Stellar SEA Review --- Ian Black


A little over a year ago I joined the Stellar Kayaks racing team. I received an SEL in the Excel layup just less than a month before the 2017 Durban Downwind, the first and last big race for the year before I was to leave for North America to race the Canadian Surfski Champs and Gorge Downwind Champs in Hood River.

My first paddle was a 22km reverse Buffels Run from Fish Hoek in less than average downwind conditions. I was immediately impressed with the performance and characteristics of the SEL. I fell ill at the Durban race but went on to get 7th and 9th in Canada and the Gorge respectively, both satisfactory results. I met Dave Thomas and Ben Lawry of Stellar Kayaks USA in Hood River. Dave is a fairly quiet guy, evidently passionate about paddling and boats in general and has been nothing but supportive to me since I joined the team.

After a week of paddling the course in Hood River, both Ben and Dave pushed me to try out the SES, the slightly shorter and smaller Surfski produced by Stellar. Interestingly, up until that point, a lot of what I was hearing about the Stellar range (from the paddling community) was that the SEL was considered to be more of an intermediate level boat and the SES the racing snake. I found the SES to be narrower in the cockpit and up front, however not so much that I would consider it too small for me, as was suggested by some.

At the end of the week Dave, Ben and I got into fairly lengthy discussions around the possibility of a new boat. These conversations were exciting and provoking and I was optimistic about the possibility of a new boat becoming a reality. I'm not sure whether he had run it past Dave at the time, but Ben had already named the weapon the SEA. Stellar Elite Assassin.

The Sea

The Sea

The racing snake was to take a back seat to another new development for a few months, but I distinctly remember a phone call in December 2017, when things were going to get moving. We discussed the characteristics of the SEL which I had become fond of as well as the possible areas of improvement. It was at this stage too that I was absolutely confident in clearing the SEL from the "intermediate " class of Surfski having broken my Personal Best for the Miller’s Run 3 times in 2 weeks, as well as some good results in local races. There were a few drawings passed around over the coming weeks, but to summarize the brief, there were a few critical aspects that were to be addressed:

Water Line. The Stellar range have all got a distinctive upswept bow. Great for downwind conditions, this is often considered wasteful in flatter conditions. The SEA boasts a squarer bow-end with less rocker than the SES and SEL, without losing any functional waterline. It seems to be just as comfortable in the rough stuff as the SEL and holds a great line in the flat. Into the wind it slices nicely into the chop without any slapping.


Narrow bow. The SEA, particularly at first glance, is noticeably narrower than the SEL. it has been slimmed down to just a few inches wider than the footbrace, retaining the signatory pitched foredeck (only more rounded in the SEA) which is great for shedding water in downwind conditions.

Updated cockpit. This is where anyone who is self-conscious of their waist line would immediately become apprehensive. The foredeck transitions into a substantially higher-walled cockpit which in turn transitions into a rounded-out, slightly higher seat. The higher walls are a massive improvement on both the SES and SEL, and, provide a significantly drier ride. The higher cockpit walls drop down at the widest point of the bucket itself, making sure remounting is still easy. The seat itself is not much narrower than the SEL, but so precise is the engineering here that there is barely half an inch between the inside of the seat and the outside of the hull. My race boat was fitted with a debrito bailer which I operated easily with my heel throughout the race.

Behind the cockpit. The aft-deck boasts the traditional Stellar criss-crossing bungee cords, raised section for strength and neat rudder hatch. Flip the boat over and you'll see another new feature. One of the unmistakably Stellar characteristics is a keel-like hull toward the stern. Not on the SEA. This boat has been "shaved" down from the rudder (which has moved 2 inches toward the bow) to the tip of the stern. This has given it a slightly looser feel in the runs, without sacrificing and directional control. I used two different rudders throughout the week, one being the traditional 8" swept rudder and the other being a trimmed down high-aspect rudder at around 6,5". Both were equally as effective, and I had no problem controlling the boat, which turns significantly better than the SEL.

Paddling this weapon. I am 6ft 2 and 88 kgs (most days), wide-hipped and long-legged. So, I would guess I am on the larger and heavier end of the spectrum, particularly in the racing field. I love the width of the SEL and found the cockpit of the SES a bit low, especially in confused water. The SEA however, keeps the internal width of the SEL and SES but the higher cockpit walls mean that my size 11 feet are well sunken, ensuring a much drier paddle.



On my first paddle, the first thing I noticed was that the seat was different. It isn't anything major, but the slightly more rounded sides and squared off back of the seat was instantly comfortable with no seat pads as I am accustomed to. Great start.

Off the bat, the narrower catch was noticeable and as I dipped down the first little run off Viento I braced for that splash of water on my knees. It never came. The deck profile and raised cockpit walls made sure of that. I weaved my way down the 13km course up the Columbia River, through Swell City of course. I really enjoyed it how manouverable I found the boat when zipping between the short, steep runs.

The primary stability was rock solid, and only at some pretty extreme rolled positions did I begin to identify some instability, but certainly no more nor no sooner than what you'd expect from any other elite-level boat. Compared to the SEL and SES, I would say that it has the primary stability of the SEL and more like the SES when it comes to secondary stability.

I was able to accelerate on call, the narrower bow piercing through the bumps ahead and really throw the boat around to test its predictability and behaviour in the short, steep runs. The pic Dave took of me leaving the water after that run pretty much summed up my feelings and I couldn't wait for the next run. There is no shortage of speed in the SEA. Toward the end of the Viento run there is a patch of water which is a lot flatter than the preceding 12 km. It was there that I was able to get a really good feel for what the SEA is capable of. I did a few short-and-sharp max speed intervals, comfortably getting the boat speed up in under 15 strokes.

I did another run, the following day (Wednesday) which was a lot windier than Tuesday, still, I found no fault in my new toy.

On race day we had what race organizer and all-round good guy Carter Johnson would describe and "chronic " conditions. His pre-race briefing was long, full of detail and left nothing to the imagination. We were blessed with "proper" downwind (as Billy Harker would put it) conditions. The race, the conditions and the boat did not disappoint, my only regret is that I had used a plastic bag- covered seat pad to protect my nought for the 90 min race which had me slipping around a bit in the busier parts of the race. In hindsight, I didn't need the seat pad. Apart from a short stretch where I was in a bad patch of water, I had a great race and couldn't have been happier with the performance of the new boat. The boat was available for the week to be tried out by anyone who was interested, I look forward to hearing more from those who took that opportunity, I'm certain that reports will be nothing but positive.

Author with hammer down

Author with hammer down

All in all, I believe the guys at Stellar have got a winner in the SEA. Chatting to a few guys around race HQ in the week, one local had said that they’re stoked to see that Stellar has produced a “legit ski”. No one is more excited about this than me. Except maybe for Ben, he’s pretty excited too!



Back to the Futura by Ted Burnell


In this era of excellent reviews of all the newest “latest and greatest” surfskis to hit the market, I think it’s time to take a step back, in time.   I recently used the Mr. Fusion unit I had installed on my Ford Explorer (easier to find than a DeLorean) and went back to 1995 and picked up a brand new Futura Carrera.  I would like to share this time travel experience with you here.

My good friend and my OC-2 Chattajack partner Jason Hjelseth recently contacted me about a Futura Carrera he found on the interwebs. It looked to be in perfect condition and the price was less than a new paddle.   My first two skis were Futuras.  My first was a yellow Futura C-4 (Big Bird), and the second was a pastel purple Futura Blade (Barney).  I had moved from these workhorse beasts to a Think Uno Max, Think Ion and Think Evo II.  But I have a weak spot for the old Futura skis.  When I saw the price and condition on this ski I just had to go get it.

This boat was in a retirement community in  Florida, an eleven hour drive from my Tennessee home, but I was going to be in the area visiting family anyway.  Trust me; going into a Florida retirement community was going back in time, they haven’t changed since I visited my grandparents back in the 70s.


This background on this ski was an all too common story found with older skis.  Guy buys it new, never really fits in it, and puts it in a garage thinking he’ll lose weight.   Twenty two years later there’s still a new condition ski sitting in his garage along with every other ski and kayak he’s had in that time.   

We pulled it out in the sun and inspected it.   There was slight corrosion on the stainless rudder cables and slightly pitted aluminum pedals.  The hull is perfect.  Not a scratch.  Nada.  The top deck is nearly perfect except a couple of minor nicks in the seat area repaired with little dots of epoxy.  So this like new boat is on my car and heads out of the trailer park and into 2017, an era where skis are shaped like torpedoes and feel like they are made of egg shell.

Loading this boat on and off the car is an undertaking.   This ski is a glass layup, and the owner stated that it’s 39 pounds.   If it is 39 pounds, then a moose only weighs 39 pounds.   If you have a boat like this and there is no one helping load it in the V-rack, you’ll really be happy about the powerlifting you’ve been doing in the off season.

The Carrera was an intermediate boat, at 20 inches wide and ~19 feet long; similar to the current Epic V8 Pro®.  Like all Futuras that I have ever encountered, it has a kick up rudder.  This particular specimen has NO outfitting which adds to its fresh, out-of-the box feel.  No deck bungees, no hatches, no glued-in seat padding.   Curiously, it has no drain plug.  Like my previous Futuras, it does have a small breather hole drilled at the very bow in the deck.    Since this is the wettest area of the ski, I always found that placement rather curious.   I will be plugging it and adding a breather higher on the foredeck.  

I managed to get the ski out in flat conditions on Thanksgiving morning for a five mile paddle.  This was a bit of advance penance for the wanton gluttony that was to follow.  I was on the intercoastal waterway near Sebastian, Florida, but in the early morning it was like glass with no cruisers turning up wakes.

Spending most of my time in a 17.5” wide Think Ion, I really expected the paddling ergonomics of this wider boat to feel like I was paddling a plastic sit-on-top.  However, I was immediately surprised that the stroke felt extremely natural and that this ski had shockingly good glide.   The ergonomics were  a bit weird.  There was  a much lower hump level than my old Futura Blade made for better leg drive, but the very tight individual footwells really squeezed my calves.  Not painfully, but it was noticeable.  This mostly will be resolved with better footplate adjustment.   The primary stability on this boat was astonishing.   It felt like I was on an  outrigger it was so stable.   I could barely rock it side-to-side on purpose.   I’ve been in 24” kayaks that felt twitchy compared to this thing.   Secondary stability?  I couldn’t dream up a way to test it in flat water.  It was that stable.  

Eventually, a loaded small fishing boat cruised by at about 6 mph and I jumped onto his side wake to see how it felt.   I couldn’t even feel his wave, no impact on stability, no impact on steering.    I did manage to get some more speed on that wake and kept pace with the boat for about 2 miles.   I jumped across the prop wash, still no movement in the boat.   It was unflappable.  I really would like to get it in some rougher conditions soon and see how it feels.

This ski doesn’t feel like a modern ski at all.  It’s like someone took an 18’ unlimited paddleboard, put a low bucket molded into the deck, and you paddle it seated with a double blade.  It feels very “flat” whereas newer skis having you sitting higher and more “in” the ski rather than on top of it.   When you sprint in this boat, it goes up on plane.  Of course, sprinting in this boat is a good way to get a hernia with its weight.    The hull is very V-shaped, unlike the more rounded or chined hulls of modern skis.  

The rudder is an overhung, aluminum rudder steered with humongous aluminum pedals which are connected by ¼ inch thick stainless steel cables.   If you aren’t using these cables to steer, you could use them to lift an engine out of car or pull stumps out with a tractor.    The only repair I had to do the ski was to replace the bungees that keep tension on the pedals and rudder.  The originals were dry-rotted completely through.  

One thing that most modern ski owners will find interesting in this boat is the lack of any kind of bailer.  I imagine the thoughts at the time were that skis were meant to be awash.  The footwells and bucket are relatively low volume, and I found these don’t paddle much differently full of water.  Also, you can pump out some of the foot well water by repeatedly slamming your feet back and forth.   We’ll chalk up the introduction of bailers as a good change for sure.

So why own an old ski like this?  This particular ski is very stable and easy to paddle, so it’s a great ski to introduce friends to the sport.  It’s also a great cold weather training ski where swimming is a bad option regardless of thermal protection.  These old skis are also incredibly easy to remount due to their shallow buckets.  Also, thanks to its overhung rudder, heavy construction, and extremely low price point it makes a great shallow river boat.   That’s a big consideration for us inland paddlers .   And for me, I like the nostalgia of owning a pristine Futura.

So, much like the antique car hunters looking for barn finds, get out there and find an old ski, canoe, or kayak and rescue it.  It’s fun traipsing around in the past.  Just don’t forget to get your DeLorean up to 88 mph to go back to the Futura!

Review: Pyranha Octane/Think Nitro ----Chris Hipgrave

With manufacturers turning their attention to introducing polyethylene surfskis and lowering the financial entry barrier for the sport, this is an exciting time for the growth and popularity of surfski. Doing so will open the door to surfski performance for paddlers everywhere, leading to, what I suspect may be a rapid increase in those using these versatile and fun craft.

Although polyethylene surfskis have been available elsewhere in the world for some time, they have had limited distribution here in North America … until now. In short order we have seen Epic Kayaks debut their polyethylene V7 and V5 surfskis and now Pyranha has partnered with Think to launch the Pyranha Octane / Think Nitro.

The first thing you notice about the Octane is its good proportions and pleasing appearance. It’s a good-looking boat that has not been softened too much from its Think composite stable mates. At less than 21 inches wide, it’s somewhat narrower than its competition and a little longer too, resulting in a striking presence. Unique to this ski, is its ability to add the P&H kayak sail system for even more versatility. The Octane is also well equipped with an easily accessible day hatch; water bottle holder; comfortable and easily adjustable footboard; a quick deployable and fast acting bailer; great carry handles; ample cut-aways for an aggressive catch; full size stern Kajaksport hatch and the ability to easily jump from an under stern rudder to a kick up rudder for shallow water use. All these features not only make the Octane versatile but also extremely practical for a wide variety of situations and environments.

But it’s on the water where the Octane really stands out. Once seated, I found the bucket to be extremely comfortable with legroom sufficient for someone up to about 6’6” and not excessively wide that I would be bouncing around when in the rough. Although the bucket is deep, remounts were a piece of cake. The good-sized footplate is padded, easily adjustable and extremely comfortable, although there was some unnecessary flex on really hard efforts. The Debrito bailer opened and closed easily with a little kick of the heel and a fully flooded boat drained moderately quickly at cruising speeds. While paddling, the bucket provided the support I was looking for without being over bearing, which allowed for good rotation and leg drive. The cutaways at the catch area were perfectly positioned too. The bottom-line is that the Octane never encumbered my ability to paddle well.

Under power, the Octane immediately felt familiar to me. Upon examination, it looks although there are some strong influences from the best selling P&H Hammer, which is a boat I have spent a great deal of time in. The mid-section beneath you features a flat-ish hull with defined rails running from near your feet back to almost the tip of the stern, while moving forwards, the hull radiuses nicely. The Octane is easy to paddle and glides surprisingly nicely up to moderate speeds but as you’d expect from a plastic boat of this type, it does hit a wall hard where additional speed is hard to find, (all be it at speeds most users of this boat will never hit.) After all is said and done, the Octane is a boat that will keep you efficiently zipping around at surprisingly good speeds, all day long and in comfort.

Once in the bumps and rough water, the Octane continues to show its prowess as a great platform for those exploring this element. The ample volume and stability kept the boat moving and dry thru confused water, allowing the bailer to do its work. Jumping onto some bumps, the 7” under stern rudder was perfectly in tune with the boat on low speed surfs and the boat responded instantly in part also thanks to its rocker profile. On technical surfs, the weight of the boat ultimately stopped me from pushing the boat into some situations but once again, these are situations that the likely buyer of this boat is unlikely to encounter. Although I have yet to be able to paddle the Octane on some whitewater with the optional kick up rudder, I think this boat would be a hoot to play with in this environment.

So putting everything together, I can honestly say that the Octane is a fantastic platform. The collaborative effort between the teams at Pyranha and Think have created a winner that has not been detuned from its composite siblings to the point of numbness while still offering a fun and inviting platform. I would add an Octane to my quiver for friends to use as an introductory platform and for me to try taking a surfski into environments I would otherwise not be willing to take my composite boat into. These new polyethylene skis truly do offer all the fun and versatility that their composite stable mates do but at a fraction of the price. This is an exciting time for the sport.

Length: 17’ 8”
Width: 20.9”
Weight: 51 lbs.
Optimal Weight Range: 130-253lbs
Construction: Pyranha Corelite polyethylene
Price: $1495

A good balance between sporty and stability
Great turning
Easy remounts
Deep comfortable bucket
Surprisingly efficient
Did I mention, fun!

Some flex in the footplate on hard efforts
Tiny carrying handles fine for tying the boat down but uncomfortable for carrying

Read More From Chris Hipgrave at:


It may not be totally new, so perhaps it’s best to say that the 2016 Uno Max is the updated or modified version of Think’s preeminent race surfski. No matter what you call it, the Uno Max is a High Performance Ski that checks all the boxes for the category. At a published weight of 24 pounds (for the Ultimate) it’s light, and when weighed, the ski actually weighs in at just a hair over 23 pounds. It’s fast; after two weeks on the water my best 10k time trial has been redefined and in general it seems that the Uno Max is giving me a consistent .5 -1km/hour increase in speed with no appreciable addition of effort. Of course, as a HPS it has the stability that makes your core cry for relief and increases the frequency of those refreshing little swim sessions that we all love to hate.

So there you have it. A high performance ski that has all the qualities that you expect and isn’t lacking anything. Short and sweet right? Well, let me be honest, as a beginner or immediate paddler, at best, considering the purchase of a ski like the Uno Max left me asking the singular question of; why? Sean Rice, Kenny Rice, Jesse Lishchuk, Teneale Hatton, and Mackenzie Haynard are all world class paddlers and can push the Uno Max to its full effect. But what does this ski offer for the less gifted or more challenged paddler?

If you’ve ever done a clinic with Jesse Lishchuk than you’ll probably remember his focus on feeling the paddle and feeling what’s happening with the ski. This concept resonated with me and has become a big part of my paddling. So going to the Uno Max was less about speed and performance and more focused on increasing the feel or sensitivity of the surfski. Don’t get me wrong though, the speed and performance aspects are nice too.

Simply put, the Uno Max is exceeding my expectations. The ski is allowing me to feel and experience aspects of paddling that until now have seemed just out of reach. For instance, the speed is there, you feel it the moment you get in the ski. In fact, this is the first ski that has allowed me to feel the sensation of the boat lifting with each stroke. While this may not seem like a big deal, it’s a level of feedback that has significant implications on paddling technique and ultimately, speed. 

The other standout feature of the Uno Max is acceleration. When the paddle catches, the ski moves and the initial response is immediate, without hesitation. Without a doubt, the weight of the boat is a factor but the position and fit of the bucket contribute as well. The bucket feels just slightly forward and the fit is snug with no pads. Like a good pair of running shoes, every brand has a unique fit and for me, at 6 feet and 185 pounds, the Uno Max is a great fit with no modifications needed. 

The word that keeps coming to mind when thinking about how the Uno Max handles is “scalpel”. The ski is precise and responsive to every input. When you steer it points, when you lean it tracks, and it answers to whatever you give it from the paddle. Most importantly, you feel everything. Where this really shines is when catching runs. My first time out with the Uno Max made me feel like I blithering idiot. It seemed impossible to get on the runs and to be honest, it frustrated me immensely. Luckily, the second day out in the bumps turned into a fantastic experience. 

What took me some time to figure out was that, given the acceleration, the responsiveness, and immediate reaction of the Uno Max, all my inputs needed to be dramatically scaled back. Once this clicked, it was astonishing, how easy it was to get on waves and place the ski where ever it needed to be. From my perspective, this is one of the best features of the Uno Max. However, what’s clear is that this is not so much a singular feature, as it is the outcome of all the features of this ski working in concert.

The Uno Max is a ski that will push you to grow and develop and at the same time, offer up greater sensitivity and feel for the ocean. In terms of quality, Think continues to deliver a product that is reliable and demonstrates a commitment to detail. Like any new ski, it pays to take the time to check every screw and give the ski a thorough “once-over” before taking it out for the first time. With no surprises in this area the Uno Max is proving to be a great surfski, even for we paddling mortals. 

One final note: It would be remiss of me not to give a big thanks to Mark and Mark at Elite Ocean Sports for their patience and help. Likewise, Mike Canfield of Ocean Paddling Company delivered the ski to my doorstep which was both unexpected and greatly appreciated. Like most paddlers I’m paying for all my equipment and have no sponsorships so the service, responsiveness, and commitment to product are aspects that I appreciate and will keep me coming back. Thanks guys."