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Interview: Spencer Cooke (Riot)

spencer cooke

Interview with Spencer Cooke, surf kayak designer @ Riot.

kayak surfThis interview was originally produced for the Portuguese web site '' and is published exclusively on Playak in english to make it available to a wider audience. The portuguese version of the interview is available here.

spencer cookeName: Spencer Cooke
Age: 33
Occupation: Self Employeed as a sales rep and film/video maker. The name of my small business is Effort Inc.
Kayaking experience: Have been kayaking for 14 years, been sponsored by kayak manufacturers for 9 years, was u.s.a. national surf kayak champion twice and have kayaked and surfed in seven countries including Canada, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecaudor, Ireland, Morocco & USA.
Sponsors: My sponsors currently include Immersion Research, Riot, Aquabound, Shred Ready, Astral Buoyancy and H2o Audio.
Address: Fairview, North Carolina, USA, near Asheville NC.
Competition records: USA National IC Surf Kayak Champion 2006, USA National K1 Surf Kayak Champion 2002, 1st Place HP USA-East Surf Kayak Team Trials 2002. Full list of top 3's at this link.
Web pages: and
Kayaks designed: Riot Ninja 6'8", Riot Ninja 7'6", Riot Sword IC & Mega Charger

spencer cooke surf

Hello Spencer! We already did an interview in 2005 and now it's time to review your news! Surfkayaks... last time we talked was about the "Charger". Do you still like that boat?

Thank you Luis, I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk with you once again. Yes, we discussed the Charger last time, and yes, I still like that boat very much. I have paddled it in the surf almost exclusively, minus the times I have been competing in the IC class, for the past 5 years. I have gotten to know that kayak, probably better than any other that I've ever paddled, which has helped me come up with ideas for the next designs.

And now, with Riot, tell us about the new toys: the Ninja and the Sword.

Last winter, 2007, Jeff Rivest, owner of Riot Kayaks, enthusiastically invited me to design three new surfing kayaks for his company. Since I have worked with Riot for several years I felt very comfortable doing this, knowing that Riot is committed to the sport of whitewater paddling and that they were now going to fully commit to surf kayaking. This has been a very exciting process from the beginning. I designed and shaped these kayaks with two of my best friends from the surf, Drew Hayes and Raymond Cotton, guided by Riot's head designer, Simon Martin. I'm going to tell you what all these boats do best, who fits in them, how they are constructed and how they perform. From there I leave it to the consumer to demo the boat and decide for themselves or to take a friend's opinion or professional advice on what kayak they should buy. I think that's only fair.

riot design room

Ninja 6'8''

riot ninja 6.8.

Ninja 6'8" was the basis of our design concept and the inspiration from which we built the other two boats. This kayak is essentially an evolution of a design that Raymond and I began back in 2002. Our original intent with this design has carried from 2002 and morphed into the current shape. We set out to make a short, fast kayak that would truly surf the wave and allow us to emulate whitewater-play moves, aerials like wave skis and radical board surfing moves. From the start the boat did this, but we improved the ease and efficiency at which it performed through each modification. This is a kayak I was able to catch aerials in as early as 2003 and have learned and improved in over the past five years. I have envisioned the changes we made to the boat for a couple years, and this shaping project finally allowed our design team to bring those to life. We kept the 24" hull width that we started with and used on the Mega Charger and feel it is perfect for a wide variety of paddler weights, making a slightly more squirrelly feel on flat water for heavier paddlers but super fast for all paddlers once the boat starts planning. The narrower than usual width makes for quicker, easier edge transitions on and off the wave, but it's so critical when you're on a steep face and need that extra leverage to keep your down-wave edge from dropping. The hull is dead flat from stern to bow with an edge bevel, otherwise known as an anti-trip chine. The bevel starts at the back of the side fin boxes, grows as wide as 3" and 1/4" deep, and fades away a few inches from the bow. This makes for a fast, no-gimmick, no-nonsense planning surface that does what it intends when the paddler is in control. The stern footprint is square which gives more surface area and stability on flat water or while paddling out, as opposed to a pointed stern. This also allows a straighter, faster rail from the center of the boat back to the tail. The bow is wide and very rockered giving a great surface area to land on when doing steep drop-ins, and also allowing more volume on the deck-side for foot room, making it accommodating for various sized surfers despite its short length. On the deck, the stern has a large bubble of volume sloping up from the back of the cockpit rim that fades back down to a slicy tip. This volume hump floats the paddler high and gives a "watermelon seed effect" when you get swallowed by the foam pile, shooting you back out onto the green face of the wave. The slicy end of the stern allows stern pivots that come in handy for quick-decision drop-ins where you have to turn and burn at a moment's notice. From the hip area forward to the bow, the deck volume drops down in height in comparison to the stern and carries a more angled slope from the center-line down to the edge. The slightly dished shape of the boat's sides take volume away where you don't need it and leave a sharp "surf board" edge to grip into the wave's face. This shape continues all the way up to the bow. The bow deck peaks in the middle and slopes off without convex down to the edge, leaving no deck obstructions from knee to toe to catch on the wave during a deep or very aggressive bottom turn. These features, with a super-light, carbon-kevlar, foam core construction, tri-fin setup and and light composite seat make this an aerial catching, steep wave loving, tight pocket riding surf kayak. Our target weight for the boat is 15 lbs and it should fit a weight range of 120-185 lbs, performing best for a 145-150 lb surfer. Fins tend to run further back in this kayak to give the very quick turning kayak the proper forward drive.

Ninja 7'6''

riot ninja 7.6.

Ninja 7'6" shares most all the features of the 6'8" with some tweaks here and there to make a longer, faster wave rider that excels in more varied conditions than the shorter version and fits a bit wider paddler range. The stern is one inch longer and the bow has 9" of extra length. Specifically in the bow, we added 4-5 more inches of flat hull surface and the remaining 4-5" went into the tip of the bow. The hull shape and footprint is close to the same as the 6'8". We took a bit of width out in the mid-bow area and tapered the shape to a point, giving the longer boat the same edge to edge ease that the shorter boat has. The rocker profile on the stern is the same as the shorter boat, though the bow, containing most of the additional length, rockers more gradually than the 6'8". I have not surfed a "long" boat in quite sometime until the recent Ninja 7'6" prototypes and I must say it threw me off at first. After a couple hours I was quite a home and very happy. The extra speed the longer hull gives is evident mostly on the flat water, catching waves and when surfing in the bottom of a wave or in front of the foam pile. I found myself making it past sections that i normally did not make and able to catch air off the lip on mushier, slower waves. The boat seems to jump off the lip by itself, which is a really nice feature, and it lands unbelievably smoothly. The longer bow kind of threw me off as I was so used to the short, quick turning bow of the Charger. I ended up moving my fins forward to loosen the boat slightly, which made turns quicker but still gave me plenty of lateral drive down the line. Taller and heavier paddlers will fit this boat with a weight range more like 130-210. Ray Cotton is 210 lbs, 6'3" tall, size 12 feet and is totally happy in the boat if that gives you any idea. I am 150 lbs, 5'7" with size 9 feet and I feel at home in the kayak too. Seems like a great weight and size range, of course that varies depending on skill level as well. The heavier paddler is going to be far more tippy and the small paddler will have to work harder to edge the kayak when planning.

Sword (IC)

riot sword (ic)

Sword IC at roughly 10' is the International Class boat that we have been dreaming about over the past few years. An IC boat rounds out our line and potentially brings the entire market to our attention. Many of the serious surf kayakers have an IC and HP boat and the IC market gets only a fraction of the attention as HP, so we made it a priority to add this boat to our mix. Most of us paddle our IC boats primarily during competition, but it should not go unnoticed that IC boats are typically very stable, easy to surf and fit a wide range of paddlers. This makes for a great beginner surf craft or an all-conditions boat for any surfer. We used a classic, convex, IC hull shape with sharp, releasing chines so the boat will be supple edge to edge but will still grip the wave on the steepest faces. We decided that fin boxes would not come on this boat since they are not allowed on IC boats in competition and the class itself seems to be all about the purity of holding your edge into the wave and carving as efficiently as possible. We used a moderate, though far from aggressive rocker profile making the Sword fast on the flats, take-offs and basically everywhere, but with just enough stern rocker to land backwards cleanly off the lip when doing aerials and more radical moves. The deck of the boat follows a similar theory as the Ninjas, peaking in the center and fading to the edges, leaving no deck space for water to drag, sit or pile up during a ride. This is a no-nonsense, instant gratification surf kayak. Target weight of the boat is 20 lbs and paddler size range should be extremely broad.

All three kayaks will come in one color for the first season. That color is Red on the deck and Natural Carbon-Kevlar on the hull. On a similar note, Riot team paddler, Joey Hall designed the koi fish graphic and Ninja theme graphics that come on all three boats, and also came up with the boat names. We are not offering custom colors or layups due to the fact that we want keep an inventory of these kayaks and ship them to the customer "now" instead of having to wait months for custom work. The customer does suffer the loss of not having a unique looking boat but this is made up for unequivocally by the fact that the boats are immediately available and that the cost is far and away the best available in the world for the quality of kayak we will make. This being said, we are expecting production boats to arrive in our North American warehouses beginning in January, 2009. We will of course put a notice out as soon as they are available. We are now taking pre-orders for boats and you may buy directly from Riot in North America by emailing me at [mail address protected from spambots with javascript] If you'd like the full service of a surf kayak retailer who knows their stuff you may contact Savannah Canoe & Kayak in Tybee Island, GA or Sea Kayak Carolina at Folly Beach, SC. There should be other retail stores carrying the Riot surf boats, but those are two that are close to me that I know of right now. We will notify as soon as we know more about pricing and availability in Europe.

Riot already had a great surfkayak (Boogie) in plastic... Will the new surfkayaks also come in a plastic edition?

riot boogieTo answer your question outright, the answer is NO, we will not offer these kayaks in plastic. My initial pitch to Riot was to manufacture these kayaks in a way that we could sell them to the consumer for a price that is far below that of the standard surf kayak. Of course, a plastic kayak is typically far lower in price than most surf kayaks. Riot's plastic surf kayak, the Boogie, which is now retailing at $699, is nearly half the price of some whitewater kayaks. This price is hard to beat and the Boogie is a fine beginner, bang-around surf kayak. At the price we are offering the Ninjas and Sword, surfers would be crazy to not consider these boats for their next purchase. What we decided to do with the Ninjas and Sword was to accept a smaller profit margin than the typical composites manufacturer and to offer one very light, very strong layup for an unbelievable price, one that is affordable and sensible to the consumer. Riot's new surf kayaks are high-end composites for the price of plastic whitewater boats.

When will we be able to buy the new Riot surfkayaks in Europe and how much will they cost?

To my knowledge you should be able to get Riot Surf Kayaks in the UK from Peak UK this winter as well as from our other European distributors. The prices in the USA are as such, but I do not know exactly how much they will be in Europe:

USA prices:

  • Ninja 6'8" - $1149
  • Ninja 7'6" - $1199
  • Sword IC - $1249

Riot is one of the BIG names in playboats, river running and creek boats. Why this new initiative in kayaksurf?

Riot is committed to whitewater and as most people know their boats have always performed very well for their intended purposes. The company is genuinely interested in making the best surf kayaks and offering the growing market of surf paddlers another option. Also, several of Riot's team paddlers have wanted to further expand the surf line from the lone, token HP boat, the Boogie, for quite sometime. Now we are making it happen.

Do you follow the kayaksurf scene around the world?

I follow the scene as best as I can. I use, and to try to keep up with what is going on. Really, Joey and Nathan are more plugged into the scene than I am since they attend more contests and surf related events than I do at this time in my life. They generally keep me abreast of what's going on in the scene. I spend more time with my son and less time on the water than I used to, but I still get out there my fair share.

cooke and son

It's great to see a major brand like Riot investing in kayaksurfing. How do you see the evolution of this sport?

spencer cooke shaping

It's great to have assisted Riot with legitimately entering the kayak surf market. With people behind the surf brand like Nathan Eades, Joey Hall, Drew Hayes, Ray Cotton and myself, we should have substantial momentum to drive the popularity of Riot Surf Kayaks and this niche of kayaking as well. I see kayak surfing as a blend of things. It's a niche of whitewater kayaking, board surfing and wave skiing. If you spend time at paddle surfing events you find that the participants come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some people are whitewater paddlers who have learned to surf, some are board surfers who have learned to kayak and some simply learned to kayak in the surf with no previous kayaking experience. In some ways the kayak surfing scene is very much like the squirt boating world - very niche, a bit bizarre, awkward and very unique. However, I could see kayak surfing moving out of the niche shell and into a slightly more mainstream light, closer to that of whitewater. Riot has more potential to sell surf kayaks than any other brand out there. They are the company that bridges the gap between the small composites factories like Mega and the corporate plastic slingers like Legacy and Confluence. With our team and our surf kayak designs we bring credibility to the real kayak surfers and the surf competition scene, and at the same time Riot's brand name is recognizable to the whitewater kayaker in search of a surf kayak.

You were in Morroco with Nathan. How was that?


Morocco was a really fun trip. Prior to that I had not ever surfed with Nathan outside of competition at the World Championships. He was an awesome host on the Morocco trip and very impressive to watch in the water. I would say that he is the smoothest and most talented surf kayaker I've seen, not to mention very brave. We recently signed him as a Riot World Team Paddler. Nathan and Joey Hall are definitely going to be our most prominent figures in the Surf Kayaking scene around the globe. Joey is releasing a new kayak surfing film this winter called Interference that our Morocco trip and a bunch of Nahan and Joey's other travels and surfing are featured in. The web site is You can pre-order the DVD now for a discounted price. Joey and Nathan are actually in Ecuador right now surfing the Ninjas and shooting footage for the next film.

Do you prefer kayak surfing or whitewater paddling?

riot magnum spencer cooke

As before, I live in the mountains and very much enjoy paddling on creeks and rivers of all classes, but I enjoy and savor my time in the surf. I wish I lived closer to the beach. Most certainly, I would consider my self a surf kayaker, but more so an all-around paddler. My opinion is that doing different disciplines of kayaking makes you a better, more well rounded paddler. Maybe I shouldn't really classify myself as a surf paddler, creek paddler or play boater, just a paddler.

And your other great passion - new projects?

Effort Inc is my small business that encompasses paddlesports repping, video production, photography and more. My most exciting new project is Rapid Transit Video, which is comprised of several of the best kayak video producers out there. Most of the videos that the collective produces are short films that either tell a story or show music driven, energetic kayaking, and are shown through the web stie In addition all the videos can be downloaded as Podcasts through iTunes simply by opening the iTunes music store and searching for Rapid Transit. Just look for the iconic Snail logo. Rapid Transit will also begin releasing feature length films on DVD this winter. A preview of the first volume on DVD may be seen at this link and it may be pre-ordered for a discounted price.

And that's all Spence! All the best for you and the Riot Surf Team!

spencer cooke sponsors
Spencer's Sponsors

Text: Luis Pedro Abreu
Photo credits: Drew Hayes and
Rapid Transit Graphic designed by Joey Hall of Deadman Productions



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