Probably one of the best things that you can do on a SOT is surf the thing. The UK is blessed with many breaks that are entirely suitable for kayak surfing. From that first wave you catch when you are starting out, where you actually feel the push of the wave, many people are hooked. For some, that leads to a lifelong, all consuming, quest for wave action. Simply put, it has to be one of the most addictive sports out there. On the big wave days, you will be sharing waves with surfers and SUP dudes, so make sure you know surf etiquette.

kayak surfing – THE APPEAL

Kayakers can also make plenty of use of smaller surf (3ft or less), which hugely extends the number of surfable days relative to those that are available for surfers. Often, you may have the bay to yourself, yet the waves are completely usable. Surfing sit on kayaks is a growing sport, rising hand in hand with the increasing numbers of sit on paddlers out there. The obvious advantage of surfing a SOT is the ability to be in the surf without the fear of being trapped in a sit-inside kayak if it inverts. This format appeals for people new to kayaking or that can’t yet roll. Also SOT surfing may appeal for any experienced kayakers that just fancy a taste of surf action.

Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 1

In the past it could be argued that the performance of SOT kayaks in the surf lagged behind sit-inside surf kayaks. This was especially true with the heavier plastic SOTs. However a new breed of lightweight SOT surf kayaks is now available with performance that matches sit-inside kayaks, so there is now no reason why SOTs can’t be used from the start. Also, a number of waveski manufacturers have recognised the potential for crossover from the increasing numbers of SOT kayakers and have generated new entry level designs to accommodate for this. The kayaks in this article reflect a story of evolution. Whilst you may start in a general purpose kayak, if you get the bug then you are likely to progress to much more specialized surf craft.


Surf kayaking involves much more than just stampeding towards the beach like a madman on a wave, although that is probably where most people start. There are several basic manoeuvres that can be mastered to get far more out of each wave – take-offs, bottom turns, top turns and cut backs. These are best explained in detail by experts. For books, see Surf Kayaking: The Essential Guide by Simon Hammond and Kayak Surfing by Bill Matos. Realistically, some of the more advanced moves will require the more advanced boats to match. Well worth a watch is ‘The Basic Moves Of Surf kayaking’ – which you can find on on Youtube


Some of the more general purpose SOT kayaks are designed to incorporate a degree of utility in the surf. Although these kayaks are largely general purpose, there are certain elements that are inherent to the design that allow performance in the surf (wave-piercing bows for example). These kayaks therefore offer the commonest route for people to get going on the waves (a good thing). Examples include the Perception Scooter, the Tootega Pulse, Bic Ouassou, Fatyak Surf, Fatyak Kaafu, Feel Free Nomad/Roamer and Ocean Kayak’s Mysto. These kayaks will give you stability and confidence on the sea and will let you take your first steps. Generally, they offer straight to the shore surfing with minimal carving, which can be enough for some. For others there will be a desire, especially with time, to use more of the wave.

Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 2

In the design of these kayaks will be an element of enhanced rocker for handling on-coming waves better and for avoiding pearling (nose-diving when picking up waves). The advantages of these kayaks are of course that they offer stability and with it, confidence. In big waves it can be reassuring to not spend all your time just keeping your balance.


By this time you’ve probably realised that it’s the surf that turns you on and perhaps you are looking for more performance from your kayak. Anyone who wishes to genuinely pursue surfing will soon be looking for the next step. Your inner surf-dude has been unleashed and frankly, there’s no turning back now. It’s time to get your hands on a surf-specific SOT to take it to the next level. That kayaks that you will need feature fins, increased rocker and importantly the kayaks will have more defined edges – rails. What stands out about these boats is the ability to start carving, turning the side of the boat onto the wave face so that the edge of the kayak is engaged with the wave face. The fin is essential to stop the kayak spinning out – especially on big waves.

Perception Five-O

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Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 4
The Five-O is a tough, capable surf-craft that incorporates a single fin and a robust, moveable footplate that is important for letting you position your legs to get a tight grip in the thigh straps. This kayak frequently gets great reviews and it is notably good in big waves or on tricky days, when stability is needed to give you the confidence to get out there. It sits low on the water so is easy to get back in if you happen to abandon ship and has a planing hull, as all good surf boats should.

Cobra Strike

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Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 6
The Strike is a small (ish) kayak that has the advantage of being lighter than other plastic SOTs, and therefore easier to carry. It has a single detachable surf fin but what is interesting about the Cobra is that it has both the footstraps and thigh straps which gives real flexibility.

Dagger Kaos 10.2

With three surf fins, pronounced rocker and planning hull the Kaos definitely looks like a surf boat which is a very rare sight in the UK.

Pyranha Surf Jet 305

This kayak has a retractable skeg (rather than a detachable surf fin) and actually has a displacement hull. This kayak surfs particularly well in large, ugly and critical surf.

Islander LipStick and Islander BigStick

Thruster fin set up (three fins), adjustable footrest, accentuated rocker and fishtail all make up the design of these boats. The LipStick is for smaller paddlers while the BigStick is for larger paddler – it’s all in the name!


There is something of a revolutionary happening in SOT surf kayaking – taking performance to much higher levels than what used to be achievable with plastic SOTs.

Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 7
Construction methods vary but can include composite, X-Tech and full carbon fibre lay ups but what is immediately noticeable is the higher speed, manoeuvrability and lightness of these boats. With these advances SOT surfing is finally stepping out from the shadows of sit inside surf kayaks – SOTs now have their own categories in surf kayak competitions. It is important to point out that in most cases, provided you get the right boat for your weight, even the inexperienced paddler could start out on these models and continue all the way to the top (from zero to hero). Picking up waves is much easier on these kayaks; ‘hit rates’ are a very important factor to the satisfaction level in this sport, the difference in performance is clear.

RPF Kayaks – The Shark, Master and Maori

RPF Kayaks are a Portuguese kayak company with a respectable pedigree in surf design and sea paddling. Three surf specific SOT kayaks are made by RPF (Shark, Master, Maori), each with different characteristics. What is common to all is their enhanced performance relative to plastic surf SOTs.

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Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 9

Indeed, the difference in performance of these boats is hard to describe. Each has three adjustable surf fins that let you adapt to the conditions and size of the waves on the day. Believe me; such refinements make a huge difference to what you can do and how the boat responds, turns and bites into the wave. Each kayak uses the familiar format of thigh braces for help with carving.

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Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 11

The RPF Shark is more like a short surfboard, fast and agile while the RPF Maori is designed to be fast in the drop and take-off. The Master is the larger version of the Shark that is stable, yet agile, and is an ideal solution for those wishing to progress from surf-specific plastic SOT kayaks.

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Sit on top surfing – the evolution of paddling in waves 13

These boats offer a continuous learning curve for and allow paddlers to learn how to carve just by shifting their bodyweight – these boats are that responsive. Notable differences are seen in lateral movements across the wave face. You’ll notice this when your buddies are always at the point where they started at and you are 300 yards down the beach.


Emerging now are a selection of entry level waveskis that are geared specifically towards enticing SOT surfers into the world of waveskiing. Some of these craft, such as those from Atlantic Waveski (Beachmaster and Cruiser) and KS Waveskis (KS ONE 145 or KS ONE 155) can be purchased already kitted out with thigh brace options so as to make SOT kayak surfers comfortable – lapstrap kits can be bought too.

These designs are geared towards offering more stability than would be expected for custom-made waveskis, having higher weight capacitates, greater volume (especially in the rails) and lower seat positions. Probably this represents a growth area, and it appears that many of these designs have been aimed specifically at SOT surfers. Further examples include Tsunami Waveski’s Super Cruiser and the Watertech Easy.

Surfin’ UK

If you’re looking for something more from your paddle surf session then looking in the direction of RPF Kayaks will see your eyes opened to what type of performance levels you can achieve in wave environments. With the technology available it’s now possible to actually surf the wave properly, throwing in some full on carving manoeuvres and tackling conditions that were once the domain of sit in kayakers.

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For sit on paddlers looking to the next level of wave performance; you’d do a lot worse than trying out one of RPF Kayaks’ boats and seeing your stoke levels go through the roof. You can find out more about RPF Kayaks on their website at