Since 2003 when I began paddling surfskis, I have reviewed more surfskis than anyone else in the world making those reviews public via this website. Like most things in life, I did not intentionally set out to buy so many surfskis. I simply started out trying to find the perfect surfski(s) to match my skill level and racing appetite as I progressed on the surf ski learning continuum. Now there are many excellent skis in every category: novice, intermediate, intermediate/advanced and advanced. This obviously includes the Stellar surf skis which I have paddled more than any other brand.
It is going to be an exciting year for Stellar with the new updated model launches of the SR, SES, and the launch of the Apex Trainer. I like excitement and there is nothing more exciting than reviewing boats and being part of a surf ski company. As of January 2015, I am the new Performance Director for Stellar, USA. In 2009, for those who are new to the site, I was part of a successful launch and promotion of Stellar Surfskis up to 2013 when I took a year off from Stellar. Stellar is only six years old with over twenty models of kayaks and surf skis and has a reputation for excellent build quality, light weight boats with an excellent hulls that produce both speed and stability. Below are my thoughts on the redesigned SR in which I have logged over 50 miles in all types of New England conditions.
SR Redesigned and Improved
If you watched the New England Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl, then you could not help but see the Chevy Colorado truck ads. I actually drove the new truck a month ago. It is a total departure from the old Colorado, much like the new SR. The newly designed SR paddles like a totally different ski from its predecessor. The fit and speed are greatly improved while the initial stability is reduced. The secondary stability remains predictably wonderful though less than the previous model. Even with marginally less stability, it remains best in class(stability) within the intermediate class. Though I need to do some more time trials, I predict this boat will have one of the best combinations of stability/speed on the market once I assign a value and add this boat to the Surfski Comparison Chart. In my April 2011 review of the SR, it was the most stable intermediate ski by a large margin but also the slowest. It is the shortest ski within the class that includes the Stellar SEI, Evo II, V10 Sport, S1R and the Swordfish. http://www.surfskiracing.org/2011/04/stellar-sr-surfski-review/
Stellar SR: 19’2″ by 18.9″
Huki S1R: 19’11” by 18.5″
Epic V10S: 20’0″ by 18.9″
Stellar SEI 20’0′ by 18.1″
Swordfish 20’0″ by 18.0″
Evo II: 20′6″ by 18.5″
The previous model was enjoyed by many paddlers, but it found quite a following among: (1)the larger paddlers who wanted a step up in performance from the novice class of skis and (2) novice paddlers wanting the most stable intermediate ski. With the oversized square cockpit, the SR had the largest bucket of any ski on the market. I had to pad it out significantly to fit me. My experience like many others, was that we wanted more flat water speed, a better shaped bucket, reduced catch and less volume in the footwell. The new SR addresses these concerns and more. Below are the changes to this new and dramatically improved SR.
2015 SR Improvements
1: Composite bow & stern handles(New)
2: Higher volume bow deck(New)
3: Bow deck extended for more protection(New)
4: Much lower volume footwell(New)
5: Twin Venturis for quick draining(New)
6: Water bottle holder(New)
7: Seat moved 8cm(3 inches) forward for better trim which adds speed on flatwater and for catching ocean bumps.(New)
8: Rounded seat back for better rotation and comfort.(New)
9: Greatly reduced catch & lower joint line(New)
10: Hull lines optimized to reduce drag(New)
Cockpit and Fit
With the changes above, the new SR is transformative. The new bucket has no relationship to the previous one. It is smaller, rounded with a place in the back of the seat pan for your butt. My butt fits securely within the indentation while allowing my hips to rotate. So under full power, rotation now feels intuitive, fluid and secure. With a more ergonomic seat pan, paddlers will be able to apply more power throughout the stroke. With a smaller bucket, I did not need any padding(in winter gear) in the hip area or the calf area due to greatly tapered footwell. Stellar has always had low humps that never impede leg drive.
This taper and increased gunwale width allows another contact point with the ski for better leg drive and stability. The footwell area that was once very open, has been greatly reduced leading to less water entering the ski and a very nice, narrow catch. The foredeck is now peaked to allow better water shedding capabilities. The cockpit was also moved three inches forward and dramatically changes how the SR paddles. Where the old SR felt spacious, the new SR feels right sized in every way.
While I found the 2014 SR to drain the best of the Stellar skis, possibly due to my weight, the addition of two venturis clears the water very effectively even with strong head winds against a strong current. The water bottle holder was suspect at first, but then I found I used it for training paddles when there is time to pause for a drink without the hassle of attaching my hydropack. I will also use it as a spare 20 ounces for my longer races when occasionally I misgauge how much fluid I need. Like all Stellars, the built-in leash attachment has long been a safety feature. Stellar also uses cam locks to secure the three point footplate that makes micro adjusting very easy. In comparison to the SEI, the SR now has a smaller bucket than the SEI with more taper in the calf area and footwell. Fit is subjective, but most paddlers I predict, will appreciate the updated bucket, vastly improved narrow catch and less volume in the footwell.
While the hull remains the same, moving the seat forward increased the speed significantly. The new SR now has excellent glide and is noticeable in flat water or the ocean. If you have paddled many different skis, some will catch your attention on the first few strokes. For a ski of these dimensions, the glide is wonderful. I know some skis can have good speed but you must maintain the power at all times to maximize the speed. You will notice three things when a surf ski has excellent glide: (1) there is no perceivable loss of speed between strokes, (2) you feel the more power you apply the faster you can go(not too much resistance as you increase your power output), and (3) you notice you have become a more efficient paddler. I did not expect the glide to be this significant on the SR and it was a very pleasant surprise . This glide(speed) moves the SR from the bottom of the intermediate class in terms of speed into the upper range. My flat water time trials and ocean paddles demonstrate this. In the spring time with warmer weather and more time trials, I will be able to tease out where it should be placed on the Surfski Comparison Chart. With the addition of the revamped SR, Stellar now has two intermediate skis (SEI) that fit firmly at the top of this class. The SR being the shortest of the intermediate skis has some other advantages. In the short compact waves we have here in New England, the shorter boats seem to perform better. They fit better in between the waves and are more agile on the waves and in the choppy conditions. The other factor that enhances speed is that Stellar has three nicely shaped rudders for all conditions: 4 inch, 8 inch and 9 inch. All rudders are interchangeable with all models. So a rudder for my SR will fit new SES, etc. Below are a few of my time trials along with my video. Two of my time trials did not sync to Garmin connect which was the first time that ever happened.
McCorrie Point Time Trial, December 24, 2014, 3.28 miles. 30.11 minutes, Average Pace 9.12 minutes/per mile.
McCorrie Point Time Trial, January 4, 2015, 2.0 miles, 18:00 minutes, Average Pace 8:57 minutes/per mile.
Design and Construction
When I first did a walk around of the prototype SE at the Potato Race in November of 2008, I remember thinking that the construction was the best I had ever seen on a surf ski. Construction for all brands has improved but the Stellar construction has been consistently excellent from 2009 to the present. Stellar offers four different layups including the first pre preg unidirectional carbon surfski. The weight of the Excel layup is excellent for training and racing. Producing quality surf skis for the last five years begins with the design team and consistent manufacturing processes. Below are the short bios of the design team that will help you appreciate the design and build quality of Stellar boats.
David Thomas and Ed Hofmeister are Co-Owners of Stellar USA and members of the Stellar Design team. Both have experience with a variety of watercraft, initially specializing in Rowing Shell manufacture and design, while working with several renowned Naval Architects since 2000. Their relationship with the manufacturer of Stellar Kayaks, Flying Eagle, dates back to the spring of 2004, working closely with Klaus Filter, the World famous Naval Architect of WinTech Racing.To this day, they work closely with Klaus on a variety of projects, absorbing much on boat design and theory at the elite and Olympic level.
Ed has a Composites Engineering degree and worked at Carter Copter, prior to joining the boat building business, where he worked on an innovative prop design for a gyrocopter. After Carter Copter, Ed moved to Maine and joined Quantum racing with Dave building advanced rowing shells. Quantum Racing was destined for success with a team comprised of skilled technicians from Composite Engineering in Concord MA, Geotz Boat Yard in Bristol RI, Resolute Racing Shells in Bristol RI and Naval Architect, Graeme King of Putney VT. The rapid rise of Quantum impressed WinTech Racing of Bridgeport, CT. WinTech Racing then brought Ed and Dave to China in 2004 to revamp their complete production line and technology. In 2008, heading up Research and Development, both Ed and Dave, were able to incorporate their knowledge of advanced composites and hull design into the launch of Stellar. Both reside and work at the production facility in China for 30 weeks of the year developing new products and checking on production and Quality Control to keep improving. Stellar is an ISO 9002 certified company with the production lines at WinTech and Stellar. When not in China, they operate/reside in Northfield, Massachusetts as the USA distributors for Stellar Kayaks and Surf Skis. For more information got to the Stellar Link below.
Summary of SR
This 2015 redesign has greatly improved the overall performance of the SR. The cockpit is smaller and more round with a nice taper to the footwell for a better paddling position. Most paddlers will fit in the SR. The very large paddlers, however, will not have the room they enjoyed in the previous model. Larger paddlers may also want to try the SEI. Stellar skis have always been able to fit the shortest and taller paddlers so this remains unchanged. The large volume in the upper footwell is now gone allowing less water to enter the boat and is visually pleasing. While the effecient hull remains the same, moving the cockpit forward, reducing the catch and joint lines have improved the speed by a large margin. The SR remains a wonderfully stable ski in the intermediate class but it is not as stable as the previous model. Its combination of speed and stability moves it up significantly on my Surfski Comparison Chart. The construction remains predictably excellent across all the layups.
As always, try as many skis as you can, get feed back from other competent paddlers you trust, so you can make the best decision based on your specific paddling needs. My next Review, the new 2015 SES and the Apex Trainer.