For the past three years I’ve been paddling a range of boats including sea kayaks, white water kayaks and canoes. My paddling has usually been general touring, kayak surfing and rock gardening, and has never really ventured into racing. When I started the surf ski journey two months ago I weighed in at a hefty 133kgs (292lbs), which counted out a lot of beginner surf skis just on size and weight capacity alone. Since that time I’ve dropped a lot of weight through training for surf ski paddling, and currently weigh approx 114kgs (251lbs).
My development has been supported by Slipstream Surf and Stellar Kayaks who together supplied me a Stellar SR from the very start of my journey, a boat I continue to paddle today. I’ve also tried paddling other surf skis including the Epic V8, Epic V10S, Fenn XT, Carbonology Zest and Think Eze for comparison.
General Thoughts on the Surf Ski – Fitout and Construction
The SR comes in four layups ranging in weight from 15kg to 10.9kg. The version I have is called the “Advantage” layup, which is 14.5kg and appears extremely well finished. A criticism I’ve had of some other ski manufacturers is that the quality of the finished product isn’t particularly consistent, with areas of particular concern being the areas around the venturi drain, the foot plate mount and around the rudder fittings. The Stellar appears extremely well put together and for the one I have in my care, I cannot see any production issues at all including these three problem areas.
The cockpit was an area of the boat that I was most concerned about due to my large size, but the SR has plenty of room in this regard and ample space for the bigger paddlers amongst us. The cockpit doesn’t narrow towards the foot plate unlike most skis, which means two things – the wider leg positioning creates a little extra stability, but the cockpit also has plenty of space to fill with water in rough conditions. Fortunately the SR has a bullet venturi system which empties the cockpit fairly quickly, so I haven’t really found the water in the cockpit noticeable.
A unique feature of the ski is the adjustable footplate attachment system.Whilst the side mounts use somewhat annoying butterfly nuts to secure themselves, the addition of the rail-mounted centre mount (an idea taken from the mounts of rowing shells) makes the footplate solid as a rock, and an excellent base to get leg drive from. I also like the padded covers on the foot-straps which make them a tad gentler on the feet.
The ski itself is roughly a foot shorter than the Epic V10S and Think Evo II skis, but the same width at 19″. The main difference is that the Stellar SR carries much of the volume along the length of the boat, instead of the sharp front and rear taper of its competitors. The result is more stability and a far more secure platform to surf, especially for the beginner and mid-pack paddlers.
My experience paddling the Stellar SR from raw beginner to now
As stated earlier, I was a big man attempting to take on a sport filled with skinny and very fit men & women. There aren’t too many skis that can take a 133kg paddler but the SR seemed most suitable due to the large cockpit. On my first paddle I was a little shaky but quickly learnt that going forward created more stability. I was also impressed with the secondary stability, especially as I’d nearly go over, throw the ski right up on edge and then somehow bring it back to the horizontal again.
Two paddles later and I was feeling confident enough in the ski to paddle most of Sydney’s Middle Harbour, surviving the run-ins with big cruiser wake on most occasions. I also learnt the art of getting back on when falling out, which did seem hard to me (not sure if this was due to the boat or the fat bloke trying to climb back in). By week four I’d learnt the side-saddle remount and felt more confident pushing the boat a little faster.
A couple of forays into rougher water and now, 8 weeks after starting, I’m really feeling connected to the boat. I’ve now surfed her on runs, my stroke is starting to come together and as I improve, I can feel the boat ready to step up with me. As my confidence builds in her I find myself wanting to push her harder and in rougher water, which the SR seems to love. I can also feel that there’s a bunch of speed waiting for me to unleash once I get my stroke working properly, and I feel confident that the Stellar will have plenty of performance to take on my friends in what they think are faster boats (yes lads, I’m coming to get you!).
I need to mention specifically this boats ability in surf. I took her out last weekend and caught about 50 waves in her. The boat catches runs easily and absolutely flies, and with it’s slightly shorter length becomes more manageable on the face of waves. I found that if I tipped the ski to one side when surfing I could quite easily pull the nose around to change directions, no small task with 19 feet of boat. Here’s a video of me catching my first runs in the SR, as you can see it was almost too easy. Oh, and the bonus section shows me falling off a lot!
The Big Question – Just How Stable Is the Stellar SR?
This is a very subjective view, but in comparison to other ocean skis I’d describe it as follows: Not quite as stable as an Epic V8, about the same primary stability in the flat as an Epic V10 Sport, but more stable when the water gets rough. The Think Eze felt less stable but that felt more a function of my large size and the fact I hadnt set-up the foot position properly. The Think Evo is impossible for me to get into due to my size, so cant judge against that. In general, the Stellar SR is more stable than most surf skis, especially in the rough, but less stable than the real beginner skis.
Who is this boat best suited to?
There’s a lot of people who are going to do well in the Stellar SR. I love it as it can take the bigger man, saving me from having to invest in an OC1 outrigger. Already I’m feeling very connected to the boat and love how it handles on runs. I’m also happy at the growing speed I’m starting to wring out the boat, which makes me feel confident that I wont get the 3 month urge to upgrade to something faster.
But you dont have to be a big paddler to paddle the SR. We’ve bought the one I’m currently using for my wife (hence the pink flowers!) as she found she could immediately paddle the SR from the second she got in. To keep this in perspective, my wife has barely paddled anything, ever, but the fun she’s having in the SR prompted her to force me into buying her one. That’s a huge endorsement!
Final Thoughts and Where to Try or Buy
I have a long way to go before proclaiming myself an expert on surf skis. I do however have first-hand and recent knowledge of the beginners journey as well as ample opportunity to try out other skis for comparison. Yes, the boat has been provided to me to use but I’ve genuinely fallen in love with the way the boat handles and wouldn’t want any other ski on the market today. It’s very well made, comes at a very reasonable price, has plenty of room for the bigger paddler, has great performance characteristics and more stability than most of the intermediate skis available today.
If you want to try a Stellar SR ski here in Sydney, contact Gavin from Slipstream Surf (based in Rose Bay) for a demo.
Slipstream Surf/Stellar HQ
5 wunulla Rd
Point Piper NSW 2027
PH 61 418 442 515
UPDATE (29 July 2012): Stellar have just released the new Stellar S18S cross-over surfski here in Australia. This is a really interesting design that adds storage hatches (much like sea kayaks have) t0 a more stable surfski – definitely worth checking out if you’re just looking to start with surfskis.