If you're into paddling in Australia, you might have come across the terms "surf ski" or “kayak.” While they may sound similar, there are some crucial differences between them that you should know about, especially when considering a Surf Ski. In this guide, we'll delve into the distinctions between these two types of paddling craft, helping you understand which one might be best suited to your needs. 

Understanding Surf Skis

Surf skis are designed for short to medium distance paddling in harbour, open ocean and downwind conditions. They are typically longer and narrower than traditional kayaks, and their sleek, streamlined shape  and extra rocker allows fast and efficient movement through the water. Surf skis feature a sit-on-top design, which makes them easier to remount if you find yourself in the water. 

Key Features of Surf Skis:

  • Length and Width: Surf skis are longer and narrower than ocean skis, usually 5.5 to 6.5m feet long and ranging from 43cm to 55cm wide.
  • Sit-On-Top Design: Most surf skis have an open cockpit design, allowing the paddler to sit on top of the kayak rather than inside it.
  • Stability: With their sleek, narrow profile surf skis are designed to glide down ocean swells and cut through the chop and waves in rough conditions, making them ideal for ocean racing, fitness paddling and riding the downwind swells.Traditionally sit-on surf skis are less stable than sit-in kayaks and require a higher level of skill.
  • Maneuverability: Surf skis are highly maneuverable, allowing paddlers to navigate through choppy water and cross-winds and turn easily. Their narrow profile and tapered ends facilitate quick changes in direction, making them ideal for catching swells.
  • Surfing Performance: Designed specifically for riding open ocean swells, surf skis excel in downwind conditions. Their hull designs are optimized for gliding in the bump and linking runs together with agility and speed. 

Exploring Kayaks

Alternatively, kayaks are specifically designed for long-distance paddling and expedition paddling in lakes, rivers and open ocean conditions. They are mostly shorter and wider than surfskis, have a flatter hull for more stability and feature a sit-in closed cockpit design which allows the paddler to sit close to surface-level of the water rather than in the higher “sit-on-top” position of the surfski, which along with hull design and width makes a kayak generally more stable. Kayaks are designed to navigate open ocean but not to surf the downwind swells or with speed in mind which is the essential difference between a kayak and surfski.

Key Features of Ocean Skis:

  • Length and Width: Kayaks are generally wider and often shorter than surfskis, ranging from 3m to 5.8m long and from 55cm to 80cm wide.
  • Closed Cockpit Design: Unlike surf skis, kayaks typically have sit-in, closed cockpit design, which provides better protection from waves and spray.
  • Speed and Efficiency: Kayaks are designed for exploring, leisurely paddling and fishing, allowing paddlers to stay balanced while taking in the scenery and paddling with a more relaxed stroke.
  • Tracking Ability: Ocean skis are intended for straight-line paddling over long distances, offering excellent tracking ability in calm or choppy waters. Their flatter hull designs minimize resistance and maintain course, allowing paddlers to conserve energy on extended journeys.
  • Storage Capacity: Most kayaks have a hatch for storage or bungee rigging systems for securing gear and supplies. This additional storage capacity is essential for multi-day expeditions or endurance races, allowing paddlers to carry food, water, and camping equipment.

Choosing the Right Kayak

Choose a surf ski if you want to surf open ocean swells, compete in open ocean races and paddle near the coast. Pick a kayak if you're into expedition or long-distance paddling in lakes, rivers or open ocean. Nordic Kayaks NSW can help you decide which one suits you best. 

Maintenance Tips for Your Surf Ski and Kayak

Investing in a high-quality surf ski or kayak is the first step towards enjoying countless hours of paddling adventures. To ensure your kayak remains in top condition and continues to perform at its best, it's essential to implement a regular maintenance routine. Here are some tips to help you keep your surf ski or kayak in excellent shape:

  • Rinse Thoroughly After Use: Saltwater can corrode components and degrade materials over time. After each paddling session, rinse your craft with fresh water to remove salt and debris. Pay special attention to the foot wells, cockpit, and exposed metal parts.
  • Inspect for Damage: Regularly inspect your surf ski or kayak for any signs of damage, such as cracks, dents, or scratches. Addressing minor issues promptly can prevent them from developing into more significant problems later. Pay attention to the hull, any seams, and fittings.
  • Repair as Needed: If you notice any damage during your inspection, take the time to repair it properly. Minor cracks or scratches can often be repaired with specialized kayak repair kits. For more extensive damage, consult a professional kayak repair technician to ensure proper restoration.
  • Protect from UV Exposure: Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause plastic kayaks to fade and become brittle over time. Ideally, store your surf ski or kayak indoors or in a shaded area covered with a tarpaulin when not in use to protect it from UV rays. If storing outdoors, invest in a high quality Nordic Kayaks Deluxe boat cover to protect it from the elements.

Nordic Kayaks NSW: Your Kayaking Experts

For top-quality surf skis, paddles and paddling gear in Australia, look no further than Nordic Kayaks NSW. With a wide selection of surfskis and accessories, including Nordic Kayaks Apparel, we have everything you need to take your paddling adventures to the next level. 

Contact us today to learn more! 


Understanding the differences between surf skis and kayaks is crucial for picking the perfect kayak. Whether catching runners along the coast or planning long-distance paddling trips, Nordic Kayaks NSW has you covered with high-quality surf skis and gear. Call now at (02) 9949 9944 for expert advice!