Close Encounter with Epic Kayak

In April 2014 my blog-post ‘Epic Kayak – Sea Kayaking’s Apple Computer’, proved to be my most viewed post - and as I look back over the past couple of years of paddling these amazing boats I thought it a good time to revisit Epic.  The comparison with Apple computer is an apt one - Epic is also recognized for being masters of design, innovation and originality.  Unlike Apple Computer, however,  Epic’s products don’t come with a premium price-tag since Epic, like Apple, outsource their manufacturing to China; like Apple, brand loyalty is high – I own 2 Epic kayaks - and it’s not that unusual for some Epic paddlers to own two or more Epic boats.

Over the past two years, I’ve paddled the 16X and the 18X for well over 100 hours each and I’ve come to appreciate their design attributes – the flaws as well as the features I’ve come to like.  As I’ve said before, Epics are highly engineered boats with a smartly designed, fully adjustable and retractable rudder (the Epic Track Master™) that can be used with the forward stroke in a way that beats hands down rudder rigs that I have seen on any other kayak.  I don’t have rudders on my other sea kayaks but I do use the Epic Track Master and I find that it enhances the power of the forward stroke particularly when (and this may not look too elegant) it’s combined with some edge.  The Track Master is super-responsive and just a light touch goes a long way.   

John tries out the Epic 18X

The contoured (nice touch!) seat slides into to several fixed positions and is secured in front with a spring-loaded peg – I’ve found this to be a bit problematic since if any sand gets stuck in the slider which houses the peg, it jams.  There is usually some sand in any water in the bottom of the boat and so I find I’m constantly having to un-jam the slider.  

One of the things I like the most is their perceived lightness on the water.  This is obviously largely due their weight characteristics – they’re about 10lbs lighter than conventional fiber-glass sea kayaks of similar length and width – but the lightness is due to more than that. Hull shape is extreme - these boats are rounded!! - way at the far end of the ‘soft-chine scale’.  I find that for leaning and edging for turns to avoid rocks or to paddle in waves or in swell, you’re much more active below deck in these boats than in conventional sea kayaks simply because Epics are so much more responsive and every little movement below deck has a big effect.  The other oft-touted feature which is due to hull shape is their speed - firstly, they are far easier to take from zero to full paddling speed than are conventional sea-kayaks and secondly, once you've reached full paddling speed,  it's easier to maintain it.  The downside is lack of stability.  I’ve found that in a heavy chop, such as the kind we see in Stonington Harbor on a late summer afternoon, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain balance if you’re not moving.  For that reason, these are kayaks I do not recommend for beginning sea kayakers.  But once a relative beginner or an intermediate paddler feels comfortable in the conditions we see in a P&H or a NDK kayak, then we’ll often switch boats and then I’ve found that the learning curve to paddle fairly well is short – no-one has tipped yet!

I generally feel that for kayak touring along granite shorelines and especially when landing with overnight gear, that Epics are not as tough as are conventional fiber-glass sea kayaks.  They seem to be built more for speed and agility on the water than for hauling in and out on beaches littered with stones and jagged granite outcrops. That’s just a personal opinion of course and others obviously disagree - Freya Hoffmeister encountered extreme conditions while famously circumnavigated Australia in an Epic 18X and who am I to argue with her choice of kayak?  Lastly, aesthetically, these are truly fantastic boats and a joy to paddle – they feel good and they look good.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been stopped by a perfect stranger in a car-park while trailering or by a boater on the water and I hear something like “Hey, looks great…what boat is that, where did you get it?”  So if you haven’t paddled one yet, go for it - you’ll be amazed at what a truly high-performance sea-kayak feels like.