Innovators do not work within conventional boundaries, they develop new ideas and bring them to fruition, often changing the entire landscape they are working within. It’s been over a decade since Epic Kayaks released their original V10 surfski, an ocean-racing kayak that did more than define the Epic brand. It redefined the sport of surfski and set a new standard of design and production that fueled growth of the sport worldwide.
The Epic V10 showed that surfskis could be accessible and user-friendly; it drew in kayakers who were once turned off by surfski instability and limited availability. Greg Barton’s ability to look forward and see what paddlers needed in order to paddle surfskis more comfortably and efficiently catapulted Epic to the leading edge of the market.
The impact of their new boat on the surfski market was immediate, and true to his innovative nature, Greg used the success of the original V10 as a springboard for new models in the Epic surfski line, continuously exploring new shapes and outfitting to find the right fit for all ability levels. Within eight years of the V10 release, the range had expanded from entry-level to elite, with refined construction and outfitting that continues to be the driving force for other manufacturers entering the market.
It might have been easy for Greg to step back and enjoy what Epic had created for a little while – but that is simply not in his nature. Greg is incredibly driven to refine his products and develop new ways of looking at the sport. He always pushes forward and uses everything he has learned, and continues to learn, to advance his brand and keep it on the cutting edge. In 2013 Epic proved this when they released a new generation of their surfski line, familiar in namesake, yet incredibly fresh in design and outfitting.
The buzz generated by the refreshed V-Series designs was reminiscent of the original V10 release, and rightfully so. Paddlers around the world were amazed that the Epic surfski line they were so familiar with was now even faster, more stable, and more comfortable, with improved outfitting. The surfski landscape was once again changed for the better….
The Epic V-Series, Revisited
The flagship of the Epic V-Series line of surfskis, the original V10, touched off a new era surfski design and manufacturing around the world. When did you first start talking about an Epic surfski design, and could you have imagined the impact it would have?
Greg: We first discussed doing a surf ski in 2003 (we were already doing sea kayaks at the time), and then started pushing forward at a more aggressive pace to bring a design to fruition in 2004. As the design progressed, we were confident that the design features we envisioned (single footwell, adjustable footbrace with self adjusting lines, good combination of speed/stability/handling) would be readily accepted. It did not surprise us that the V10 set the standard for years to come with many features being borrowed by the other ski manufacturers.
In the years after the V10’s release, the V-Series grew to a wide spectrum of models, from entry level to elite. Did you originally anticipate such an expansive range of Epic surfskis, or did you find yourself designing new models in response to a growing market?
Greg: At first we were looking at just a fast racing ski, as that was the niche of most other skis in the market. When customers remarked how they liked the somewhat forgiving stability of the original V10, we knew there would be a market for an even more stable boat, the V10 Sport. The V8 was entering new territory. I was unsure about it at first, but the V8 turned out to be a groundbreaking model – a fast boat that could be easily paddled by most beginners, an easy crossover boat for sea kayakers and an excellent fitness boat.
When you look at the original line of Epic surfkis, which model do you think had the greatest impact on Epic’s position in the surfski marketplace? The V10 was the original, but the V8 was incredibly inclusive.
Greg: While both models made a big impact – I’d have to go with the V10. The V10 had so many revolutionary features that have since become standard in most skis. However, the V8 did really open up the surf ski market – making it more mainstream and suitable for a much wider range of participants.
The newest generation of the V-Series, featuring enhanced designs and outfitting, injected new life into an Epic brand already known for cutting edge designs and trend setting products. When did you start thinking about implementing these fresh changes to the Epic surfski line?
Greg: The design changes started with the original V12 in 2008. The V12 included radical cutaways at the paddle catch and a re-designed seat to give more comfort and better ergonomics. We made the change from an always-open Venturi system to the Anderson bailer. The bailer can be closed and prevents backflow – allowing paddlers in northern climates to avoid lapful of cold water on the first stoke. It’s also faster in flat water since there are no protrusions disrupting water flow around the hull when it is closed. We added even more enhancements in later models, including our own bailer design which drains significantly faster and allow multiple positions to balance the amount of bailing required with induced drag.
You have always said the original V10 was dialed back in speed as to not compromise reasonable stability. Was this still a primary focus when revisiting the designs? If the boats are more stable, were you still able to make the hulls faster?
Greg: Stability was a certainly a consideration in the designs of our new series. We’ve noticed that the technique of many paddlers (even those who do not feel unstable or in eminent danger of capsizing) suffers as they subconsciously reduce their body rotation or commitment to the catch. The speed gains were a result of our decades of experience paddling and designing kayaks. We went through countless iterations, making tweaks here and there to arrive at what we felt was the optimal balance of speed and stability for the intended target customers for each model. For those for whom stability is truly not a concern and want the fastest ski possible, we introduced our V14, which is our least stable (but fastest) ski ever.
Would you call the changes you made “tweaks” to the originals, or do you consider the new models different enough to be new, ground-up designs? The latest designs are clearly similar in specs to their original namesakes, but are these new boats?
Greg: Even though they share the same names (V10, V10 Sport, V10L, etc.), the new V series are completely new designs. We started with a blank slate and designed the new series from the ground up. The only one drawing from the previous version is the V8. We tweaked the hull, then modified the back deck, handles and added our new bailer for the current generation.
What is your favorite design change found in the new models? Which boat do you currently use for the bulk of your training and racing?
Greg: It’s hard to pinpoint one change that is my favorite. I believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I enjoy the faster speeds, but would not be satisfied without the improved ergonomics. I paddle the V14 most often. After decades of paddling tippy ICF K-1’s, it’s the perfect boat for me in the Northwest where we get a variety of conditions. Extremely fast on flat water, but able to handle the rough stuff when conditions pick up. I use the weedless rudder with the guard, but then switch out with the surf rudder when I get into really big conditions.
Do you think you’ll be able to design a surfski faster than the V14 that still maintains some semblance of stability for ocean paddlers?
Greg: It would be splitting hairs to make a ski much faster than the V14 – a huge loss of stability for an imperceptible increase in speed. That being said, you can never say never. Perhaps with a few more years experience and new ideas that nobody’s even thought of yet, it would be possible to make an improvement.
The new V10 has been exceptionally popular, due in large part to its terrific stability for a hull that flirts with elite specs. This new blend of speed and stability has paddler’s wondering: is it elite or intermediate? Some now call this style “advanced intermediate”. How would you categorize the new V10 in this context?
Greg: I’d classify the new V10 as an advanced ski – it can hang with the best of them speedwise. People who want an advanced intermediate ski should look at our new V10 Sport. I feel this is the most underrated ski in our line. Some paddlers dismiss it thinking it is below their ability level. But if they gave it a chance they’d find it’s very fast and great in a variety of conditions. It’s a really fun boat to paddle!
We’ll continue to introduce new or upgraded models as we see opportunities to fill a niche that our customers are looking for. We always have multiple R&D projects in the pipeline. Some of them never make it to the marketplace. Some will get shelved for a year or more after initial tests, until we are able to find a better way to accomplish our goal. But we are always looking for ways to improve our products, and the paddling experience for our customers.
by Chris Laughlin