A few years ago after a decade of paddle boarding I wanted to get back to sitting down for paddling. I had started out in sea kayaking.  I had seen a friend surfing a Seattle tug wake on a surf ski a few years prior.  He was 2x as fast as my sea kayak and it looked effortless.  And I knew skis are much lighter than sea kayaks, so started to look for one.

My first two skis were purchased used for cheap from a guy switching over to outrigger.  The Huki was so narrow my I had to wedge my 36″ hips in.  I convinced myself the tight fit would be good for stability.  The boat was very narrow and for short periods of time, if it kept it stable it would fly.  But those short durations were few so I to get good at remounting more than paddling. And the tight hips thing got old.

The other ski was the popular Fenn Mako, about a decade old.  A bit more roomy than the Huki it was also a bit more stable.  But on occasion it would twitch and I’d slam by paddle down at my side to prevent a swim, even on flat water.

I did a race in the Mako and got some stares as my long legs didn’t fit in the footwell. Proper fit in surf skis means you can put a fist under the bend in your knees to the top of the ski.  With this ski and being 6’4′” my legs were a few fists up. Barely fitting in the cockpit, I couldn’t apply any leg drive which is essential for added power in the stroke.  But I made it work and learned to surf, downwind and get some speed nonetheless. I joked with friends that my higher leg position allowed me to edge the boat better for turns.

Found My Ski –

Skis are hard to find in my area but finally an opportunity came up for me to get a proper fitting ski – the super stable Carbonology Cruze, a 18′ x 21″ ‘beginner ski.’  I was stable right off, my hips felt comfortable and I could set the foot well so I had one fist under my knees thus allowing for leg drive in my stroke.  I also got the ‘Touring’ version of the Cruze to carry extra gear and for overnight trips.

Surfing a freighter wake in Seattle on my Cruze

Surfing a freighter wake in Seattle on my Cruze






The Cruze is a dream to surf. I was able to finally get in some big water and get screaming rides without the constant twitching and wiping out.  It’s slow at the starting line for races, but with surf being my main interest, I knew I wasn’t going to win races anyway – unless they were in surf or high wind where I had the advantage over more narrow skis who tended to swim more.

And note that since I prefer to surf vs be the fastest in races, I like a more stable vs more narrow less stable ski.

Read my post about the myths of narrow skis vs stable surf skis.

In my Carbonology Cruz in WA State

In my Carbonology Cruz in WA State

What to Look for in a Comfortable Fitting Stable Ski:

  • Make sure you legs will fit comfortably in the cockpit. Ideally you should be able to move the foot plate towards you one position.  Usually I max out the foot plate.
  • You want to fee comfortable in the cockpit – no tight hips.  The bucket seat may be uncomfortable if you’re not used to it but it can be outfitted for comfort.
  • You want to feel 100% stable as soon as you sit in the boat. If you capsize as soon as you sit in or do so after a few tries, it’s not your boat.
  • Try before you buy. Or sit on the floor with your legs slightly bent up, measure from your butt to the ends of your feet. And measure your inseam to your feet and ask retailers to double check the length of the cockpit to the seat bucket. I was told I would fit in boat no problem but for me my legs are my longest part and I didn’t not fit in that boat!  We’re not all sized the same.

Here’s a great video about leg length and knee height in skis.

Surf Skis for Big Folks (or Beginners):

There’s more but here’s a short list of skis in the 18′ to 20′ foot range.

Note that there are some fast skis for big folks out there, just a matter of trying different skis and seeing what works for you.


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP, Surf Ski and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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