Thursday, 7 March 2013

Surf kayak testing

I'm always excited and flattered to be asked to try out a new prototype. In retrospect, there's nothing I'd have liked better than to have been a test pilot, or a test driver for F1 cars, or milk floats for that matter. It's not about speed, or bling. More that it combines my need for motion with my penchant for being methodical, analytical to the point of madness. Counting the paving slabs, cat's eyes, that kind of thing.

Peter Holgate has made a surf kayak. He started with a Mega Neutron, but made a new mould, and has changed it in several important details. The finish and outfitting, too, are all new.

I have to say from the outset that while plastic is a very suitable material for kiddies' buckets and spades, I'm generally speaking underwhelmed by plastic at the beach. Plastic boats in general frustrate me, mainly because of their weight. By the time I've carried them from the garage to the car I've gone off the whole idea of paddling them. I put up with it in kayaks for extreme white water, because of the safety and resilience that plastic can offer. Otherwise, forget it. Surf kayaks, in particular, seem to have no excuse for being plastic. Plastic is heavy, plastic is slow, plastic never seems to stay flat on the bottom of the hull. The only benefit it ever seemed to offer was its relative cheapness. But why not buy a second hand fibreglass boat for the same price as a new plastic one? As a politically incorrect Cornish armchair god of the surf kayaking community once said to me: "Class in glass, ******* in plastic!" (I'll leave you to guess. It rhymes...)

Until today, though. This Venom kayak looks nothing like a plastic kayak, apart from where the plastic has been trimmed around the cockpit rim. It feels nothing like a plastic kayak. It's hard and shiny and when I pick it up. OK, it's not like the one-fingered lift of my pro spec carbon-kevlar boat, but it's an easy one handed lift and carry. But it's when it hits the water that astonishment truly sets in.
Chris Hobson © Chris Hobson
The surf isn't great, but it's just what we need. Using a little skill and cunning, I can paddle out without getting my head wet, which is important, because it's frickin freezing! The waves are big enough, however, to make steep and powerful shoulders that can test this kayak's charging ability, if it has such a thing. And it does. I paddle for a lump of a roller more out of impatience than any real hope, and the boat picks up and planes. Like, instantly. Feels more like a surfboard than a boat. Interesting. 
Normally what happens when you've caught a wave straight and too early, is that the boat settles down to the bottom of the wave and resists any attempts to make it dynamic, pivoting from the back as it squats into the wave. Not this one - it carves smoothly into a bottom turn with no squat, and I find myself back at the top so quickly I almost throw myself out of the boat in my rush to top turn before I surf straight off the back! Odd.
The boat just doesn't feel plastic. It feels... fluid. Intriguingly slippery, and with an acceleration/speed relationship that defies the basic laws of physics. Bit like a shortboard. This is nuts...
I am struggling, because I haven't outfitted the boat, I can't reach the footrests, and my fingers are in agony from the cold, but I can see that something has happened here. Maybe it's the additional length and width over the original Neutron, maybe it's the profile of the rails, maybe it's just the finish and the exact hardness of plastic. Probably a combination of all of these things. It's very good. Not just as an entry level boat, but for anyone but a pro, probably.
You'd be forgiven for thinking these are surfboards
Carrying it up the beach to photograph the detail shots, I notice again that it's not heavy. In fact it doesn't blow about in the wind like a composite boat, which is a good thing, today. I wonder if it's thin plastic, but that doesn't make sense, because there's no hint of "oil-canning", the curse of normal plastic boat hulls. And Peter tells me he's hit it repeatedly with a claw hammer, barely leaving a mark.
This is just the first test shell from Venom Kayaks. But I think I'm going to be seeing a lot more of them, somehow...
Cleanest rails I ever saw on a plastic boat

This foam back rest with logo imprint is a nice touch

The thigh grips are composite, and there's talk of carbon fibre outfittting as an upgrade

Pleasing overall shape and balance

It's all looking pretty sharp

So shiny you can see your face in it

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