Before we start itís important to make one thing clear. The perfect ski does not exist, if it did every manufacturer would only be making one ski, namely the perfect ski.
Every ski from every manufacturer is a compromise. It might be perfect for a certain paddler in certain conditions, but no good for another paddler in the same conditions. Similarly a paddler would love a ski in one set of conditions, but not like it at all if the conditions change.
For this reason all manufactures produce more than one ski. Fenn makes 11 different models, each optimised for a certain level of paddler and for a certain set of conditions.
The ability and aspirations of the paddler are the most important in selecting a ski. Because surfski paddling originated from the racing scene, top end paddlers have a much wider choice than beginner and intermediate paddlers. Of the 11 Fenn models, 6 are aimed at the top end paddler, while only 5 models are aimed at the beginner/intermediate paddler.
What determines if you are a top end paddler?
If you paddle more than 3 times a week throughout the year you will generally qualify. If you paddle once a week or less you most likely wonít. To get comfortable in a top end ski a certain amount of perseverance is required, and unless you have a lot of natural talent (or other kayaking experience) it is unlikely that you will ever become comfortable in a top end ski. And the unfortunate truth is that if you are not comfortable in a ski you will not be able to paddle it fast.
In NZ there are not many top end paddlers, most paddlers fall into the beginner/intermediate category.
The Fenn range
The Bluefin is the new entry ski. Anyone should be able to just jump in and paddle, very much like a plastic sit on top kayak. The big advantages over the plastic boats are lighter weight, a very efficient built in rudder and of course higher speed because they are much longer than most sit on tops.
The XT falls into the same category as an intermediate multisport boat. About half of absolute beginners can stay in an XT (although very wobbly), the other half will go for a few swims before getting the hang of it.†
The Swordfish is probably the best ski for many competitive paddlers. It feels like a top end ski but has lots of secondary stability. Itís a bit like having trainer wheels, not much inherent stability when level but becoming more stable when it starts to lean.
The Elite range of skis is aimed at the top end paddler. There is the standard Elite, Elite S, Glide† and Spark. Stability wise there is not much difference between these 4 skis, with the standard Glide maybe slightly less forgiving in messy conditions than the others.
Then there is the LS designed and manufactured to meet Australian surf lifesaving standards, as well as two double skis, the Elite double for top end paddlers and the XT double for beginner/intermediate paddlers.
The Bluefin is an entry level ski. Itís perfect for learning to paddle, and also as a recreational ski for those who donít get a chance to get on the water very often.
Feedback from the Bluefin is that is really is a ski that a total beginner can jump in and just paddle away. Over the years I have found that many novices found the XT challenging, and were put off by numerous swims during their first attempts to paddle it. The Blue Fin changes all that, even the first paddle will now be a pleasant experience.
Length: 5.9 metres
Width: 530 mm
This is an intermediate ski, a bit of a challenge for total novices but usually mastered after a few days of paddling.
Length: 5.9 metres
Width: 480 mm
The Swordfish is an intermediate/advanced ski. Read what real paddlers have to say about the Swordfish here.
Here are my views:
In flat water itís slightly slower than the top end skis but not by much. I can easily stay with other paddlers at my level while sitting on their wash, but it requires a bit more effort paddling next to them.
The big surprise is surfing. It is absolutely superb in big downwind conditions, especially when it gets a bit technical. The manoeuvrability and extra stability in steep messy waves makes it the most fun ski Iíve ever paddled. In these conditions the Swordfish is just as fast as or faster than any of the other top end skis.
Seats are personal, what one person loves another will hate and the other way round. For me the Swordfish has the most comfortable seat of any ski Iíve paddled.
Length: 6.1 metres
Width: 450 mm
The Swordfish S is a tweaked Swordfish. It has the same hull but a few changes have been made to the deck. The seat has been moved forward slightly, which improves performance in flat and small conditions. On the forums many paddlers have commented that the seat is even more comfortable than the standard Swordfish. The deck has also been trimmed a bit resulting in less windage.
Elite is my favourite ski in big conditions. It just loves big wind swell, the
bigger it gets the better the boat performs and the more fun it is. The rudder
is very forgiving, instead of just letting go as was often the case with older
skis it gives the paddler lots of warning when pushing the limits. The ski is
very good at diagonal surfing, conditions often experienced at the
Length: 6.4 metres
Width: 430 mm
The Elite S is essentially a standard Elite with the same tweaking that was done to the Swordfish. It has a more comfortable seat located slightly forward, and less volume in the nose. It is my favourite ski in small conditions, in big conditions the standard Elite is still king.
The Glide is a top end ski designed for the top end paddler. Itís the fastest Fenn ski in flat water, but in messy conditions a bit twitchier than the standard Elite.
Length: 6.44 metres
Width: 425 mm
The Spark is tiny. Itís supposed to be for short paddlers only but I can just get my 6Ē3 with long legs to fit. Itís great into the wind and has the classic Fenn surfing feel, picking up little bumps really nicely. It handles big ocean swell really well, but with an all up weight (ski plus paddler) of 95kg water starts coming over the sides when jumping waves in large, steep wind swell.
Length: 6.44 metres
Width: 425 mm
The LS is the new Fenn surf lifesaving ski. It comes standard with adjustable footrests and is available in a deep or shallow seat version. If conforms to Australian SLS specifications and is available in NZ with or without the SLSA approval label.
Looking at the evolution of ocean racing skis (which originally started off as spec skis) adjustable footrests are bound to become a standard feature of SLS within the next few years. Having a ski that will fit any paddler means that clubs no longer need a range of skis to cover a range of leg lengths.
I took a deep seat LS out at the Mount in some big conditions and was amazed at how stable and well behaved it was. The nose looks really small when paddling in the ski but it never ended up diving under.
Jasper Mocke winning the South African SLS champs.
The Tarpon is also designed around the SLSA rules, but is wider and has more volume than the LS. It is very stable and ideal for someone looking for a stable ski to have fun in the waves. As with all other Fenns it comes with a fully adjustable footrest system.
Fenn surskis are handmade and there is always a small variance in weight. In the old days the variance could be up to 2kg, but in the last few years Iíve found that weights between skis of the same construction generally do not vary by more than a few hundred grams.
Actual average weights of skis in the last container for different constructions were:
Full carbon (grey finish): ~11kg
Hybrid (grey finish): 12 to 13kg
Vacuum glass: 14 to 15kg.
Glass: 16 to 18kg.
All new Fenn surfskis have adjustable footrests, the doubles are even adjustable both front and rear. Most skis will accommodate paddlers from about 5í5 up to 6í6. The Swordfish S and Elite S have a smaller bump and will accommodate paddlers shorter than 5í5.
The Elite Spark is designed especially for shorter and lighter paddlers.