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Can a beginner surfski go at 20 kph average speed?

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

- "Who in the world would want to paddle a surfski like this? It's ridiculous."

That was my reaction when I saw a V8 surfski for the first time approximately 10 years ago. The bigger problem for me at the time was that my job was also to go out, sell and promote that surfski. I just didn't see how it could be done.

"No way." - I thought.

The moment of my awakening came a few months later sometime in 2011 when we decided to open the Surfski Center in Tarifa, Spain. We went there to look for an apartment to rent and also to find a base for the center.

- "OK. Let's go for a downwind." - that was Oscar Chalupsky in the morning after our arrival. He was my boss at the time when I was working for Epic Kayaks and he drove to Tarifa with me to help with the setup.

- "Perfect!" I was really keen to try the carbon version of V12, which Epic had recently put on the market. It was Oscar's personal surfski.

The wind was blowing from the east. I still didn't know that the name of that wind was Levante. I also didn't know Levante was blowing consistently above 20 knots about 76% of the year.

We decided to paddle in the Strait of Gibraltar from Getares beach to the port of Tarifa. The conditions were approximately 25-30 knots and looking perfect.

The only problem we had (at least from my point of view at the time) was that we had two very different boats: a V8 in club construction (17 kg) and a V12 in Elite construction (10 kg). I knew exactly which of the two boats I wanted to paddle and I was pretty sure Oscar wouldn't let me use it.

I was wrong.

- "OK. Take the V12. I don't mind" - he said - "I think you should use the V8 to test it in these conditions because you will be using it for the school. But if you want to try the V12, no worries."

- "This is great. thank you! - I replied and while driving to the starting point at Getares I thought "I will kick you butt with the V12!"

I was wrong again.

Just 20 minutest into the paddle and Oscar was basically making circles around me. I was fully focussed on my stability, or more accurately, the lack of it. With every passing minute I was getting more and more frustrated

- "I can't believe this. What's going on??".

The highlight of the paddle was when we encountered a team of competitive Laser class sailors practicing near "Kilometro Noventa (Km 90)" spot, approximately 5 km before we reached the port of Tarifa. Oscar proceeded to paddle the V8 at full speed basically overtaking the sailing boats on their downwind leg.

I'd had enough. I realised at that moment that my perceptions about surfski had been totally wrong. There were two main things in my mind. First, I wanted more of this downwind thing but I also wanted to be good at it. And second...

The theoretical surfski speed was irrelevant. I realised the most important factors for downwind speed were the speed of the waves and my ability to surf them. And stability was a huge factor to make it all happen.

- "You have to teach me, please! I want to learn everything there is to know about downwind. No, actually I want to be the best downwind paddler in the world. Please teach me!"

Oscar smiled:

- "I will teach you don't worry. We start tomorrow. But there is only one problem..."

- "What is it?"

- "I don't think you could ever be the best downwind paddler in the world...if you know what I mean" - he laughed pointing at himself.

Now in 2020, years after that day, I can't say that I achieved my goal to be the best downwind paddler in the world. I don't even know what that means. If the best means the fastest then I am definitely not the best. If it means technique and downwind skills, well... I am still learning and there are many things I am trying to improve.

I would say that the biggest change I got in the last 10 years is in my mindset and probably the priorities I set:

  • I used to train a lot - intervals, sprints, long distance etc etc, push, push, push. Now I don't "train". I never do intervals and I never push distance paddling. If there is downwind I work on surfing efficiency. If it's flat I go for a swim and do yoga.

  • I used to aim for racing and speed. I had a part of the Surfski Center page where I used to log the record times for the different downwind runs we had in Tarifa. I deleted that page 7-8 years ago after one of our paddlers said he was disappointed because of his low average speed when 5 min earlier he had said that was the best downwind he had ever had.

  • I like setting records and personal bests but I very rarely paddle with the idea of setting a record. I paddled in the Strait from Tarifa to Getares yesterday, 2nd Oct 2020 and I beat my fastest time with a couple of minutes. As a matter of fact this is my fastest ever paddling speed downwind since I paddle surfski. It was a great experience and I had a lot of fun but on my drive home I asked myself:

- "How would you rank this downwind in your top 100 best sessions you have had in Tarifa?"

This is the 1/3 section of the downwind in the Strait of Gibraltar near Torre de Guadalmesí where there are significant shifts in current direction and speed. It makes for an interesting navigation and downwind strategy.

18 km downwind from Tarifa to Punta Carnero at 1 km split times.
18 km downwind from Tarifa to Punta Carnero at 1 km split times.

I didn't know how to answer that question. I only knew for sure that I wasn't going to put it in the top 10...maybe not even top 20...and even if I did it wouldn't be because of the time and speed stats. My top 20 spots are reserved for:

  • The first time I surfed downwind without taking strokes for 1 minute - I couldn't believe it was possible.

  • My first downwind with my son - that made me so proud.

  • 45 km downwind with Kyle when 4 dolphins were jumping around us at high speed. What an adventure!

  • My first downwind with strong Levante after 2 months lockdown - one word - Freedoooom!

  • My first downwind with my wife (although we broke a paddle). I loved to fact I could share that downwind with her.

  • At least 5 super glossy or super messy "downwind" sessions at the tidal waves at Bajeta. This is just an amazing experience.

  • I can't even count all the great sessions I have had with the double surfski and all the fun memories shared with good friends.

If you made it to the end of this article and you are still reading, I guess what I am trying to say is:

Get a stable surfski and learn as many ways as you can how to enjoy it. Include speed and personal best of you want but don't get obsessed with it.

As you get older, fastest speeds and personal bests will inevitably end. One day you will never be able to do what you have done in the past.

The ability to have fun regardless of how fast you go will stay with you forever.

This video was captured one day later than the one above. The overall time was 10 minutes slower than my "record" run at 1:08:30 h instead of 58:20 min. This slower paddle was honestly much more rewarding and more fun than the fast one.

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