Surf rowing : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

I am looking for a sliding seat rower that will handle ocean surf and swells but still make some speed on flat water (looking at adorondack wherry). Single / double conversion option would be nice and room for a passenger. Positive flotation, so when it does roll over in the surf it doesnt go to the bottom. Re-entry from the water so I can go for a swim  intentional or not. I use a little river Cambridge on flat water and I cant stand being at the beach and not being able to row. Any suggestions?

-- Paul Gilbreath (, September 05, 2000


Hi Paul, I have a an Assay Surfboat, a bit more boat then the average rower needs. However, depending on your needs, it has some features you may really like. 1. It is a self-bailing boat. No matter how much water you take on, it quickly drains out the sides and back. 2. These boats are made for racing in the surf, and oh yeah, they are built strong! 3. You can row it single or doubles. 4. It is light for its size: 19'-300lbs. Drawbacks: You have to trailer this boat, they are hard to find used and somewhat costly new, they do not come standard with sliding seats, however many people have modified their Assay Surf Boats to slide, and they are impossible to right single handed after flipping (unless you beach it). Another alternative that I know of is a Virus open water row boat that I had a chance to row briefly a few months ago. It is a much closer hybrid to a racing shell, yet has more beam, positive boyancy, sliding seats and self-bailing that you are looking for. It is light, fast and easy to transport. I did not row it in the surf, but it looked like it would handle moderate (under 2') surf adequately. Good luck in

-- Cork Friedman (, September 05, 2000.

Dear Paul,

The surfboat and flatwater racing shell occupy very narrow niches at opposite extremes of the rowing spectrum. Aside from being rowing craft, they have almost nothing in common. The shell is designed to reach maximum speed, with minimal load, in calm water and the surfboat is designed to carry its occupants and their gear safely through the harshest inshore, coastal environment. In their respective bailiwicks these craft have few equals. Outside of their niches they show a lot of weaknesses. Surfboats are designed to run dry in steep, confused, highly aerated, breaking waves. In these conditions high freeboard, ample bouyancy and manuverability are paramount. Speed in such craft is secondary. Ruggedness and simple, reliable fittings are the hallmarks of these craft. Beyond the surf, in less raucous conditions, their weight, great beam, high freeboard and moderate waterline length work against them, epecially in high winds. Those high sides present a lot of "sail area" which can make it difficult to keep them moving in the desired direction in even modest breezes. I don't know where you intend to row but I've seen few places where a full blown surfboat is necessary. Though some are better than others, with patience and skill, most classic style open rowing craft can handle some moderate surf and in most coastal areas there's usually a place, or time, to launch or land away from the roughest surf. Once you get out beyond the surf, many boats will suffice and many are more efficient than dedicated surfboats. Most modern open boats have sufficient flotation that they won't sink out from under you if swamped. If they don't they can usually be modified so they won't. You might be surprised at how difficult it is to swamp even some of the low-sided designs. The Buyer's Guide to Open-Water Rowing Boats is full of boats with lots of possibilities. I'm sure there's one in there for you. Good luck.


Andre de Bardelaben

-- Andre de Bardelaben (middlepath@, September 13, 2000.


You should look into some designs that were originally built and used for the purposes you stated. A boat like a Whitehall or similar with a long keel would not work well in surf because the turbulent current can and will grab the boat and make it go in directions you don't want to go.

The Swampscott Dory, however, rows decently in a straight line because of it's waterline length but has no keel for the current to grab. It also has a flat bottom so it will beach easily whereas a keel will dig in the sand and be difficult to move. Many Swampscott boats were used For commercial fishing through the surf during the heyday of working rowing boats. The Swampscott design is a blend of surfboat descended from the French "bateaux", a larger working rowboat used for exploring the rivers of north America during the westward expansion of the 1700's-early 1800's.

Recently we built a Swampscott boat for a customer in South Carolina, for Pompano fishing through the surf in front of his house. Reports were excellent for ease of handling, control and buoyancy in the surf. We built this one with sliding seat, enclosed storage for expensive fishing gear, and buoyancy tanks high in the ends of the hull so it would be self righting in case of swamping. It worked so well that we incorporated those traits in the production models, too. We have also built Swampscott boats for river and salt water excursion use....right now ther is one in the lower Colorado, and last year another one successfully traveled the Snake river canyon in Idaho.

Hope this helps, and please excuse the semi-commercial posting.

-- Dave Robertson (, October 03, 2000.

My experience is a sliding seat has no business in the surf. I've seen sliding seat rigs with the foot tie ins removed and the seat set on an incline so the rower could leave the boat quickly in an emergency. In actual practice it doesn't work too well.

You can make any sturdy boat work in the surf. But fixed seat boats have a real advantage. At a minimum I'd have a way to quickly fix my seat and untie my feet if I was rowing near the surf. In actuallity I find my 40 inch wide boat is best in the surf with 7 foot oars, fixed seat, foot pegs, white water air floatation bags tied in and an electric bilge pump running all the time. I'd also recommend shorter oars and a high freeboard than many shells have as that works better in the rough stuff. Wear you helmet and prepare for the ride of your life.

-- Frank Ladd (, August 28, 2004.

If you really want to row at the beach then try surfboat rowing, see our site there are now also surfboats in France, Holland, Belgium and Portugal. If you want the biggest adrenaline buzz a rower could get when taking off on a wave, then surfboat rowing could appeal to you. But I warn you, be prepared to get some bruises.

-- Peter Gaisford (, October 19, 2004.

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