tradition and the experience of the paddlers involved. Drafting is usually considered just fine and a part of racing skill in most locales although there are exceptions. And those who are learning or trying to improve by keeping in a slipstream that they can barely hang on to will typically be cut some slack (good racers generally have methods for dropping weak drafters if they wish). Others who hang back solely to try to sprint to wins are sometimes not considered so favorably - hence “WRS”. When dealing with this tactic, many consider such WRSers fair game for tactics such as scraping off at turns and obstacles.


From “A word used to show excitement, originally by surfers but now used by non-surfers….”

Howat, D. Phd Emeritus 2015, “ Ancient Murrelets
Howat, D. Phd Emeritus 2021 Barnacles
See Aging
* Outside of the USA (particularly in the UK) “canoe” can also be a more generic term that refers to canoes and kayaks
reference provided by Wayne Jater, Queensland, Au
More about downwinding
Usage varies - there is really no consensus - always good fodder for argument
Lipp, Alan, Bellingham, WA., Final arbiter of Lipp qualifications ( JR's original suggestion )
reference provided by Judi Row, Queensland, Au
See Ambleside or Deception Pass - typically the waves stack up more with wind going against the current. Also they often tend to be technical with rapidly varying wave forms and directions so these sites when working can provide particularly demanding workouts for strength and skill.
See also Weather [more from Uncle Claude]
terminology.txt · Last modified: 2022/12/05 15:46 (external edit)