- Kenny Howell
SURFSKI RUDDERS: WHY WE USE THEM, AND WHICH ONE IS BEST FOR YOU
Updated: Feb 17
Rudders for all occasions. Which one is the best for your conditions?
Epic has a rudder to match every environment. From flatwater paddling to ocean downwind, and everything in between, these rudder styles will optimize your performance to give you the most enjoyable and efficient ride on your Epic surfski.
Surfskis utilize rudders for precise and efficient steering. The rudder allows for quick maneuvering and keeping the boat on course in all conditions. With a rudder, you don’t need to use the paddle to make a corrective stroke, and instead can focus on a powerful forward stroke to keep the boat moving. Corrective strokes such as a sweep stroke can reduce your forward power by up to 50%, while the rudder is like “power steering” and makes it a joy to paddle the surfski!
Every Epic surfski comes with an under-stern rudder (unless the boat was custom made to accommodate an over-stern kickup rudder). The rudder is placed in the optimum position approximately 2’ forward of the stern for better control in downwind conditions and surfing. If you are new to surfskis and rudder usage in general, you might think that placing a rudder beneath the hull without the ability to retract it could present a problem in shallow waters, catching weeds, or colliding into unseen obstructions just under the surface. “I can’t use that kind of rudder” people sometimes say the first time they see an under-stern rudder. “I’ll hit something and break it.” Not to worry! With a moderate amount of attention, it’s easy to avoid hitting a submerged object with the rudder, and they are more durable than at first glance. The benefits of the rudder outweigh the small risk of a collision, as it provides a tremendous aid to steering and forward progress.
Check out how well a surfski rudder works for downwind surfing in this video!
STYLES OF RUDDERS, AND BEST USES
Which rudder is best for you will depend on where you intend to paddle most of the time, and what your goals are on the water. Many surfski paddlers have two rudders and change them out as needed when traveling to a different environment – from the ocean to a lake, for example. For most, the best two rudder combination is the Surf rudder and the Weedless rudder. This combo allows for excellent performance in the widest variety of conditions: the Surf rudder when conditions are bigger, and the Weedless for smaller conditions and/or when weeds are an issue. Some may opt for the Rough Water Weedless rudder if they have needs for both more control and avoiding weeds. It only takes a few minutes to change the rudder, as long as you have the 4 mm Allen wrench handy (new Epic surfskis come with the Allen wrench and spare rudder pin, along with a rudder flag for cartop transport.)
The largest Epic rudder with the most depth below the hull (8.6”) and greatest surface area, the elliptical-shaped Surf rudder provides excellent control in downwind and rough water situations. Paddlers adjusting to a narrower boat sometimes report that the Surf rudder helps make the boat feel less tippy in flat water. Only minimal push on the pedals is needed to adjust course. Very reliable and predictable in big downwind conditions, and suitable for the Epic double surfskis, as well. When paddling in areas with abundant seaweed, add the Epic weed guard to prevent small weeds from catching in the gap between the rudder and hull.
The universal rudder was the first surfski rudder designed by Epic. With 7.4” depth, it’s a good all-around rudder, suitable if the environment where you primarily paddle has moderate to mild conditions. If you prefer not to change rudders to handle specific conditions, the Universal rudder is very practical – although the other Epic rudder styles are optimized for specific conditions. Combined with the “small” weed guard to match it’s profile, this is an effective rudder in moderate downwind conditions where weeds may occur.
The Epic Weedless rudder, when paired with the “large” weed guard, is completely weedless in nearly all situations. While not suitable for big downwind conditions, it has adequate control for most other situations including light downwind paddling. As the smallest rudder of the Epic series (6” long, with 37% less surface area than the Surf rudder), it has the least resistance and will be faster than a big rudder in calmer conditions. It is also better for shallow waters as it does not extend as deeply as the other rudders. Some customers have trimmed the bottom off their Weedless rudders for very shallow conditions. (Trimming exposes the foam core, which should eventually be sealed with epoxy; this will not affect performance unless you run it into rocks.)
Note: the Large weed guard must be installed or weeds will still catch at the front edge near the hull.
ROUGH WATER WEEDLESS RUDDER
The Weedless Surf rudder is a fully weedless rudder when combined with the Large weed guard. The 7.9” depth provides more control than the standard Weedless rudder gives. Good paddlers report very positive response in downwind conditions. Paddlers with less experience downwinding will likely prefer the larger Surf rudder or Universal Rudder – as long as the weeds can be shed adequately.
PLASTIC SURFSKI RUDDER (FOR ROTOMOLDED V5 AND V7)
The Epic rotomolded V5 and V7 surfskis have a unique plastic rudder with a steel shaft. The shape, designed by John Dixon (co-designer of the Generation One V10) is a good all-around design. With a 6.7” length, it is shorter than most of the other Epic rudders and less likely to hit submerged objects. The plastic rudder is very durable and can also be trimmed to a shorter length for shallow, rocky rivers. It sheds, all but the finest, lightest floating weeds.
SMART TRACK OVERSTERN SURFSKI RUDDER
The Epic Smart Track kit fits new model V5/V7 rotomolded skis, as well as customized composite boats
Some paddling environments require a retractable, over-stern kickup rudder. The spring-loaded Smart Track retractable rudder allows you to navigate shallow, rocky rivers, reef areas, or waterways with especially thick weeds or kelp without worry of snagging or damaging an under-stern rudder. The rotomolded V5 and V7 surfskis can accommodate the optional Smart Track rudder assembly with no additional modifications. For paddlers preferring a composite construction surfski (Performance, Ultra, or Elite) with a kickup rudder, custom orders are available (wait times from 3 to 6 months).
RUDDER CARE AND BEACH LAUNCHING
The Epic carbon rudders are relatively durable but should be handled with care. You can set an Epic surfski down on its hull, but make sure it is tipped slightly on edge so there is minimal pressure on the rudder. A solid titanium shaft runs through the rudder blade, and a reinforced housing inside the hull protects the rudder sleeve. If the rudder hits an object while you’re underway, it may only nick the surface of the rudder, or chip the carbon fiber. A full speed direct hit on a rock can break the rudder. If necessary, it can be repaired with epoxy, or replaced with a new one.
If you should need to sit in the surfski on land to adjust the foot brace, be sure the boat is situated so the rudder is completely free to move and not jammed into the ground. This can be done using cradles, or with the stern propped up on life jackets, or the rudder situated in a hole in the sand.
When launching a surfski from a beach, place it in water deep enough to accommodate the rudder before sitting in the cockpit. Knee deep water should be enough, as the rudder lengths are only 5” to 9” below the hull. If there is a surge from any waves, take a few quick strokes immediately to move away from shallow water. When landing, you simply step out of the boat near shore in water deeper than the rudder and carry the boat to dry land. If launching in surf conditions, watch the timing of the waves to be sure the stern is in deep enough water before mounting the surfski. If done correctly, a skilled paddler can jump in the boat while the water is deeper from an incoming wave. If mis-timed, or you’re not quick enough, the wave will recede, in which case you may need to jump out and walk out into waist deep water before remounting.
FOIL DESIGNS FOR MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY
Epic rudders incorporate a streamlined foil shape, which is the most efficient shape for a surfski rudder, with a thicker leading edge like modern airplane wings. The foil design gives the rudder more turning power for a given size, with less drag compared to non-foiled blades. The thick leading edge also significantly delays “stalling” – the moment when turning the rudder further would cause a loss of turning power. “Therefore, it’s much better when you’re angling down a wave on the verge of broaching” explains Greg Barton, Epic Kayaks founder and chief designer. “When you push the pedal hard for full turning power, a thin rudder will stall, while a thicker foil is likely to hold and give you the desired control.”
How to install the Epic surfski rudder
CENTERING THE RUDDER
It is very important that the rudder is adjusted properly and “centered” when the foot pedals are event.
RUDDER SHAFT LENGTH CHART
When choosing an extra rudder, select the correct shaft length for your surfski.