The modern ocean ski was developed off the ‘spec ski’ used for beach-based sprints in surf lifesaving competition. But it didn't take long before people began going further afield in these seaworthy craft and long distance ocean racing began to emerge.The most famous race is the 52 km crossing from Moloka’i to Oahu in Hawaii. There are now major surf ski races held worldwide.
The major races for Eastern Australia are: the 20 Beaches Classic, a downwind race covering the length of Sydney’s northern beaches held in mid-December; and the George Bass Marathon, for both Surf Boat teams and kayakers on Ocean Skis, held early January every second year since 1975. This is a 7-day paddle, in stages, from Batemans Bay to Eden, with changes as needed to allow for weather conditions. For Western Australia, January’s ‘The Doctor’ from Rottnest to Perth is another major Australian event.
While spec skis must be 5.8 m long and 18k, ong distance ocean racing skis have evolved without restrictions. They have a lot of volume in the bow to punch through surf, a long waterline to make use of ocean swells, and quite a bit of secondary stability to help you paddle in rough conditions. One big advantage of the ocean ski over the regular kayak is that if you fall in, thanks to self-draining venturis in the foot-well, you can simply climb back on and keep paddling.
This makes them ideal for racing downwind (in following seas) in the open ocean. The classic races are set up to maximise the chances of these conditions. In good conditions, competitors can surf from runner to runner at peak speeds reaching well over 20 kph. Ocean skis are also well suited for a wide range of other paddling and racing.
BGCC-BAK paddlers compete regularly in ocean races, including the ocean races in Sydney in spring/early summer, which culminate in the 20 Beaches Classic (www.oceanseries.com.au ). For those wanting to gain experience in more protected waters, the Harbour Series held in and around Sydney is a good opportunity (www.harbourseries.org.au). The range of other ocean races continues to grow, including the Makai Cup on a marvelous downwind course in Ulladulla that some of our members are involved in organising.