Surf Ski Shopping
With no cyclocross race this weekend and having cracked my surf ski on Monday, I was heading north on Sunday to Colwyn Bay for the second in the series of the North Wales Surf Ski Paddlers races.
Snow Dusted North Wales in Autumn
It felt as though I’d forgotten something as I headed off without a boat on the roof but I had arranged with a few people to have demo or 2nd hand boats to try. This was going to be retail therapy as well as a race for me.
The drive up was part of the day out. Temperatures hovered just below freezing for much of the way. As the sun rose the sky turned through a kaleidoscope of colours from fiery reds through oranges, pinks, yellows and finally a cool icy blue. I flew along the clear roads between the burnt hues of autumnal leaves in the surrounding forests with snow-capped mountains above them. Cadair Idris look imposing cloaked in snow punctuated by rocky crags.
The waters of the Dyfi River and Llyn Trawsfynydd lay calm and reflective in the still morning. Further north snow lay alongside the road as I headed through the mountains of Snowdonia.
Out of the mountains and along the Conwy Valley I headed, eventually emerging onto the seafront at Colwyn Bay. Along the coast the temperature was a little warmer at around 5°C and the sky now a bright blue as the sun rose a little higher in the sky. I was surprised after the stillness of the morning to discover something of a chilly NE breeze and a choppy sea. That could make today’s boat testing a little more interesting.
Gaven was already there setting up and had a number of Stellar boats for me (and others to try). Soon other familiar faces turned up. Martin, Ben, Richard, Brooke, James, Alan, Helen, Mark and possibly one or two other people I’ve missed.
Alan had brought a number of Carbonology Skis all the way from Scotland for me to try, along with a lovely and super lightweight 8.8kg carbon fiber Boost.
Richard had brought his 2nd hand Think EVO for me to try, and James had brought a Think EVO as well.
It was time to get changed and try some out. I started off in Richards EVO which felt nice. Build quality felt much better than my Knysna but I guess that’s to be expected seeing as even 2nd hand it would cost more than my brand spanking new Knysna had. It was also a little wider, more stable and probably not quite as fast, and as it was the base level of construction it was fairly heavy at around 15kg. Almost twice the weight of the carbon Boost that Alan had brought along.
Race 1 in the Think EVO
Usually the races here take the format of two 5km races. I therefore planned to do the first in the Think EVO and the second in a different boat. The EVO felt comfortable and perfectly stable in amongst the swell and chop, a good, secure way to start the day.
After a while we lined up for a fairly informal start and then we were off. Brooke, Richard and Alan were a little ahead of me off the start. I soon caught and overtook Brooke and Richard and the closed in on Alan. Alan kept pace with me put towards the buoy where the sea became a little more lively. It was never rough and things felt nice and controlled in the EVO. James took the lead (as was to be expected) at the buoy. I had a good turn and kept pace with him for a while opening out a bit of a gap on Alan. I couldn’t stay with James for long though and soon eased back into a steady effort, catching the odd little runner here and there and squinting into the glare of the sun as we headed back towards the beach.
A few people had decided that it was a little too tough for them so had abandoned the ‘race’ and headed back already. James took the win with me 2nd and Alan not far behind in third.
Race 2 in the Carbonology Vault
Time to move into another boat. A Carbonology Vault this time. As some people had struggled a little in the first race it was decided to do a shorter race around a couple of buoys not so far out. No direct head to head comparison on the same course for me then but still a good opportunity to put the Vault through its paces.
We did a beach start this time. James was in his faster sleeker Think Uno and took the lead but I was right with him and we soon pulled out a bit of a gap on the others as we rounded the first buoy.
The Vault felt a little less stable and a fair bit quicker than the EVO. I was feeling good except for one thing. My odd shaped feet just didn’t quite fit in it. I do walk on my toes so have quite a wide forefoot and I was wearing neoprene boots as well which didn’t help. The foot-well was quite narrow and the widest part of my foot coincided with the location of the foot strap attachments so my feet just didn’t fit. My feet overlapped which was a little uncomfortable and made steering a touch difficult. It was OK but I could imagine it would have become annoying during long days on the water. Other people seemed to fit into the foot-well OK, but not me. A shame in many respects as the boat was fast, felt good and came at a good price too. Although, having seen and lifted the Boost in the top of the range carbon construction I may have been tempted by a Vault in that construction, especially as Alan had devised a scheme whereby I could buy the demo boat I was in today and then trade it in for a new (possibly carbon version) in the Spring. But, I guess that’s the whole point of testing boats. It doesn’t matter how good a boat is, what deals you can get or it’s performance, if it doesn’t fit your feet then it’s not the one. I briefly sat in the Carbonology Pulse as well and had the same issue with that.
I stayed fairly hot on James’s heels for the short race taking 2nd place again.
Time now to try some other boats from the Stellar range that Gaven has brought along. I tried the SEL, SEI and SEA. They all felt nice but the standout boat for me was the SEA. Despite being the narrowest of the boats and quite a bit narrower than my current boat it still felt more stable than its width would suggest. It felt as though it had the most potential of all the boats I’d tried today and it’s compact size made it feel responsive yet easy to manage. Build quality was good, the colours were good, it looked nice, felt nice and should have the performance to go with it. Unfortunately, even this ex-demo one would set me back twice as much the 2nd hand EVO or an ex-demo Carbonology.
With the racing and testing done it was time to get changed and maybe make some decisions.
None of the boats were perfect. The fact that my feet didn’t fit into the Carbonology skis ruled them out making my choices a little easier. The EVO was a little more stable than I needed and might not have the performance I was after. It was also quite heavy. However, this 2nd hand one at £1100 was the least expensive of the boats on offer. The Stellar SEA was the nicest of the boats but also twice the price. What to do?
The sensible thing would probably be to do nothing. Wait a bit, try some more boats and wait for the perfect one to come along. I’ve got a K1 that I could paddle in the meantime but with winter coming a ski is a little more versatile. Besides, when have I ever done the sensible thing? Nope, not me, I don’t have the patience for that. Waiting would probably mean not having a surf ski until next year. I’d quite like to take one home today.
Decision made, but I’m still not sure if it was the right one. I was a little sensible and didn’t go for an all singing all dancing carbon speed machine. I didn’t go for the more expensive Stellar SEA despite the fact that it was the nicest of the boats for me. In the end I let the fact that I’d already spent more money than I should this week steer my decisions and went for the Think EVO mainly as it was the ‘cheapest’. At £1100 it was still more money than I could afford at the moment but it did mean I could take it home with me and start playing in it straight away.
I also decided that whilst the extra stability wasn’t necessarily what I was after that there would be days and conditions where I would be glad of it. Tougher races would be opened up to me, tougher conditions too. Also, if I can get my Knysna repaired maybe I’d then have two surf skis with differing characteristics. The Knysna for speed in calmer conditions, the EVO for more relaxed paddles, exploring, having fun in the waves and for rougher races or more exposed conditions. Performance-wise it might be a slight step backwards but in many situations a more stable boat might prove to be quicker.
The deed was done – old school style with the use of a cheque book. The ski was strapped to the roof of my van and I now had another boat!
It means I have no money and no more room on my boat rack but I should hopefully get my money’s worth out of it and maybe one day I’ll be able to afford that elusive ‘perfect boat’.
Time for coffee and cake and the prize-giving and the the 2 hour drive home, this time with a boat on the roof.