Today, we’re reviewing the Obsidian Surge water rowing machine, model SF-RW5713.
I’ve had a chance to try the rowing machine twice now, so I can say from experience how it compares to other options in the same price range.
I’ve heard a good amount of feedback from owners, so I have a good idea of how it holds up over the long term.
Overall, the Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge water rower is a good affordable alternative to the expensive WaterRower models. It provides the same rowing experience and full-body workout without the fancy wooden frame and S4 monitor (the two main benefits of WaterRower brand models).
As for durability and sturdiness, it’s a solid rowing machine, but nowhere near that of WaterRowers. This is obvious when you compare the difference in weight capacity, with the Obsidian Surge capacity being ¼ that of a solid wood water rowing machine.
The simple monitor is only a downside if you want to race online with others or plan to get deeper into the hobby of indoor rowing at some point. An air rowing machine would be better suited for the sport since it’s the kind you’ll use at rowing and CrossFit studios.
For a good budget water rowing machine, you can’t do better than the Obsidian Surge 500. I’ve reviewed a handful at this point, and this one is the best for the money hands down.
If you like what you see, I recommend getting it at a major retailer. For the lowest price, choose a place that offers free shipping, which is typical of big retailers.
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5713 is a water-resistance rowing machine. The resistance comes from the water instead of air or magnets, which offers a few benefits.
Water resistance operates by pulling the handle and spinning the paddles (hydro blades) suspended in the tank of water.
As you pull the handle, the paddles must “move” the water in front of them, thus providing resistance.
The faster you row, the faster the paddles spin, creating what’s called “viscous” resistance. So the faster you row, the more resistance you create!
We call this “variable” resistance because the amount of resistance depends on how fast you row. So, resistance goes up with increasing speed and thus is unlimited in that sense–unlike most Sunny Health machines that are limited by the magnet size, etc.
Air rowing machines operate the same way. You can see how air and water-resistance rowers compare to each other by reading my article here.
“Adjustable” resistance rowing machines exist, too, such as those with magnets and hydraulic pistons, which you can learn more about here.
There are 3 stainless-steel “Hydro Blades” (special fan blades) suspended in the water tank to provide dynamic resistance that feels like you are rowing on water!
One major benefit of choosing a water rowing machine is that the noise is much lower than with an air rower. People enjoy being able to row while watching TV or allowing other family members to rest.
Most find the water sound to be meditative and use it as a way to relax!
How to Increase Intensity
Like with any water rowing machine, resistance operates using the “Rule of Cubes”.
This rule states:
“The resistance in rowing is due to the drag of the water moving over the hull of the boat. By the laws of hydrodynamics, this resistance/drag varies to the cube of the velocity/speed. The rule of cubes, therefore, dictates that a doubling of the speed of the boat will require an eight-fold increase in resistance.” –WaterRower
This means to feel more resistance, just row faster!
You can further increase the resistance by adding or subtracting water from the tank. The tank holds up to 3 gallons. Adding water makes the rowing stroke feel heavier and a full tank feels like rowing a boat by with people inside.
To change the water level, you can use the siphon and funnel that come with the rowing machine.
This does take a few minutes to perform but it is the same method used on the much more expensive WaterRower rowing machines.
The Obsidian Surge 500 Water Rowing Machine comes with the brand’s R2 Fitness Meter that lets you design your own personalized workout or choose from various pre-programmed features.
This digital monitor is designed to accurately track all essential workout metrics such as:
- Total Time
- 500m Split Time
- Strokes per Minute (SPM)
- Total Strokes
- Heart Rate
- Ambient Temperature (Room Temp)
So, the monitor tracks the essential workout metrics which is more than enough data to get a great workout! Plus, it’s very well organized in easy-to-read sections.
The monitor will turn on by pressing any button and will turn off after 4 minutes of inactivity. When inactive, the monitor will display the current time.
2AA batteries are included to get you set up and rowing fast!
The Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5713 monitor has a few features on top of the data tracking.
The monitor also has a few options to select from when starting. You can just begin rowing and have the metrics start counting. You can also pre-select a value such as Time or Distance and have the monitor count down.
While you can’t race with others online, there is a “Race” feature where you can select the pace of an “on-screen” digital boat and race it to the finish!
Users can purchase a compatible heart rate monitor separately and have their heart rate displayed on the monitor as they row. Compatible with ANT+ heart rate technology or any 5.3 kHz HR chest strap transmitter. Here is a list of the best-selling heart rate monitors.
You can then use the HRM to track your fitness level by selecting “Recovery” after a workout. The monitor will then calculate a score based on your heart rate and how fast you are able to recover.
There were only a few downsides mentioned about the Obsidian Surge 500 monitor.
It’s not backlit and thus can be difficult to read in low-light settings.
The data tracking, while accurate, isn’t on par with the Concept2 PM5 or WaterRower S4 monitors. This is hardly a problem unless you plan to really get into the hobby in the near future.
The SF-RW5713 water rowing machine comes with fitness technology designed to help users track their progress and achieve fitness goals.
It’s not as advanced as the high-end monitors of more expensive rowers (e.g, the S4 and PM5). Specifically, the data isn’t as accurate and you can’t race against others.
But the console displays the most important metrics like distance, time, calories burned, total strokes, and strokes per minute (SPM), and a few extras like ambient temperature and heart rate (monitor not included).
This allows users to monitor their performance and adjust their workouts accordingly to ensure long-term progress.
Design and Build Quality
The Obsidian Surge 500 water rowing machine provides the same comfy and efficient workout experience of the wooden rowers, but in a sleek and modern design that’s lightweight and easy to move around.
It may not hold up to 1000 lbs, but it has a sturdy steel frame that can withstand regular use.
Light Weight Sturdy Steel Frame for Steady Rowing Experience
The steel frame is designed to be lightweight, yet sturdy and durable.
The rail is slim, but I felt quite stable when rowing. So, it’s stronger than it looks. Overall, it provides a stable platform for rowing.
Non-Slip Foot Pedals and Durable Nylon Velcro Straps
Aside from the frame, some of the smaller parts I found to be surprisingly good quality for the price. One thing I noticed was how secure my feet felt. The foot pedals are designed to be non-slip to provide a secure grip for your feet during your workout.
The pedals are adjustable, too, which allows you to find the perfect position for your feet. More on pivoting in the Comfort section.
This water rowing machine also comes with durable nylon Velcro straps, which can be adjusted to fit your feet securely.
Withstanding Water Corrosion
Importantly, any metal parts on a water rowing machine should resist corrosion.
Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5713 rowing machine uses a special coating designed to resist water corrosion.
Overall, the rowing machine is made of high-quality materials for a machine in this price range.
Check it out in action below:
Comfort is important since rowing is one of the few types of cardio that involves sitting for longer periods.
Rowing provides a full-body workout not matched by conventional cardio exercises–hitting almost 90% of your body’s muscular system at once, a higher calorie expenditure, etc. But it does involve more points of contact–namely, your butt, hands, and fingers. So, choosing a machine with a good design is important
The Obsidian SF-RW5713 has a molded, padded seat that I found to be reasonably comfortable. For long, hard rowing sessions you might still want to consider a rowing machine seat cushion.
The seat is large enough for any user at 10.0″ x 12.5″.
At 17.0″ off the floor, I found it VERY easy to get on and off. From what I’ve read, others seem to feel the same. The taller-than-average seat height helps prevent people from putting extra stress on their knees and back when getting on and off the rowing machine.
The seat sits on 3 sets of rollers and bearings for an extra smooth, quiet rowing stroke. Along with the water resistance (which is quieter than air), you’ll have no problem hearing the TV when rowing.
The non-slip foot pedals are great, but the pivoting part gets mixed feedback. They don’t pivot as you row, which can be bothersome since you have to stop to adjust your feet.
The pivoting is supposed to help with ankle mobility to ensure “optimal rowing mechanics”. While I’ve heard a complaint or two in this department, it shouldn’t be an issue since nearly every other rowing machine (including the most expensive) use fixed footplates.
Portability and Storage
The Obsidian Surge 500 is long at 80 inches, but it easily folds which reduces the length by more than half. Stored upright, it’s only about 33-1/2″ long.
When stored the Obsidian Surge 500 measures: 33.46″L x 22.05″W x 78.74″H
It has transportation wheels making it portable and easy to store.
To store upright, simply lift from the rear and roll the rowing machine forward on the high-density rubber wheels that prevent making any marks on your floor.
Then lift the rower vertically and move to your desired location. It’s best stored against a wall or in the corner of a room.
This water rowing machine rests on a front “end-cap” that is designed to hold the rower upright. There is no need to empty any water from the tank and it doesn’t feel heavy at all!
The Obsidian has a weight capacity of 250 lbs, which is a bit below the average of 300 lbs–and a far cry from the wooden models that hold up to 1000 lbs!
It has a slide rail length of 42 inches and a slide rail inseam of 38 inches, which accommodates a max user height of around 6’4″ tall, on average.
As always, the max height depends on leg length. If you are over 6’4″, I would recommend measuring your inseam length and contacting the manufacturer to double-check.
- Assembled Dimensions:
- 78.74″ x 22.05″ x 33.46″ (L x W x H)
- Stored Dimensions:
- 33.46″ x 22.05″ x 78.74″ (L x W x H)
- Assembled Weight
- 81.6 lbs.
- Shipping Dimensions:
- 42.74″ x 22.4″ x 20.5″ (L x W x H)
- Shipping Weight:
- 95.5 lbs.
Pros and Cons
- Smooth, quiet water resistance
- Adjustable water level provides additional tension adjustment
- Multi-function monitor that tracks the most important data
- Convenient transport wheels and foldable design
- Easy upright storage to save space
- 17.0″ seat height for getting on and off easily
- Easy assembly
- No backlight on monitor
- Must use siphon to add or subtract water
- Average warranty
- Frame: 3-Years
- Parts & Components: 90-Days
- Model #: SF-RW5713
The 3-year frame and 90-day parts warranty are pretty standard with Sunny Health & Fitness equipment. They are pretty good about getting customers spare parts and luckily Amazon will step in if they try to make customers pay for items under warranty.
I do wish the parts warranty was a bit longer than 90 days but this is what they offer for all their lower-priced rowing machines.
Sunny Health & Fitness Obsidian Surge 500 Review: Conclusion
The Obsidian SF-RW5713 is one of the best budget rowers in the water-resistance category. You’ll get the same great full body workout as you would with a luxury water rowing machine at less than half the price.
For a higher-quality water rowing machine and a better monitor, maybe check out the WaterRower A1 water rowing machine.
The A1 is named for having an A1 monitor which isn’t quite as advanced as the S4, making the model a bit less expensive. To find my reviews on these just visit my comparison table here and sort by “water” resistance.
As you may have seen when doing your research, the Concept2 Model D is often recommended as the #1 bestselling rowing machine on the market. It is the model I own and use every day, but it is more expensive. You can check it out here if you are interested.
I hope you enjoyed my Sunny Health & Fitness SF-RW5713 Obsidian Surge review! Please leave any questions or comment below!
Rowing Machine King Founder and Author.