Paddling the past into the present with Surfski
Published - 07/26/19 - 08:05 AM | 10595 views | 7 7 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lance Schmidt on his Surfski, the pre-paddleboard hybrid watercraft he tried to market in the U.S.
Lance Schmidt on his Surfski, the pre-paddleboard hybrid watercraft he tried to market in the U.S.
In 1974 Lance Schmidt was bodysurfing at Crystal Pier when he met an Australia native, Frank Adler, who introduced him to his half-surfboard, half-kayak he called a Surfski.

Immediately impressed, Schmidt and Adler then tried to launch a new American-based company producing and marketing the pre-paddleboard hybrid watercraft. But it never gained traction.

Forty-five years later, after finding his old Surfski buried in mud, Schmidt’s trying to bring it back. 

Of his recent “reunion” with his vintage watercraft, Schmidt said, “I lost track of it (and Adler) after I gave it to my dad, who had Alzheimer’s. My mom thought he’d thrown it out. But my brother was cleaning beneath my dad’s house, and found it encased in mud with just the fin sticking out.”

After “reconnecting” with his long-lost, multi-use board, Schmidt realized now what he’d realized then: What a rare and special watercraft it is.

“It’s deeper and more unwieldy than a surfboard, but it floats a little easier,” said Schmidt demonstrating, kayak paddle in hand, with the completely restored Surfski courtesy of his friend, surfboard repairman Joe Roper.

“It’s easier to learn (on). You can catch a wave outside more like a longboard. I can beat anyone long boarding in catching a wave outside. Or, I can take it to the bay and use it as a kayak.”

Now, said Schmidt, it’s time to bring the Surfski back to life.

Price was one of the issues that beached the Surfski the first time. “It was above market (then), $400,” said Schmidt. “It never really caught on.”

But with the right price tag, and proper marketing, the Surfski might just prove to be navigable in financial waters,” Schmidt noted. “I think it might sell in the $1,100 to $1,200 range,” he said, pointing out paddleboards now cost about $400 to $800.

Schmidt took his new and improved Surfski out to test drive it for the first time the weekend of July 20-21. “She is seaworthy,” he exclaimed after his trial run. “Also, got the green light from my investors to move forward with production of the all new Surfski.”

The fiberglass Surfski would have to be made from a wooden mold. “We would fabricate it based on this,” Schmidt said.

Who knows, besides possibly being a profitable new business enterprise, the Surfski just might turn out to be historic.

“I believe, after some research, that it is one of the only remaining American-made Surfski’s in existence,” said Schmidt. “It’s a local idea transplanted from Australia that never really took off.”

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Bill Fletcher
June 25, 2021
Lance, are you producing the Surfski noted on sdnews article? I have traditional skis, but looking for something shorter in length like yours to transport on a boat. Bill in Carlsbad, CA.
Bob Putnam
July 27, 2019
Sorry, that is not a surfski. I would call that a wave ski as others have pointed out. Contrary to what Chris Brewster said, surfskis have evolved since Magnum PI :-) Modern day surfskis come in different shapes and sizes for different abilities. Modern day novice surfskis have similar stability to sea kayaks and people with little or no experience can paddle them. Surfskis can be paddled on flat water, lakes, streams, open ocean, swell and in the surf zone and are a lot of fun!
Lance Schmidt
July 28, 2019
Not true Bob. It was marketed as a Surfski by its founder, Frank Adler and used as all-one-word. Australian's first coined the term, and used the term as two words. It is a generic term used much like "surfboard" as opposed to "surf board". Interesting prospective however and thanks or your comments.
Rob Mousley
July 27, 2019
Here in South Africa (actually in most places around the world), we'd identify that craft as a "waveski". What we call surfskis are much longer, narrower, deeper craft equipped with a rudder controlled with pedals and a much deeper cockpit.

They come in two flavours: so-called "spec-skis" that are used in surf lifesaving competitions and "ocean skis" that are used for long distance open ocean racing.

While still a niche sport, in the last five years, surfski paddling and racing has increased dramatically, especially in Europe, but even in places like Brazil and China.

In recent years too, the manufacturers have come out with very stable skis that can be paddled easily by beginners.

The ultimate form of surfski paddling is open ocean downwind paddling, ideal conditions comprising 20-30kt of wind and 3-6ft waves.

There's a bunch of information about surfskis and races around the world on
Chris Brewster
July 26, 2019
We had one of these at the Ocean Beach lifeguard stations many years ago. Very enjoyable to use.

That said, surf skis have progressed dramatically in design and the modern versions are used extensively in regional, national, and international lifeguard competitions. If you want to see one version, albeit not the most modern, Google Magnum PI Surf Ski. It was a featured craft in the Magnum PI series.

You can also Google "surf ski championships hawaiian skies" to see the so-called world championships (not really, but an interesting event).

The downside of the more modern surf skis is that they are very tippy and require some skill to use. The one featured in this article is more stable, but much slower.
Lance Schmidt
July 26, 2019
Good deconstruction Chris. Yes, it is slower than the Aussie versions. A lot shorter, more maneuverable and, a lot easier to use as you explained. Also, much more versatile. The new ones will have some improved features.
Michele Eray
July 26, 2019
We used craft similar to that in South Africa for surf rescue.

The sport evolved from the original days to faster, narrower, racing craft, and we have now been racing for the last 60 years in surfski.

The International Canoe Federation - ICF - (the International Governing Body for Canoeing) had its inaaugral Surfski (Ocean Racing) World Champs in 2013, and ran it bi-annually since then, with it going annual from this year - great news for our sport!

All the manufacturers have since realised that the boats are too unstable to promote real growth, and have started making much more stable, but still fast and agile, surfskis over the past decade!
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