A surf ski is a long, narrow and lightweight craft similar to a kayak but with an open "sit on top" cockpit and a self-bailer to eliminate water instead of the enclosed kayak-style cockpit which can be sealed against the elements with a sprayskirt or tuliq.

Surfskis are primarily designed for speed and stability to enable a paddler to catch fast wind or ocean swells "runs" on the open seas. They have a powerful pedal operated rudder to control the boat while surfing on wave fronts.


Canoe Ocean Racing consists of long distance surfski, sea kayak and sea touring races. A surfski is the fastest boat over long distances on ocean swells, with the only flatwater boat able to go faster being an Olympic standard canoe sprint boat.

The challenges canoe ocean racing can face include large waves driven by the wind, hurricane generated ground swells and paddling in wind speeds of more than 20 knots.


Surfskis originated in Australia in the 1900s when two brothers, Harry and Jack McLaren, used them around their family’s oyster beds on Lake Innes in New South Wales. They would also use their custom made boats to surf the beaches at nearby Port Macquarie.

The speed and versatility of the boats made them ideal for lifesaving. In 1946, surfski became a part of the lifesaving competition programme.

Surfskis were initially similar to surfboards, laminated in light wood and sometimes covered in fabric, but modern, lighter versions can be made from composite layers of epoxy or polyester resin-bonded cloth such as fibreglass, Kevlar, carbon fibre or a mixture.

As races have got longer, boats have become longer with sharply pointed bows and under stern foot pedal controlled rudders. They are usually five to six and a half metres long, but are only 40 to 50 centimetres wide.

Canoe ocean racing initially started with short races of about 700m, but as the boat designs developed, races began to go further out to sea.

The first canoe ocean racing event took place in South Africa in 1958, with the 46km Scottburgh to Brighton race. Other famous events include the Southern Shamaal, also in South Africa, a 240km race from Port Elizabeth to East London that began in 1972, and four years later the inaugural Molokai Race was held in Hawaii.

Canoe ocean racing was the most recent discipline to be recognised by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) and a surfski world series began in 2010.

Canoe ocean racing can vary from 10km to multi day races over large distances. Races are contested in single and double surfskis, sea kayaks, and in single or six-person outriggers.

One of the most recent world championships were held in Saint-Pierre Quiberon, France, in 2019, and featured single surfski events in men’s and women’s senior and U23, and men’s juniors. The senior men’s race was dominated by South Africa and Australia, who occupied 10 of the top 11 places, with South Africa's Sean Rice winning his second title. In the women's event. New Zealand filled the gold and bronze medal positions, with Danielle McKenzie taking the gold.

Canoe ocean racing often features athletes from canoe sprint and canoe marathon.


Kanaka Ikaika Racing Association is Hawaii’s oldest organized kayak association. Each May, the world’s best surfski paddlers enter the ocean at Molokai’s Papohaku Roadstead to compete in the Molokai Challenge: A race to Oahu.

Because of the large international field this race attracts, it is considered the World Championship of Open Ocean Surfski and Solo Canoe Racing.

1976 was the first crossing by Dale “Doc” Adams in an ocean going kayak. His solo effort took him 7 hours and 30 minutes. Doc Adams called his crossing “the challenge of the day,” but it has sincedeveloped into the premier long distance, open ocean, solo crossing in the world.

In 1977 Adams consulted Hawaiian linguist Pilahi Paki who described the effort as “Kanaka Ikaika,” which literally translated means: Mankind’s respectful challenge of the great, mighty ocean. Paki’s name for the crossing became the name of the paddling club. 1977 was the first official race, organized by newly formed Kanaka Ikaika Racing Association with Doc Adams at the helm.

The Molokai Challenge, originally named Kanaka Ikaika, is the ultimate Ironman and final test of paddling skill, endurance and knowledge of ocean surfing. It tests a paddler’s ability to maneuver against unpredictable weather conditions in the Kaiwi Channel. The Kaiwi Channel, more often called the “Molokai Channel” is an expanse of ocean between the island of Molokai and Oahu. It is considered one of the roughest ocean channels in the world when Mother Nature is angry.

The start is off the west end of Molokai near Kaluakoi, and traditionally finishes 32 miles away in the Marina off Hawaii Kai.

In 2007 the race finished in Waikiki as a test to see if the extra 8 miles would be accepted by the paddlers. There was no wind, 44 entrants pulled out, and the winning time was 5 hours and 20 minutes. The course returned to Hawaii Kai the following year and has not changed since.

Traditionally the Molokai Challenge was a solo invitational event for surfskis only. However, as the one person canoe (OC-1) emerged in the 1990s, Kanaka Ikaika embraced the new craft and had a combined event. However, in 2007 Kanaka Ikaika gave the race away, and within a few years, there was a dedicated OC-1 Molokai channel race and the Molokai Challenge was back to only the Surfski division.


The Miller’s Run in False Bay, South Africa, has long since been a part of surfski folklore. The mere mention of the name sends chills down ones spine and the heart rate begins to climb. Images of the infamous Roman Rock lighthouse enters your mind, then the feeling of cresting a swell mid-ocean and surfing down it as you get showered by sea spray, with eyes burning and yet yelling with delight.

For many, the Miller’s Run remains a far off dream. Feeling intimidated at first by the conditions and the unknown, soon it is placed front and center of your bucket list.

It is most often paddled in howling southeast winds that are prevalent during the summer. The route is also paddled on the northwest gales that arrive with the winter cold fronts but is then referred to as a Reverse Millers.

Conditions vary enormously and can be huge and messy with the ocean like a giant washing machine, but sometimes the wind and swell line up together and create the perfect platform for a record run.The current record is 36 minutes and 36 seconds, set in 2016, which is held by Jasper Mocke.

Best conditions are from Spring to late Autumn (September to March).

South Easterly winds batter the Cape Peninsula as the South Atlantic High pressure systems moves south and joins up with the South Indian Highs. At the same time, a low-pressure trough hangs over the interior and the strength of the wind that moves between them is directly proportional to the difference in pressure gradient.

The most common wind to do the Miller’s Run in, is a South-Easterly. The run also handles variations of this direction very well. When it is blowing more from an easterly direction the ground swell tends to be bigger and harder to catch. When it is blowing more from the south, and very strong, there is a downdraft from Simonstown mountain causing huge gusts that seem to be blowing you out into the middle of the bay. Do not stress, just go with it. After two kilometers, the wind will be right behind you.

The size of the swells is most dependent on the strength of the wind. 10 – 15 knots is perfect for the weekend warrior who wants to surf runs without worry. When the wind reaches 20 knots and above, it is for the seasoned downwind paddler.

False Bay fills up with white caps and swells, all pushing their way directly to Fish Hoek beach. On a typical Miller’s Run you will have smaller runs or ‘wind chop’ that move slow and are easier to catch. These are the bread and butter of your downwind. Then among these, bigger swells that have travelled further and move faster. These are commonly referred to as ground swell. In your downwind you ride a combination using the speed of the ‘wind chop’ to get you onto the ‘ground swell’.

When the SE starts blowing it stays consistent and commonly lasts a week without abating. Within the first few hours of wind there are smaller runs, perfect for anyone, especially those starting out. If you are after the big stuff, hang tight for a few hours and allow the runs to build.

What makes the Miller’s Run even better is that it works on the opposite wind direction too. When Cape Town winter arrives, cold fronts batter the West coast all powered by blustery north westerly winds. To do the reverse Miller’s a NW or NNW is best. On this route, there will be no ground swell, only wind chop that grows and speeds up as you go.

Route & Distance:

Miller’s Point to Fish Hoek Beach is 11.7km.


There are two slipways to launch from at Miller’s. An easy protected option on the western side closest to the caravan park or an exposed option on the eastern side at the boat club. If you are going for an official time you need to launch on the exposed slipway and paddle around “the rock” which is where the clock starts. You stop your watch when your feet touch the sand on Fish Hoek beach.


The primary landmark is the Roman Rock lighthouse. The ideal direction is to aim just to the left of the lighthouse keeping it about 50 meters to 100 meters on your right as you pass by. After that, look for “the quarry”, an old stone mine visible in the mountain. Fish Hoek beach is just to the right of that. You finish the run on Fish Hoek beach.

Paddlers use the lifesaving club or the sailing club as their base where you can park, rinse your ski and have a shower.


Mocke Paddling has everything you need, from gear to logistics, just arrive. You can even do it on a double surfski with a world champion if that will settle your nerves!

Find them at:

For a week of intense downwind coaching sign up for the Downwind Camps.

The Miller’s Taxi is a shuttle service that transports paddlers and their surfskis between Fish Hoek and Miller’s Point.

Park your car at Fish Hoek and hop on the shuttle.

Contact Vinnie on:

+27 (0) 83 500 5194.

They publish their shuttle times daily via whatsapp or on their Facebook page, Millers Taxi.

You will need 100 South African Rand cash (About $10 USD) and your own tie downs.