Here at Start Rowing, we include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission.

Obsidian Surge Water Rower Review: Is This the Best budget water rower?


Obsidian Surge Water Rower
Obsidian Surge Water Rower
Obsidian Surge Water Rower
Start Rowing Score

The Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5713 Obsidian Surge 500 fills a market gap for a quality budget water rower. This is a stylish-looking machine that is good for taller rowers, with its solid frame and long beam. There are some build quality issues and it's a little noisy but overall the Sunny Obsidian Surge Water Rower represents good value. 

  • Stylish design
  • Budget-priced
  • Can accommodate users up to 6’2”
  • Comfortable seat
  • Solid frame
  • Difficult to assemble
  • Noisy
  • Possible cord jerkiness
  • May leak water in upright storage mode

This is our review of the Sunny Obsidian Surge Water Rower

I’ve been using, buying, and recommending home-use rowing machines since the 1990s and have been a big fan of water rowers since they came onto the market. I’ve also been a big fan of Sunny Health and Fitness, being very familiar with their strength training and other cardio equipment. 

For this review, I’ve spent many hours pouring over the Obsidian Surge 500 water rower. I’ve analyzed it from every angle as well as spent plenty of time checking online reviews from real-time purchases. 

I found the Obsidian Surge water rower to live up to the high standards that Sunny has established in the home fitness market. It provides some impressive features that you would not expect to find in a budget rower. Obviously, it’s not going to be as high spec as the more expensive models, but the difficulty of assembly, a footrest design fault, and difficulty emptying water may prompt some buyers to spend a bit more for a market leader. 

Keep reading to get the full story on the Obsidian Surge SF-RW5713.

Obsidian Surge Water Rower

The Obsidian Surge Water Rower is a home-use rowing machine that simulates the water rowing experience. The resistance is provided by a 3-gallon water tank situated at the front of the unit. 

The water tank is fitted with a number of rotor blades. When you pull on the rower cord, the blades in the tank rotate through the water, causing resistance. This provides a natural resistance that simulates rowing on the water more than using air or magnetic resistance.

The Obsidian Surge 500 is a budget-priced water rower, selling for less than $500. It is unfair, then, to compare it to machines that are nearly double its price. In terms of budget rowers, this machine definitely impresses. 

The Obsidian rower provides a fluid, smooth rowing action, though there may be some lag in the cord. It’s a solid, stable machine with a 300 lb weight capacity, and features a quality R2 monitor. The water levels are adjustable and the machine can be stored vertically. 

Functionality And Design

It’s not unusual to see the quality of fitness gear slip when you’re talking about budget equipment. Sunny has been bucking that trend for a long time, and the Obsidian Surge water rower is one more example of that. 

With a max weight capacity of 300 pounds, the Obsidian Surge 500 has a solid frame, while still being lightweight. That’s around 50 pounds more than you get with most rowing machines under $500. 

There are sixteen fan blades in the water tank of this machine. They are connected to the handle by a belt drive. Belt drives are quieter to operate than a chain drive, however, this one is not as quiet as most. 

Obsidian Surge Water Rower tank

The water tank has a 3-gallon capacity. In order to change the resistance of the row, you have to remove or add water. More expensive models will provide you with a user-friendly way to do this without interrupting the workout. That’s not the case here, however. 

The Sunny Obsidian is a comfortable rowing machine. The seat is thickly padded and ergonomically designed so that you won’t suffer from butt cramps after a half-hour on the machine.

Features and Benefits

Let’s take a look at the features the Sunny Obsidian Surge SF-RW5713 offers.


Obsidian Surge Water Rower monitor

The majority of budget rowers are pretty unimpressive when it comes to the monitor. This is another case where Sunny bucks that trend.

 The monitor on the Obsidian Surge is an R2 monitor. It does more than simply record your time, distance, strokes, and calories burned. It will do all of those things, as well as monitor your total time, 500 m time, total strokes, and ambient temperature. There is also a recovery mode that measures how long it takes for your pulse to return to its pre-workout state once the workout is over. 

The Obsidian Surge Monitor is set up to work with a chest strap heart rate monitor. However, it does not provide the next strap, so you’ll have to pay around $80 to purchase one. 

In addition to these features, the R2 monitor has racing functions that allow you to race the meter.


The frame of the Obsidian Surge is made from lightweight steel. It’s finished in an Obsidian black finish, which is where the machine gets its name. 

The frame is unusually sturdy for a rower that sells for less than $500. The max user weight of 300 lbs will meet the needs of most users so there should be no lateral movement or wobbling when you are throwing a full capacity.

Foot Pedals

The foot pedals on the Obsidian Surge swivel allowing you to angle them to suit your needs. That is a good thing as it allows you to naturally flex your ankles. Unfortunately, there seems to be a design fault with the foot pedals that compromises their strength. 

A number of online reviewers have complained that the foot pedal housing has broken or the screw has become loose. That is an issue as it will compromise your ability to secure your body when you are rowing.

Handle Bars

The handlebars on this rower are padded for comfort. They are also sweat and odor resistant to ensure that your hands do not slip during the workout.

Fan Blades

The Obsidian water tank is fitted with high-density hydro blades that churn through the water to create your rowing resistance. The faster you pull the handle, the faster the blades will spin and the more resistance you will generate.

Space-Saving Design

Obsidian Surge Water Rower stored vertically

While the Obsidian Surge is not a folding water rower, it can be stored in a vertical position to minimize the storage footprint. High-density rubber wheels make it easy to wheel the machine to its storage location. 

If moving the rower, we suggest emptying the water tank after use. This will make it much easier to move around. It will also prevent the problem of water leaking in storage, which has been mentioned by some online reviewers. 

Technical Specifications

Obsidian Surge Water RowerSpecs
Resistance TypeWater
Max User Weight300 lbs
Dimensions79″ x 22″ (W) x 34″ (H)
Weight (empty tank)82 lbs
Tank Capacity3 gallons

Setup Process

The Obsidian Surge water rower does not come fully assembled. Unfortunately, a number of online reviewers have commented on the difficulty of assembly. The instructions appear to be unclear, with some people expressing a lot of frustration and time-wasting. 

We recommend having a friend on hand to help with the setup process and setting aside around an hour for assembly.

Price and Value

The Sunny Obsidian Surge Water Rower sells on the official Sunny website for $499.98. It may be cheaper from some other retailers. That puts this machine in the budget under the $500 category. It represents excellent value for money and is the best value water rower that I have seen.


The Sunny Obsidian Surge comes with the following warranty …

  • 3 years on the frame
  • 180 days on parts

This is not a fantastic warranty but is about what you would expect for the price. 


There are a few other water rowers in the sub-$500 price range that are worth checking out. Here are three alternatives that you might want to consider as alternatives to the Obsidian Surge water rower …

MaxKare Water Rowing Machine
  • Cheaper alternative
  • Easy assembly
  • Good for users up to 6’2”

The MaxKare Water rower is one of the cheapest water rowers on the market, sitting around the $350 mark. It is not as comfortable seat-wise as the Obsidian Surge and the weight capacity is just 264 pounds. The seat is also set at a lower position than the Surge, which makes it more difficult to get on and off for people with mobility issues. 

The assembly of the MaxKare water rower is a lot easier than the Obsidian Surge. The footrests on this rower are large and well-positioned. The monitor is comparable to that on the Surge, displaying your 500 m splits, strokes per minute, and calories burned. There is also a cool human vs boat feature where you can race against the computer.

The beam length on the MaxKare water rower is comparable to the Obsidian Surge, allowing for users as tall as 6’2”. 

HouseFit Water Rowing Machine
  • Solid build
  • Large tablet support
  • Traceable workout results

The HouseFit Water Rowing machine is another quality budget water rower. It has a solid build, as shown by its 330-pound max user weight. Rear stabilizers keep the machine stable while you’re rowing. 

The ergonomic seat on the HouseFit Water Rower is more ergonomic and comfortable than on the MaxKare rower, being on par with the Obsidian Surge water rower. There are 6 levels of water resistance and the foot pedals are adjustable to allow you to get customized positioning. 

A tablet holder allows you to securely attach your tablet so that you can watch your favorite show as you are working out. The LCD on this machine is pretty basic, just providing you with simple diagnostics. 

MARNUR Water Rowing Machine
  • Double track design
  • Large weight capacity
  • Large LCD monitor

The MARNUR water rowing machine is another impressive rowing machine, this time with double tracks to deliver a smooth rail ride. It’s got a max user weight of 300 pounds, which is impressive for its price range.

The capacity of the water tank is 4.7 gallons which is quite a lot more than the Obsidian Surge, at 3 gallons. The monitor is quite large at 9 inches and is both backlit and angle adjustable. 

The foot pedals are adjustable to six levels and the seat is both ergonomic and comfortable. The foam handles are comfortable, being non-slip and sweat resistant. It all adds up to a functional rower that looks good, is compact and durable. 

Other Sunny Health & Fitness Water Rowers

In addition to the Obsidian Surge Water Rower, Sunny sells two other water rowers:

The Phantom Hydro Rower, which is priced at $769.99, features a unique 60-degree water tank angle and the monitor is more advanced than the Obsidian Surge, coming with a chest strap pulse monitor. The Phantom Hydro is also a folding water rower.

The Water Fitness Rower sells for $919.99. It features a 48-inch slide rail and has a max user weight of 265 pounds. It also features twice as many blades pushing through the water as you normally see on a water rower.

Should you Buy The Obsidian Surge Water Rower?

The Obsidian Surge water rower isn’t for everybody. Here’s a breakdown of who may, and may not, be best suited for this budget water rower …

The Obsidian Surge is for you if:

  • Are looking for a budget water rower under $500 that is robust, stylish and that performs well
  • Want a water rower with a better-than-average monitor
  • Value a water rower that optimizes user comfort in the seat and handle design

The Obsidian Surge is not for you if:

  • Want a water rower that is easy to assemble
  • Are looking for a rower with solid secure foot pedals
  • Want a water rower with an easy water input/output system

Final Thoughts

The Obsidian Water Rower from Sunny is the best water rower that you are likely to find for under $500. It does have its flaws – namely the questionable foot pedal design, difficult assembly, and hassles of manually emptying the tank – but, overall, the robustness, fluid motion, and comfort of this machine make it a winner.

Check out the best price on the Obsidian Surge Water rower.

Obsidian Surge Water Rower
Obsidian Surge Water Rower
Obsidian Surge Water Rower
Start Rowing Score

The Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5713 Obsidian Surge 500 fills a market gap for a quality budget water rower. This is a stylish-looking machine that is good for taller rowers, with its solid frame and long beam. There are some build quality issues and it's a little noisy but overall the Sunny Obsidian Surge Water Rower represents good value. 

SF-RW5713 Obsidian Surge 500

The Sunny Health and Fitness SF-RW5713 Obsidian Surge 500 fills a market gap for a quality budget water rower. This is a stylish-looking machine that is good for taller rowers, with its solid frame and long beam. There are some build quality issues and it's a little noisy but overall the Sunny Obsidian Surge Water Rower represents good value.

Product Brand: Sunny Health & Fitness

Product Currency: USD

Product Price: 499.98

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:
Steve Theunissen


Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner, personal trainer, and school teacher and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.