There’s a revolutionary new surfski hitting the market and it’s generating a LOT of buzz. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to paddle this ski and I have been getting deluged with questions. Those that are brand loyal are asking questions with a hint of derision, while others are asking about it with more than a hint of excitement.
The boat in question is the Vega Surfski by Outrigger Zone (OZ). Part of the excitement is that OZ makes their outrigger hulls using a different process than traditional ski manufacturers. They use inflated bladders, pre-preg carbon fiber, and autoclaves to produce hulls that are extremely lightweight and rigid. This process makes a hull with no seam, with the hull and deck all one continuous piece. When OZ announced that they would be making a ski designed by legendary Outrigger Canoe racer and boat designer Kai Bartlett, there was a lot of excitement and speculation about what final product would emerge. When Kai first built a foam blank prototype and raced in Hawaii against a stacked international field of pros, the excitement built even further— When he placed highly in an elite field with a heavy prototype— the buzz went through the roof.
Demo boats are hitting the dealers, and we were lucky enough in Chattanooga to have a demo day on the first day of spring. Jeff Schnelle of Paddle Dynamics brought his load of OZ canoes and the Vega along with various paddles and Epic skis. Jeff himself hadn’t paddled the Vega since he unwrapped it because his home state waters have been frozen solid, so he was gracious enough to let me have the maiden run in this groundbreaking ski on a beautiful sunny day here in the south.
I had seen photos of the ski, but for some reason, photography could not do the stunning paint job any justice. A white hull, metallic silver deck and red bucket and gorgeous styling gave this boat the looks of a 67’ Corvette! Kai’s styling influence is seen in the front and rear recessed deck bungee locations. I have two Kai Bartlett outrigger canoes and I really like that continuity of his design into this ski. Between the paint and the design, this is simply the most visually stunning surfski I have ever seen. I think the new Revo skis coming soon to the US are eye-catching as well, but it will be more similar to a Lamborghini Countach than the flowing lines of the Vega.
Of immediate interest to me was the bailer. There was a lot of speculation about whether it would be a trap door type (Debrito, Anderson, Epic) or bullet scuppers. Turns out, it’s a plunger actuated drop down bullet bailer. My messing with it on the water was inconclusive, but it seems easy to foot operate opening and closing the bailer. I didn’t mess with it much, as I didn’t want my inattention to result in a swim in 45 degree water, however, I think the concept is innovative, and I’m interested to see how others experience turns out for them.
The footboard used simple tightening cams that were essentially bicycle hub quick releases—It was infinitely adjustable, and very quick to change. The design DOES require tightening or loosening of the rudder lines and tying them off—This only takes seconds however.
But this review is not going to be about technical aspects of the ski, much of which I don’t have at my fingertips. This is about first impressions of paddling this new ski! Immediately I was shocked at the impressive initial stability of this sub 17” wide ski. Once I started playing around in it, I realized the secondary stability was equally impressive. I would rate the stability of this boat somewhere between the Think Evo II and the Think Ion. I use these skis as reference as I’ve owned both and currently own an Ion. This stability is most likely due to the very low bucket position. Not only is the bucket very low, but the bucket is quite narrow. I have wide hips, and I was quite snug. The fit reminded me of my Gen 2 Uno Max. This lower seat position had me working hard not to ding up the sides of the hull with paddle. If I have a chance to paddle this ski again, I’d try to fit it with a small seat pad. Of course, I’d leave the seat pad at home if I had a chance to do a downwind in this ski! My guess is most elite paddlers will pad this seat for better comfort, hip rotation and power.
In the dead flat conditions with a surf rudder and a fair amount of rocker, this ski didn’t glide for days, but made really nice speed. My racing and training partner Jason Hjelseth did numerous hard back to back pushes in this ski and his Nelo 560 and posted nearly identical numbers. The pronounced front rocker of this ski and minimal tail volume make this boat look like a shark aggressively cruising with its head partially out of the water. This rocker up front should really help downwinding, but trades a little speed in the flats.
This lightweight ski is extremely stiff, and feels like my previous Outrigger Zone Storm OC-1. There’s just a feel that these super thin, rigid boats have that differ from the skis with conventional layups. I like it, and I’m sure crossovers from the outrigger world will like it as well. I’m guessing ski only paddlers may find it a bit skittish, but we’ll see. I’m excited to see the reactions from others.
The larger rudder on the demo boat was definitely more suited to the surf than flats. Combined with its rocker the demo boat had slalom kayak turning. Sadly, the test paddle only had glassy smooth flat water so I didn’t get to see how this translated in the waves. I hope someone (I really hope it’s me!) can do a follow up article on how this ski behaves in the rough.
Speaking of rudder, this ski had a very pronounced rudder “thump” during very hard turns. I initially thought I hit a wayward limb during my turn. I was able to recreate it on every hard turn. All of my ruddered craft do this as well but it may this boats rigidity and lightweight that transmits this effect more. I was VERY pleased to figure out I hadn’t hit anything!
Every new ski and make that has hit the market has made the sport better in some way. Every new model and brand has brought innovation, improvements and selection. Increasingly there are skis that fit every body type, size, paddling style, and conditions. The ease and enjoyment of the skis you paddle now are in large part due to the new players changing things up, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’m certain the stunning new Vega will have an impact on future generations of skis, and may certainly be making an impact in race standings.
If the success of Kai Bartlett’s outrigger canoes translates into the surfski world, there is a significant new player in our sport.
About the Author—Ted Burnell AKA “Theo Burn”, is a seasoned paddler and racer with a wide range of experience on a variety of paddle craft including: OC, Canoe, SUP and Surfski and team boats.