I made a road trip down to Mark Ceconi’s (SurfskiRacing.com) neck of the woods, combining a business trip with a paddling session. While I had planned on paddling both Friday evening and Saturday, I arrived at Mark’s too late to go paddling. However, the evening was far from lost. While I have a garage full of boats and a few more out back, Mark has 3 bays full of boats, bikes, and yes, a motorcycle, a ZX-11 Ninja. I was eyeing the big red Ninja machine…Mark asked me if I wanted take it for a spin. I wondered why Mark asked me this. Did he know I have never driven a motorcycle? I declined, but said, “Let’s go together.” Mark was game. He got me a helmet, donned his leather jacket and gloves. I donned my fleece jacket, and a helping of bravery, anticipating the excitement to come.
I had not been on a motorcycle since my childhood in Mississippi, when Bill and Vickie Wray took me for a ride in rural West Point, Mississippi. Bill and Vickie’s parents, Garland and Beulah, were my parents’ best friends. It was always fun going to their house. Not only did Bill have a motorcycle, they had horses. Whenever I could, I rode the big horse named Trigger. After riding, we would gather around the huge oak tree in their backyard and eat Beulah’s homemade peach ice cream. We had taken turns on the hand-crank ice cream maker. Beulah, with her bee-hive hair and lightning quick Southern wit, was one of my favorites, among my parent’s friends. My dad and Garland, had also served in the Korean War together.
So I knew this ride with Mark would also be fun. I had only two instructions for Mark, “Do Not. Do Not, scare me!” Mark replied, sheepishly, “Okay.”
Off we went along the twisty, narrow, tree-lined roads of Ridgefield, CT. It did not take Mark but one Connecticut minute for him to throttle the gas and we were zooming! I initially, was holding on to Mark’s waist with my right hand, while holding onto the custom made handles with my left hand. Within minutes, I realized that I was going to blow out my left forearm holding on so tightly, so I put both my arms around Mark. Thank God! Because in the next few seconds, I thought I was going to slide off the back seat of the bike. Now I know where the saying ‘hanging on by the seat of your pants,’ comes from! Or better yet, ‘Hold on to Mark’s pants!! Mark had opened it up about half throttle. Doing 90 mph around a turn was better than any Disney World ride I have ever been on. The speed was SICK!! It got even better, though. Mark got behind a car, waiting for the opportune time to pounce as soon as the line dotted yellow. He knew he only needed about 25 yards; I knew I needed to tap out right now! In 2 seconds it happened! Jaw dropping acceleration: 40mph to 100mph in a Mississippi second! The speedometer was in full view. We passed that car literally like it was standing still. I was in awe!! My next thought however, was, ‘Mark better not wreck because all will end right now.’ So much for not scaring me! I should have tapped out earlier! Now I completely understand why my father said after my rides with Bill Wray, “You will never be getting a motorcycle, so don’t ask me again.” I was 12. I never asked him again! ‘Father Knows Best,’ and now, so do I!
The following day, unlike the steep curves of Ridgefield, Cos Cob Harbor and Long Island Sound were mirror flat. Nevertheless, it was very exciting to visit the Greenwich Water Club with all the rowing shells, Concept 2s, boats, and yes, a few surfskis! Mark, Steve Del Gaudio, and I, launched from the dock on a warm sunny day-Mark in his new SE-L Ultra, Steve in his brand spanking new carbon Swordfish, and me in one of my demo Excel SE-Ls. On our way out to Captain’s Island, one of the Greenwich Islands, I asked them if they wanted to pick up the pace. Steve smiled incredulously, and stated, “I thought we were already at pace.”
After a few of these pick ups, we spotted in the distance some other paddlers, a trio of sea kayakers. Both parties paddled toward each other, and we chatted a bit. Turned out one of the sea kayakers had just bought a surfski. Great, I thought, another paddler joins the ranks. They had a few questions about skis and particularly, about remounting, so Steve aptly dismounted, then remounted, showing them how a veteran does it! I added my 2 cents, Mark added his 1 cent, and off we went around the island.
Once we came around the island, Steve asked me, did I wanted to try the Swordfish? How could I resist? Yes, yes, I would love to try it. We swapped boats-me in the Swordfish and Steve in the SE-L. Before the paddle, back at the water club, when Steve’s boat was still on the rack inside the boat house, you couldn’t help but notice the nice lines and low volume of the ski. I picked it up and it felt like around the stated weight of 25/26lbs. Years ago I owned 3 XTs, and 2 Mako 6s. When I plopped down in the bucket, that old Fenn feeling came rushing back. You sit ‘down’ in the bucket in the Swordfish like the Mako 6 and Elite, giving you a secure feeling. The hump is lower than my 6’s, which was particularly nice for shorter paddlers (29.5 inch inseam) like myself, since my calves would bottom out in the 6. Over the years, I’ve concluded that slight contact with your calves can actually provide another contact point along with your hips and your feet. I fit perfectly in the bucket with no padding needed. I have 39.5 inch hips, and can fit into any ski, even the narrowest. The Swordfish tapers significantly from the cockpit through to the footwell. The wonderful thing about this is that the catch is very narrow. This taper also benefits the paddling position with the feet and knees close together, creating a nice, ergonomic paddling position.
Within a few strokes, I was really enjoying the Swordfish. One behavior that was noticeable was that it had no primary twitch. Today, as you can see from the pictures, it was very flat. ‘Perfect!’ I thought, since I could get a true sense of its speed. On the way out to the island, almost 5 miles, we did some short quarter mile pickups, where I would be 1-3 boat lengths ahead of Steve and Mark in my SEL excel at about a 78% Heart Rate. On the way back in the we also launched a few intervals. Steve now in the SEL was even with me and Mark was about 1/2 boat length back. I was now at 87% heart rate, working very hard in the Swordfish to keep pace with Steve. The Swordfish has been out on the market for a while and many paddlers, from elite to novice, have put many miles on it and written about their experiences. Today’s paddle was no different from many of the other comments in regard to speed and stability. The Swordfish, from all I’ve read, was designed to be an intermediate surf ski to bridge the gap between the Mako XT and the Mako high performance surf skis. I have been asked numerous times to review this boat, from paddlers all over the world. The benefit of these countless emails is that paddlers share their experiences with me; I get to learn from them as well.
While I enjoyed the intervals, the best was yet to come. A big charter fishing boat was angling away from us, about a quarter mile across the Sound. If we weren’t holding paddle shafts, we’d be rubbing our hands together in gleeful anticipation. We instantly turned to intersect with it, but to our disappointment, the captain was throttling down the closer he got to us, respectfully (and mistakenly, I might add) thinking he was doing us a favor. I let go of my paddle and waved in a circular motion to the pilot to rev it up, throttle up, letting him know WE WANT THAT WAKE! We are no slouches here! He complied! I imagined him grinning ear to ear. We swung quickly around and soon were enjoying some beautiful glassy 3-4 foot rollers! Perfect! I was whooping and hollering, flying down the steep troughs of these waves. We vectored at another angle to catch another wave train, and I clocked the fastest speed ever, at 13.3 mph. What a ride!! I stayed on one wave for almost a full 50 seconds!! (Below is my Garmin link and a snapshot of the summary page of the 2nd leg of the 11 mile paddle.) In summary, I really enjoyed paddling the Swordfish, and want to thank Steve for letting me have a go.
I had two fast rides in two days: Swordfish and Ninja.