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Submitted: 09-05-2012 by red_pepper
Stellar's new S18S, a surf-ski based on the Stellar S18R sea kayak hull, may well be the best of the best of the new breed of surf ski/sea kayak hybrids, and – in my opinion – one of the best sea kayak/touring boats on the market. I say that based on a combination of boat features, and just the plain joy of paddling this boat! Not to mention it's a very sharp looking boat with nice lines...
At 18' long x 21" wide, with a rounded hull, the S18S possesses a great combination of speed and stability. Designed to fit the requirements of the USCA Sea Kayak class, the S18S will run with the fastest sea kayaks on the market, yet the stability will make the boat comfortable to most kayakers. If you can paddle most sea kayaks, you should have no problem paddling this boat. I do have to warn you, however, that you're used to paddling a standard sea kayak, and not a surf ski, the openness of a "sit on top" boat will feel strange at first. Many sea kayakers are used to holding their knees against the top of the cockpit – something you can't do in a surf ski! What you will find, however, is that getting in and out of the S18S is far easier than any normal sea kayak – simply straddle the boat and sit down! Likewise, if you do fall out of the boat for any reason, reentry is as easy as it gets for any boat. Plus, there's no need to pump water out of the cockpit, etc. – simply pull the plug on the venturi bailer, paddle, and any water in the cockpit area is sucked out!
Some of the neat features of the boat include two large hatches to carry lots of gear – a first for the hybrid surf ski/sea kayaks. There's also a water bottle holder in the cockpit, a leash attachment point, handles at each end of the boat, a plug for the bailer (a nice feature when you aren't in rough water and don't want to start with a cockpit full of water), the best footplate/rudder pedal system on the market (a very stout 3-point attachment system and quick-released latches making adjustment easy and rapid), and 3 rudder options: a long under-stern surf rudder for surfing the waves on big water, a shorter weedless rudder for calmer water and shallower /weedy areas, and an over-stern kick-up rudder that can be swapped in quickly for those rivers and such with underwater obstacles.
The layups available in the S18S go from around 36 lbs down to 27 lbs; all are far lighter than most sea kayaks, really easing the load when it comes time to carry the boat or put it on top of your car. In spite of the light weight, the S18S is a very solidly built boat. The various curves and ridges in the deck and the layup of the hulls give the boats an unusual feel of solidity without compromising lightness.
As a surf ski paddler, I find most sea kayaks feel like barges to me. Their full decks generally interfere with a good paddle stroke, and I sort of feel lost inside cockpits. The seating isn't generally all that comfortable to me, either, and tends to inhibit good rotation in the paddle stroke. The S18S, on the other hand, has the sporty feel of a surf ski, but with the super confidence-building stability of a sea kayak – just the thing for tackling windy and wavy water! I found the cockpit to be quite comfortable, and the open surf ski design allows for good paddling ergonomics. This is a boat that's equally at home cruising across flat water or surfing waves on the ocean.
I was immediately impressed by the S18S on my first paddle (I have an Advantage layup boat, spec'd at 35.3 lbs). I thought "wow – this boat really feels good, and it's fun!" The hull speed was surprisingly fast - I can comfortably cruise this boat in the mid-6's, and sprint up to around 8 mph (I took it to the USCA Nationals to race Sea Kayak class, and came in 3rd overall – my best placement at the Nationals to date). The S18S turns well, and you can lean it until water is about to come into the cockpit. The secondary stability is particularly sweet, since there aren't any surprises – just a very smooth, linear feel as you increase the lean on the boat. At a recent lakeside gathering of friends with various paddling abilities, I brought along the S18S for everyone to try, and even those with very little paddling experience found it easy to get comfortable in the 18S and found it to be a lot of fun. The more experienced paddlers had a blast with the boat! Later, 3 paddling friends and I took the S18S out onto one of our larger lakes when the waves were kicking up, and found the boat handled superbly in the chop. Two foot beam waves were no problem - just fun, and heading downwind it picks up the waves to surf with ease.
I normally paddle/race high performance surf skis, and I appreciate the sense of connection you have to a boat that responds rapidly and crisply to your inputs. The S18S has a very similar feel, but in a stable package that opens up the surf ski world to a broad range of paddlers, without compromising the versatility of a sea kayak. A solid "10" in my book!
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