Surfski Time Trial Results
It has been very exciting to go from owning/paddling two boats over the past 7 years to now having a whole shop full of different surfskis and kayaks to choose from. Initially I was a little overwhelmed at the thought of deciding which boat to paddle until I came up with a plan to just paddle them all and record the results. There is so much discussion and talk about the different boat speeds and how much variance there is between the boats, etc. I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t capitalize on this unique and fortunate opportunity and do something with it. So my plan is to continuously paddle different boats in different conditions and record all the results. I know that my Garmin 310 XT will do a great job accurately recording my heart rate (level of effort), speed, and distances. I will continue to monitor and analyze the results and try to identify and articulate any patterns that emerge and what that may translate to for my customers. For the purposes of this blog I just have one or two short paddles in each of the 7 different demo boats.
Disclaimer: I am by no means an engineer or expert in boat design, geometry, etc.. I also don’t have extensive years of experience paddling all kinds of different boats, so I can’t and won’t plan to get into technically detailed boat reviews, rather I’ll just paddle as hard as I can on any given day, record the water conditions and results and try to describe the overall experience.
When looking at these various time trial results it is very important to understand that the water/wind conditions which ultimately impact speed are never the same. Some days the water appears flat calm but I’ve found strong currents running, other days there is cross winds, mixed chop, sometimes clean swell etc.. all of which will impact the speeds I am able to maintain in any given boat. Additionally beyond the boat speed averages if you start to analyze my level of effort (heart rate), you will see some variances there as well. These are going to be due to physiological factors such as how hydrated and fueled I am, how fresh I am, and most importantly how hot the conditions are. For me personally I have found that heat has a direct correlation on my heart rate. Anything over 80 degrees, seems to really get my heart beat racing, it must be the Alaskan Heritage
Stellar S18R Advantage Sea Kayak
Although my business and true passion is mostly centered around surfskis I also realize that the leading surfski manufacturers are building the fastest sea kayaks around. I went ahead and ordered a Sea Kayak demo boat so I could show the many sea kayakers in our area just what these boats can do. In particular, the Stellar S18R (18 foot racing/touring kayak) has been setting race records left and right and I was anxious to see for myself just what it could do.
I took out the S18R for a 5 mile time trial on a day that would not have typically been a very fast day for me on a surfski. There was a pretty gusty off shore/cross wind blowing out of the West that was creating a good amount of mixed chop. Although the dominant wind was from the West the waves were moving from South to North in the bay, so I had mostly a cross wind and was heading into the chop for the first 2.5 miles. In these conditions the SR was rock solid. I was able to maintain a solid 6+ mph pace without ever feeling any amount of instability.
When I turned around to head back the cross wind was a bit more at my back and I had the chop moving with me and was able to really keep the SR at a nice pace close to 7 mph
My overall average speed was 6.5 mph with a heart rate average of 131 (about a 75% effort)
Net/Net: This boat has amazing speed. If you like spray skirts, hatches, and kick-up rudders, but still want to have the fastest boat possible to cover long distances easily, then this is the boat for you. In the end you really don’t give up much to the high end surfskis. At most .5 – 1 mph, but the incredible stability will likely make you faster than most intermediate surfski paddlers in mixed/beam chop type conditions.
Stellar SE Excel
I bought the Stellar SE this spring a few weeks before I decided to go into the surfski business. My intent was for this boat to replace my aging Epic V10. I must admit that after my first couple of paddles in the SE I wasn’t completely sold. I don’t know if it is the light weight or the bucket not being fully fitted to me, but while I never felt anywhere close to tipping it over, it did feel very lively with a lot of rolling from side to side. Additionally I could not get comfortable in the seat and found that I needed to put in some seat padding or could not continue with the boat.
Interestingly the SE actually feels more stable to me once the conditions pick up. Whether paddling upwind or downwind in wave conditions (2 foot chop to 6 foot swell) the SE is rock solid stable and I don’t feel all the rolling back and forth that I seem to have on flat water.
As the time trial results below will show, this boat is fast. The first time trial I did was a 5 miler on what looked like pretty flat conditions. It was only after I turned around to head back that I realized I had been going against a pretty strong current. My speeds on the return were incredible with the last mile at close to 8 mph. My overall average was 7.2 mph making it the fastest overall “out and back” paddle I have ever done. You can see that my heart rate picked up toward the end as I was working hard to keep that 8 mph speed going with the current. I stopped at exactly 5 miles but probably would have finished with a higher average had I continued all the way back to my starting point.
I took the SE out a second time in what I was planning to be just a very easy paddle to loosen up my back and enjoy the beautiful evening. As I started heading out at a very easy pace, I couldn’t help but look down at the GPS. Seeing that I was easily cruising at 7 mph inspired me to keep a more moderate effort. The conditions were pretty flat overall with just a little wave left over from some afternoon North wind. I finished the 4 miles with an average pace of 7.1 mph. My second fastest average time, but most importantly – I never really had to push it to clock this time. I have never gone so fast with such little effort
Updated : Sept 2nd – The Stellar SE continues to prove that the above times were not a fluke. I am typically averaging between 7 and 7.5 mph when paddling this boat.
Net/Net: The SE is built for big guys and to excel in big conditions. In my experience, Stellar achieved exactly what they set out for with this boat. The large volume in the bow and light weight do translate to a lively boat, especially in cross wind conditions, but once you point the nose downhill this boat really enters its element with exceptional speed and stability. I am really looking forward to getting some good downwind time trials on this boat.
Stellar SES Advantage
To be fair, at 6’3″ and just over 200 lbs I am not the ideal candidate for the SES which is optimized for paddlers in the 160 and under range. However, I’ve heard and read all the great things about this boat and couldn’t resist the urge to squeeze myself into it and see what happens.
Believe it or not, the bucket of the SES actually seems to fit me very well. It is snug but I feel well connected to the boat. I also really like the narrow beam which gives me a feeling of really getting the most out of my rotation driven paddle stroke.
I’ll need to do some more time trialing in the SES because the day I picked was probably the hottest day of the year so far. The conditions were pretty flat and what I would call “soupy” with mixed boat wake sort of rolling through the water. I did a short four miles and as you can see by my HR, I was pushing pretty hard to keep it up over 7 mph. I honestly don’t know if it is a glitch or not, but I did reach one of the highest max speeds I’ve seen on a surfski at 11.9 mph. I can’t recall exactly, but guessing there must have been a boat wake that really got me moving.
Net/Net: I finished this short 4 mile time trial with an average speed of 7.1 mph and an average HR of 150 (highest HR I have averaged in a paddle – but it was a very hot day) I’m curious to try out the SES again – especially with some downwind conditions. I know I’m probably too heavy and may bury the bow more than would be ideal, but I have a sense that I may again see some of the highest max speeds I have ever recorded.
Stellar SEL Advantage
Amongst the Stellar line, I think the SEL is the optimal boat for me in all but probably the biggest open water conditions. This boat seems to fit me very well with a nice long foot well that easily accommodates my 35″ inseam.
My first paddle with the SEL was truly one of the best paddles I have ever had. There was as decent south wind blowing steady around 12 and gusting up to 20 mph. I started out into the wind for 3 miles to “earn my turns”. Going into the wind the SEL was rock solid stable no rolling, very little bow slapping, just a nice smooth ride. When I turned around to point downwind the fun really began. The 3 miles back to the launch were awesome. No stalling, no waffling on the waves, no bracing. Just linking from one wave to the next and feeling so stable I was putting the paddle in my lap versus the light skimming I am more accustomed to doing for the added stability. I was in such a trance that for the first time ever I ran past my take out spot.
My overall average speed of 6.6 mph is not as high as it would have been if I stopped the Garmin at 6 miles. Once I crossed six miles I backed off and just leisurely paddled back to the launch working myself out of the trance and preparing to re-enter the world of reality . I was not wearing an HR during this paddle, but would estimate my average HR was probably in the mid 130s
I was so thrilled with the SEL that I decided to race it in the 18 mile Back to Black race. In hindsight I may have been a hair faster in the lighter Kevlar SE, but the SEL still did a great job keeping a nice pace for a much longer distance than I was trained to race and the conditions were flat so it didn’t get a chance to really prove itself.
Net/Net: The SEL is a phenomenal blend of speed and stability. Although per the specs, it is classified as an advanced boat, the stability is much closer to that of the intermediate boats and this is one that a motivated beginner with some grit, can start out in if they only ever want to own one boat that will do it all.
Epic V8 Performance
I have written quite a bit about the mind boggling stability of the V8. It is a true game changer with regard to the accessibility of surfski paddling for the masses. Anyone can get on this boat and quickly feel comfortable and confident and start to have fun immediately.
While there was no doubt in my mind about the stability and fun factor of the V8 I was curious as to what kind of speed I could maintain in it. My paddle in the V8 was not the typical out and back, rather I used it as a mode of transport to a party I was attending on the other side of the bay. This resulted in an 8 mile paddle that was a mix of downwind/beam waves and then as I got close to the end pretty flat conditions.
The V8 handled very well. I rarely cross the bay and when I do there is always something about being 2 miles off shore that sort of puts me a little on edge (maybe flash backs of swimming 2 1/2 miles in Ironman). That was not the case in the V8. In never once felt like there was any miniscule chance of going for a swim even as I did encounter some 2-3 foot beam waves out in the middle of the bay.
My overall average pace for 8 miles was 6.7 mph and my average HR was 128. There is no doubt I was assisted by generally favorable wind and wave conditions, especially for the first 1/2 of my paddle, but even with that – to average 6.7 at a moderate HR effort says a lot about the speed of this boat. It is plenty capable. At most I think I might have been a .5 mph faster in a top end racing surfski.
Epic V8 – Eight Mile Point to Point
Update Sept 2nd: I had a chance to take the V8 out for a downwind run. South wind so waves weren’t too big for the first couple miles but then started building to 4 feet. Had 3-4 really good miles before slowing down and waiting for the other paddler I was with who was taking a course closer to the shoreline. Left the GPS on at the end so overall average not accurate – but check out miles 4-8 – they were great
Net/Net: The time trial results confirmed my position on the V8. If you want a very stable boat with good speed and very little learning curve, then this boat is the ticket for you. It may not prepare you for the advanced boats the way an intermediate boat would, but it will give you the confidence to get out and paddle in almost any condition and you’ll be able to quickly start putting a lot of power into your stroke.
Epic V10 Sport – Performance
I first have to comment / re-iterate that I really love the seat design of the Epic boats. The rounded seat is definitely optimal for me. Without any added implements, this is by far the most comfortable boat for me.
At 35 lbs the Epic Performance boats are the heaviest in my fleet, so heading out for my first real time trial of the V10S I wasn’t expecting to set any speed records. On the day I chose to take out the V10S there was a nice North wind blowing at about 8-9 mph with some good white capping in the afternoon that was starting to subside.
I left the boat launch and immediately pointed downwind. I quickly fell into the zone with the V10S and the further south I went the bigger the waves got and the faster my speeds averaged. You can clearly see this in the GPS results. The V10S surfed beautifully downwind. On my last downwind mile I averaged 7.9 which is the fastest downwind leg I have yet to record. You can also see that when I turned around to head into the wind/waves I struggled to maintain 6 mph in the first mile but got progressively faster as the waves got smaller. The last mile I was pushing hard and was able to get my average back up to close to 7 mph.
The V10S handled the entire paddle with ease. The weight really makes this boat settle nicely and heading into the wind was really quite smooth with exceptional stability. Throughout the paddle I didn’t take a single brace stroke.
Net/Net: In the end I was quite amazed and equally pleased to finish with an average speed of 7.0 mph and heart rate of 139 . Historically I could have never done this well on an out and back with wind/waves. Much of it has to do with my evolving skills paddling downwind and also my stronger technique for heading upwind, but the V10S showed that if you’ve got the motor, this boat certainly has the speed.
Stellar SR Advantage
Last but certainly not least, I had a chance to do a brief time trial on the Stellar SR Advantage. This has been one of my most popular boats with beginner paddlers. They feel like they are in a true surfski with just enough tipsiness to create a challenge yet stable enough that most can manage it in a brief demo with no swimming regardless of conditions.
I had been in the SR a few times out in waves and knew it was rock solid and definitely had some great surfing capabilities, but I had never run a GPS on it, so had no idea what speeds it was capable of cruising at. As has been written about extensively, the cockpit design and stability of the boat makes you feel like you aren’t moving that fast; however, the GPS shows otherwise.
This was a short time trial as I was feeling a bit worn out and was originally planning to take the day off from paddling. But it was another 80 degree night with 75 degree water temps and so I felt compelled to get out there and do my last time trial so I could complete this blog. I immediately turned downwind hoping that as I got further south I would find some bigger waves. I caught a few small waves but overall there wasn’t much. I typically like to go out into the wind first and save the downwind run for the leg home. This paddle reconfirmed for me why I like to do that. You really want to be good and warmed up before attacking the downwind section which requires a lot of focus and all out sprinting which is hard to do if you aren’t warmed up first.
I turned around at the 2 mile mark for the return into the wind. The SR handled the upwind section with ease and I maintained 6.5 mph + without too much effort. Of course the boat was rock solid stable with absolutely no loss of speed to bracing.
Stellar SR – 4 mile Time Trial
Update Sept 2nd: I wanted to try the SR again as I felt I’ve been paddling a little harder lately. Sure enough, with a bit more effort I was able to average 7.1 in the SR with less than ideal beam chop conditions. This boat can definitely move.
Net/Net: Overall I averaged 6.9 mph with an average HR of 131. Not too shabby for a day in which I really wasn’t motivated to paddle very hard and the short choppy conditions made it hard to do any real surfing on the downwind.
Update: Epic V12 Ultra Added to the Fleet in September
In September I was very excited to add a new demo boat to the fleet at TC Surfski. I felt that I couldn’t be a proper Epic dealer without having their flagship top end racing boat the V12 represented by TC Surfski and available for experienced paddlers to demo. From 2007 until the start of the 2012 season I had paddled an Epic V10 and really loved the fit and feel of that boat and have read many of the reviews stating that the V12 has an even better fit and feel plus a fraction more speed on the flats. Combine this with the highly seductive design and lines on the V12 and it is a very enticing boat. Additionally, my old V10 weighed in at 35lbs so I was very excited to get the V12 in an Ultra layup at around 26 lbs.
My first time in the V12 was a really short 4 mile paddle at dusk with just a small gentle rolling swell. Having been spending a lot of time in the Stellar boats the V12 definitely felt snug, but in a good way. As with most any boat, the first couple of miles had me a bit on edge as I grew accustomed to the primary and secondary stability of the V12. As most reviewers have pointed out, this is definitely a lively and reactive boat (at least relative to the other boats I paddle). The V12 handled nicely going into the wind, had me just a little on edge when I turned around, beam to the waves, then gave me a huge burst of confidence as I started paddling downwind. I don’t know if it is the way the boat reacts, the fits/feel or the overall positioning, but I felt like I could crank up my stroke and catch any wave I could see in my field of view. The cockpit trim on the V12 seems to have the bucket a fair amount higher than the foot well giving the feeling of looking down on the bow and making the boat seem smaller than it actually is. All in all the connection really made me feel one with the boat.
I took the V12 out a few more times in small chop conditions. At my skill level (solid intermediate) I have to admit that I struggled to maintain good speed in beam chop conditions. I quickly realized that in a boat like the V12 you have to dominate/control the boat all the time and if you do, the stability is fine. For me, this means padding with a high stroke rate that is well connected to leg drive. As a result of this, on my next couple of paddles I found myself paddling all or nothing. I could go hard and be stable with no brace strokes and see nice high speeds, but could not easily sustain that pace for long periods. I am quite certain this is primarily a balance related issue and it reminded me a lot of my early years in cross country skiing where it is very common for beginner skate skiers to only be able to go at an all out speed. They simply don’t have the balance and technique to cruise at a moderate level of effort.
After 3 paddles and about 15 miles in the V12 I felt it was time to take my best shot at a time trial. I switched out the surf rudder for a 4″ weedless rudder and went out for 6 miles in fairly calm conditions with just a little bit of waye and wind current from the North. As I got further away from my starting point it seemed to get calmer. I never struggled for stability and didn’t take any brace strokes, but found myself still working pretty hard to keep up my pace. I finished with an average speed of 7.0 mph and an average HR of 145.
Comparing this to paddles in late Aug where I was averaging 7.5 mph (SE for 5.5 miles) and 7.1 (SR for 5.5 miles) is definitely interesting. It is so hard to do apples to apples comparisons as I’ve now gone from paddling 4-5 days a week to two or three paddles in the last month and this could certainly be a factor, but my gut sense is that I’m not yet getting out of it, anywhere near what the V12 has to offer.
My efforts in the V12 are also somewhat similar to what I saw in the Stellar SES. Both boats felt nicely snug and responsive for me, but both boats also seem to have me running at a higher heart rate for any given speed as compared to the more stable boats. I know this speaks directly to levels of stability and even though I may not be feeling it directly, I’m working harder to stay balanced in the V12 and the SES than the more stable boats.
I do still want to time trial the boat in total flat water and I’m pretty confident that in those conditions I’ll see some great speeds. I also want to get it on a good downwind run where I think the acceleration will really shine
Downwind Update: We recently had some gusty 35 mph South Winds and I had a chance to get the V12 Ultra out on West Bay in some 4 foot steep and stacked wind waves. It was a real slog going up wind in those conditions, but a total blast once I turned around for the downwind run. The V12 felt great going downwind. Consistent with my first sense of this boat, the acceleration is very confidence inspiring and catching the runs felt effortless and once on them the ride was smooth and fast. As I’ve mentioned previously this boat feels extremely stable as long as you are paddling aggressively and “owning” it. This was also a good opportunity for me to test out the secondary stability which I found to be very strong always giving me time to correct before taking any swims
Net / Net
With out a doubt, the V12 is a very highly proven boat and on par with the fastest surfskis ever built. I’m excited to stick with it, as I know ultimately it will make me a better paddler and I’m quite confident in the long run I will settle into it and eventually get the most out of it. I also have a feeling that the amazing comfort of this boat will have me picking it off the rack more times than not.
The Overall Net of It
Clearly you can’t and should not try to draw any absolute conclusions from a few time trials in each of these different boats. In order to start doing that you need statistically significant data which would require at least 20 or more time trials in each boat. I did however learn a little from this project and below are my key thoughts:
- All of the boats produced by both Stellar and Epic are of top quality and plenty capable of achieving speeds in a completely different class from traditional sea kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and other human powered craft
- As the time trial results show, with solid fitness and good technique all of these boats will likely sit in the range of 6.0- 7.5 mph. From the high performance sea kayak to the highest end surfski the speed differences are around 1 – 1.5 mph at most. Depending on your goals, this may or may not be significant
- Your paddling technique (using the whole body) and downwind surfing skills are going to have a much bigger impact on your average speeds than the boat you choose
- Don’t allow yourself to fall into analysis paralysis. Choose a boat that provides a comfortable fit and the stability that will give you the confidence to get out and paddle as much as possible. Of course looks are always important as well, you want to really love your boat and be proud to show it off
- Ultimately time spent on the water mindfully working on your technique, surfing skills, and conditioning is what will lead to your highest speeds and fastest times.