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Submitted: 05-17-2013 by Seadog
I'm not sure if this is exactly a review, but it may be useful information for anyone considering getting a Stellar SEL.
I've been paddling for about three years, mainly for peace of mind and fitness. About six months ago I began thinking it might be good to upgrade my trustworthy and beloved Eddyline Nighthawk sea kayak to a faster boat. I read a lot of online reviews (and rants), and it seemed that Stellar boats had a reputation for stability as well as speed, and therefore might be a good fit for me. At 5'10" and 155 lbs I'm a bit on the light side, and as best as I could tell, an SES might fit me perfectly.
I live in Austin, Texas, and there wasn't a local dealer at that time, but I contacted the regional dealer in nearby Arkansas (yup, Arkansas, who would've thought it). He kindly gave me the number of a friendly paddler about 3 hours drive away in Houston who had an SES. I called him up, and asked if I could try his boat. 'Sure, come on down' he said. So I did. He lived on the water, and when I arrived he pretty much simply gave me the boat and said, here, go paddle. Hmmm. I used my favorite Euro paddle and after some fumbling around set out. I got probably a good 50 feet before I tipped over. Yeah, you're probably laughing now. Hehe. I don't think it was so much the boat's fault as my own inexperience paddling a boat with such minimal primary stability (i.e. tippy). I think I was psych'd out. Let's see... the boat has tipped over a lot, it's going to tip over, and so I probably helped it to do so. Splash.
I remounted with only a minor amount of wobbling and set out again. Yeah, I had seen how to do it on YouTube. Seeing how to do it, and doing it yourself can be two different things. Anyway, I managed it without a lot of difficulty. Away I go. Wobble wobble. Rinse and repeat. 50 feet, boom, over again. What's wrong with this picture? Oh yeah... I never used a rudder before either. As I alternately pushed off with my feet while paddling, I was wobbling the rudder back and forth with my toes. Ok, yeah.. don't hurt yourself if you fall out of your chair laughing. Wiggle waggle wobble wobble ... splash.
I remounted again, and with a great deal of focus managed to paddle back to the starting point. Hmmm. The SES owner now says, here, try my wing paddle. Wing paddle? Umm Ok... I take it and try again. I'm not sure if it was the wing paddle, but I spent the next hour paddling around, constantly fighting the lack of stability, but not tipping over. Every time the boat tipped over a bit, my core would automatically clamp down and I would go into brace stroke mode. Gasp. This was incredibly fatiguing. Although I didn't tip over any more, it was also incredibly exhausting to paddle.
Now what? Should I get an SES? Theoretically it is "right sized" for me, but really exhausting to paddle. Could I eventually become comfortable with it? No way to know. I waited, uncertain. Tick tick tick. 6 months later I discover there is a new Stellar dealer in Austin: Terry Davison. Alright. Eventually I get around to calling him. He says he just got a "pre-owned" barely used SEL, "Want to check it out?" You know I do.
We meet up and go to a nearby river to try it out. He brings his boat and the SEL. He doesn't just turn me loose with the SEL, but helps me get going. I'm using my euro paddle, not a wing. We put the boat in the river, and he holds the stern while I get in and see if I can get my balance. It's not moving, so this can be a bit tricky. I hold my paddle across my body like a tight rope walker's balance bar, wobble around just a bit, but am surprisingly stable. I don't feel at all like I'm about to tip over. Not rock steady, but not on the edge of catastrophe either. After a bit I say, "OK, let me go now." He says, "I let you go about 45 seconds ago." True story. Yeah. OK.
So off I go. While he gets his boat and brings it down to the river, I head out and circle around in a big loop. The water is cold, and I'm thin. I get really cold really easy, and I really really don't want to fall in. I concentrate fiercely as I paddle around in a wide arch, wobbling a lot as I cross the wind and mild chop. I come about and don't fall in. Phew.
I feel like I can't even look around for fear of tipping over and falling in. Brrr. So after doing my 360 I head up river. I suspect Terry has launched and is right behind me. But I can't look around for fear of tipping over. I keep going. Paddle, paddle paddle. Seems like I've been paddling awhile now. I'm about 20 minutes up river. Where is Terry? I finally stop, put my feet in the water on each side of the boat so I don't tip over, and look around. Hmmm, he's nowhere around. I slowly spin the boat around with my feet in the water, then get my feet back in without tipping over, and head back where I came from. Ahh, there he is, coming up along the far shore of the river.
We hook up, and I follow him up and down the river for about another half hour. The key point is... I don't tip over, and I don't fall in. Yes, I'm fiercely concentrating on not falling in the whole time, but in truth, despite a good bit of wobbliness that I'm not accustomed to, I'm quite OK. Not even close to tipping over.
So, yeah, I buy the SEL as well as a Stellar small wing paddle. Now, 3 weeks and about 40 hours later in the boat, it's feeling amazingly comfortable. I still haven't fallen over, although I've paddled on flat water. I now hardly notice the ‘tippiness’ and trust the amazing secondary stability. While coming about in some strong wind chop, I once had waves pouring over the windward gunwale for about 3 or 4 seconds. In my kayak I probably would have panicked. Ok, maybe my heart rate went up a bit, but I trusted the boat, ignored the incoming water, and kept going. The boat did the same.
I'm still only paddling in flatwater, and have a lot of challenges ahead of me, but the stability of the SEL seems amazing. I think that if you are making a transition from a sea kayak, and think the SES might be the right boat for you, you might try an SEL before you pull the trigger. I may outgrow the SEL in awhile and wish for an SES, but the difference in stability between the two seems remarkable to me.
More food for thought:
• I cut up one of my wife's old yoga mats and used it to pad the sides of the bucket. This made a big difference. Key takeaway: pad the bucket for a custom fit.
• I taped the sides of the boat with gorilla tape where my paddle strikes the hull sometimes. This seems to save both the boat and my new wing paddle. I put a piece of plastic under the tape, and rounded the ends to make it more esthetic. I keep adding layers of tape when they get dinged up.
• I'm still trying to figure all this out, trying to learn how to paddle with the wing paddle.
• This afternoon I hit 8.6 mph downwind in an unsustainable speed burst (on flatwater in a still lake). Wow. For me, that's pretty exciting.
Next .. an SES tale. Hehe. Might be about a year away.
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