(Disclaimer: I am the Northeast Surfski Rep for Stellar). The best way to decide on any ski is to gather as much information as possible from paddlers, manufacturers, websites, then paddle all the skis you can to form your own opinions based on fit, stability, speed, cost, durability/quality, warranty, availability, customer service and your paddling goals.
This past fall (2010) I paddled only one of the two SR’s in the US at the Kayak Centre in Wickford, Rhode Island. I jumped in it after a few of the employees took it for a spin in the back waters of the Wickford Harbor. I did not know what to expect. Would it be like the other stable skis that I have owned? Would it be more stable, less stable, faster, slower, comfortable, etc? I was pleasantly surprised, as were the Kayak Centre employees. I watched these seasoned kayakers wade out a few feet and jump in the ski, and within minutes feel comfortable. No initial stability twitching, no wobble, no bracing, just get in and paddle. This is quite different from some other skis in this class, especially for paddlers making the transition from sea kayaks to surfskis or for surfskiers who find the high performance skis (HPS) too unstable for them in conditions.
At 19.2 feet by 18.9 this ski is the shortest and widest of the Stellar line. Contrast this to the 20 foot by 16.5 pocket rocket SES. All Stellar models are new designs but share commonalities across the entire line; namely the excellent speed to stability ratio. The SR bucket is designed to fit most paddlers without being too wide and tapers in toward the hip area. The foot plate is the Stellar standard 3 point, ultra secure, no creaking, no rubbing, or no flexing foot plate. This footplate maybe the best in the industry. What is also nice that maybe unique to the Stellar SR, is that the track can be moved a few inches to accommodate really short paddlers or really tall paddlers. So this boat has a wider range of “would be” paddlers. Similar to all Stellar boats, the hump is very low which is an advantage especially for shorter paddlers like myself. This lends itself to better leg drive and better stability since your knees are lower without your calves hitting the hump. I have known a few handy paddlers that have actually modified/lowered their hump in various skis to solve the hump problem. Another built in feature in all Stellar skis is the leash attachment. Stellar boats have a reinforced back deck and the curved area connecting the foot well to the foredeck. This design increases the structural integrity of the boat by not being at a right angles like on so many other skis. The draining is better in this model than in the other models. However, Stellar will be adding bullets that increases the draining time by approximately 30% especially when decelerating. They will also be providing dealers with bullets so they can give to the previous Stellar customers. You also have the option of using the drain plug. I have found that between the plug and the bullets, the excess water is mostly abated except when completely dead in the water without the plug. At training pace, I have found no water in the footwell with or without the bullets. When I noticed too much water in the footwell is when paddling upwind and against the current on a “Big” day. Now with the the bullets, this problem is eliminated.
My usual complaint on the Stellars is the time consuming art of adjusting the rudder lines to get the proper angle on the toe pedals. Self-adjusting rudder lines would be a great addition. Also, as you have noticed on all my boats, I opt for a stiffer single foot strap that does not sag and easily adjusts enough so that I can use my winter paddling boots as well as my summer paddling shoes.
My first impression of the SR was how quick it felt. We don’t normally attribute quickness to the stable class of skis, however, this ski felt like it wanted to be paddled hard. Last week on March 28th, I did my first “official” time trial on my 6.4 mile course and I was surprised how fast I actually was. I averaged 7.11 mph (8.26 pace) on the first leg of 3.19 with the current but on a very flat day. On the return leg against the current I averaged 6.49 mph. I have done this particular course 228 times now in all my skis. Anytime I am in the 8:30 min/mile on any ski, I am having a very good day. One week later, I did 8 miles on the same course in very windy quartering seas, much different from last week in terms of conditions. I clocked an 8:45 pace (6.86mph) on the downwind leg with an average heart rate of 149.
A few weeks ago, Chris paddled the SR with Tim and I. I was in my SES and Tim in his V12. On the downwind section in 2ft seas, despite Chris having the flu that kept him in bed the next day, he was able to catch most of the waves we did. This was also the first time Chris had been in the ocean since October which speaks to the stability of the SR. It also speaks to fact that the SR can accommodate a wide variety of paddlers with ease. Chris is has a 36 inch inseam, and I have a 29.5 inch.
So does the SR Excel have as much speed as the other boats in the “stable class of skis? I think so. The SR certainly has excellent “glide” that contributes to its speed and light feeling. Skis that don’t have good glide dramatically decrease in speed once you are not applying good effort. In the next month I will have a chance to time trial it even more. The caveat to this is that over the years I have gotten faster in any boat I now paddle. So keep that in mind when reading this.
As I mentioned, the stability is rock solid. No initial twitching, and the secondary stability maybe best in class of the skis I have paddled. You have to want to capsize in this boat. You can edge this ski all the way over on the gunwales and still hold the line and keep on paddling. The stability is predictable and dramatically dampens the confused seas. The bow rarely buries and if it does, it sheds water very quickly. Steering is pinpoint. It turns on a dime and tracks very well upwind and in downwind conditions. The new “balanced rudder” is now standard on the skis. This means the rudder post is similar to what is on all the other skis. This rudder increases the responsiveness over the previous rudder. A 4 inch flat water rudder is available as well like on all Stellar models.
Another example of the SR’s stability is what I witnessed last fall. A novice 40 year old, female athlete who primarily paddles an 80lb sea kayak with her partner, demo the SR in the advantage layup at my beach. Within 5 minutes she was experiencing the overall feeling of what it means to be in a surfski (freedom). She was liberated from her 80 lb double sea kayak. The SR provided the stability that even novice kayakers can appreciate without being overwhelmed. Both her and her male counterpart each bought an SR.
The SR is an excellent choice for sea kayakers making the transition to surfskis or persons new to paddling who don’t want to begin with a sea kayak. It also would be appropriate for current surfski paddlers seeking out another option in this class of “stable” skis. It offers rock solid stability with excellent glide contributing to its overall speed. It will fit a wide range of paddlers and as is offered in three layups: Excel(25lbs), Advantage(31lbs), and Sport(33lbs).