I knew the Airfusion was my boat the moment I got it on the water. I love its maneuverability, comfort, speed, and style, and when its light weight and affordable price are taken into consideration as well, it seems pretty much unbeatable.
It took some trial and error to get the setup down pat, but now it's easy. I take about 25 minutes, but I hate to rush. Tips: I inflate the back thwart halfway, then adjust it and the center pole to align with the aft keel, then inflate it fully. I insert the front top pole only partway before I begin to inflate the front thwart, so I have room to stick my hand in the zipper. I inflate the thwart halfway and then adjust it and the center pole through the zipper so it's aligned with the fore keel. Then I push the top pole into position and finish inflating the front thwart. Also, I place the front thwart fairly far forward because I think that shifting my weight forward really helps the bow cut through the water.
I have had a few center pole issues, and this is why I scored it a 9/10. I've found that a bit of Jig-a-loo graphite spray in the cuff before assembly helps it slide better and also cleans out sediment that may have crept in. When taking the center pole apart, it helps to place the kayak in a depression on the ground so that the bow and stern are slightly higher than the middle. This way it's easier to shift the pole around to find the "sweet spot" - which is usually down a bit - so you can slide the cuff without wrenching it. However, I have still had enough trouble with this on occasion (maybe 10% of the time) that I plan to add a strap wrench to my kit on another reviewer's suggestion.
I am a small paddler: female, 105 lb, and only 5 ft. Being able to handle my boat out of the water solo is a big issue for me, and the Airfusion is great in this area. I'll never have to chuck it on top of a car, and even fully loaded I can always carry it down to the water by myself. And - bonus - if you are small like me and also put the front thwart far forward, you can fit a tremendous amount of stuff in the cockpit behind you.
My most recent trip with the Airfusion was a 2-day exploration of the Mullica River in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The Mullica is a fast-flowing & winding river, with a fair number of beaver dams and un-sawn blowdowns. Even fully loaded with ~30 lbs of gear, the AF edged like a champ, quickly outpacing my boyfriend's Current Designs Kestrel. He got so frustrated with his boat's inability to turn properly, and there I am, zipping along in a smaller half circle around the bend next to him, fighting not to look smug.
One final word about Advanced Elements: they have awesome customer service. My boat had an incorrectly stitched shell (they said they'd never had this happen before), and turned persistently in one direction. The AE people were very helpful - after troubleshooting didn't have any effect, they sent me a new shell which arrived in 5 days and works perfectly, without even asking me to ship them the old one!First time experience with Advanced Elements (AE) and the Air Fusion (AF). I own the AF now for more than 6 month and I like it.
INTRO (why buying a none-hardshell)
I was looking for a kayak ever since I had an afternoon go in a proper sea kayak in Comox, BC, Canada.
Of course any Canadian would go for a real sea kayak. They have the space and the scenery for it.
But there are people in the world, that 1) can't afford a 2000,- $ plus kayak and 2) have no space at home or transport option.
I was trying to avoid buying a very expensive 'boat' and hardly use it because of the hassle with storing and transportation (I like to take my kayak up in the mountains and have a go on a local lake)
So I was looking for a kayak that could be transported anywhere in a car and could also kayak like a kayak. Needles to say there are a lot of inflatables out there and skin on frame option. Soon enough I realized that Advanced Elements is the only company out there with a real alternative, so far: the AirFusion
When you Google inflatable kayaks and search by images, the AirFusion stands out immediately. So... AE it is.
Hence first time experience AE and so AF.
Now, lets face it: AF is not a hard-shell. The good news: it is not an inflatable dingy either.
Setting up the AF is not difficult. But a perfect result in little time needs practice, for sure! After 6 month and many assemblies and disassemblies I have changed my approach every so much to get to a comfortable setup flow. Read the many tips and tricks online and you will develop your own flow.
I, for example, put all the poles in the kayak at the same time so I only need to access the front and rear zippers once!
The zippers are really just access holes for the poles and such. The front zippers has hardly any use as pole#6 blocks entrance. The back compartment offers a bit of space. Of course the compartments can be stuffed by removing the thwarts. But this is only interesting when touring for real.
The balance of inflation of the AF with all the chambers is a matter of practice and experience. A hand pump with gauge is just about a must. Later on you'll get used to it and can go by feel (or sound of the crackling tubes). I, however, use the gauge all the time.
It is really noticeable when you do it wrong: the kayak looks badly inflated.
Most problems occur due to bad thwart alignment (the two big airbags). You really have to make sure both are at the bottom of the kayak at all four corners and in the right position.
In the beginning I was a little frustrated about the perfect shape and alignment I was aiming for. But eventually you need to let go of a hard-shell result. It won't happen!
And really, you will love it's 'character' for not being perfect. It's like in real life!!
My AF's bow is always slightly wrinkly. But straight none the less.
Setup time can be as short as 15 minutes, but I usually take 20-30 minutes in a relaxed flow. Making sure all is straight and well aligned and properly inflated. A two hour paddle needs less than 3 hour of your time. I think that is wonderful.
The alumin(i)um poles combined with the air chambers give a really sturdy kayak. What a great design! I think someone at AE must have gotten this idea on a camp ground while sitting on his/her air mattress in a tent while it was raining, hoping that the tent wouldn't float away. Just brilliant.
AIRFUSION ON WATER
The AF is agile but stable like any other hard-shell. It's noticeably lower to the water line which is different from a hard-shell. It takes a few times to adjust the seating position but the front thwart is a wonderful foot brace and it's really comfortable and soft, though strong enough to push against it.
The seat however is not the best design.The bottom part needs fixation in order to avoid it moving forward. When the correct paddle posture is attained it will stay, but tour kayaking also means relaxing. When you lean aft, the seat will move forward bit by bit. After 4 hours of kayaking, I decided to tackle the problem and am currently working on a fix (Velcro on inside-bottom kayak and Velcro on bottom seat cushion).
The inflatable coaming is good enough for it's purpose. You need a good firm inflation in order to have it work (the manual repeatedly warns for overinflation, though). I have used the touring sprayskirt from the beginning and it works fine.
I paddle in waters with temperatures around 5-15 degrees C. So I decided on the tour sprayskirt.
Two things of criticism: the coaming has a tube at the back, that is really in the way and should have been designed towards the inside of the cockpit. Now it's really hard to blindly attach the sprayskirt over the back coaming with the tube in the way. Oh and the bungee of the sprayskirt is also in that position and OH, the back bungee net is there too...
I have cursed a few times trying to attach the spray skirt and finally cut a hole at the front end of the sprayskirt. Now the bungee is at the front. Much better. But the coaming inflation tube is still annoying.
Characteristics: the AF veers off to either side when paddling stops. Obviously nothing guides the AF forward so it will go any direction. This is particularly annoying when you cruise along and want to stop paddling to get something on or in the kayak. You look back up and .... you just turned 90... it annoyed me in particular when enjoying nature, paddling at a slow pace. The kayak needs constant attention in order to have it go straight.
Solution: AF SKEG! I personally think it's a must have. AE might as well include it in the sales. But hey, now you have the option so that should be better money wise. Anyway if you like kayaking on bigger lakes with wind and want to enjoy nature .... get the skeg!
The AF can handle very high waves! You'll dig into waves sooner than longer hard-shells kayaks, but it's fun and you can even ride waves!! I kayak a lot on bigger rivers with cargo ships and such. Riding on their stern waves is fun! Attacking those waves is easy too. Initially because of the low seating position to the waterline it might be scary. But trust me... airbags float really well! I sometimes forget about all the air in the side tubes. So nothing to fear.
You need to cover both zippers with duct tape or alike because the zippers are not waterproof. The back zippers catches water from the paddle. The front from the waves. Water will enter.
In flat water this is not an issue. You need waves of about 10 inches and higher or a very strong wind in order to get any water through the zippers.
I flooded the kayak several times for practice and noticed that even if fully submerged, you can still sit in the kayak and paddle along!! This is amazing! You have your own private water pool, but the two airbags (thwarts) and the four side tubes keep the kayak afloat! Paddling becomes much harder obviously, but it is possible. Not recommended in colder water
Be alert for capsizing. It seems the AF is stable initially, but when challenging rolling motions it will feel stable to a certain degree (literally), then suddenly capsize rapidly. I am pretty sure all AF owners capsized at least once. The rolling stability is not constant like in a hard-shell. This is because of the way the AF is build: tube at center, large canvas portion then two narrow air tubes. All this makes it stable, but rolling further on the air tubes (the side of the kayak), it becomes unstable and you will capsize.
The good thing is, you 'fall' out of the kayak easily. The cockpit is big and open. No chance to get stuck, even with the sprayskirt on. The pull-off handle on the sprayskirt is not really needed. To get aboard again you profit again from the AF' initial stability. It's not like a hard-shell in a good way this time.
USAGE of AIRFUSION
Most of us will try and compare the AF with a hard-shell. I did. And for good reasons: you want to paddle and get somewhere in a sleek fast kayak. I think the AF reaches out to hard-shells for about 80%. This is for hard-shells in general... not sea kayak hard-shells and not a percentage in performance.
But there is one factor that is new to me about kayaking and absent with hard-shells and sea kayaks: you can and WILL take it anywhere there is water!!
You see a lake somewhere and you wish you had packed the AF in the back of your car. You probably drive back to get it!
It's so easy to take this kayak along with you, that is what makes it so much fun. I use it so many times. Even just for a short 2 hours. Setup becomes second nature. I even know the amount of pumps by heart. And you can use it nearly anywhere:
Small lakes, narrow streams through forests, big open waters, large rivers. Open sea! (caution though and a dry-suit must!), traffic rich environments... all possible.
Hey, don't start reading here... go from the top!
I am a conclusion reader myself, but read the main article none the less.
That's why I am not going to write much in here. I just love the AF. The best option out there for an inflatable (thus transport friendly) kayak with characteristics that get really close to hard-shell and what it can't do it compensates in all it can that a hard-shell can't. It can be used in just about any water environment (whitewater.... uh no!)
And let me think out loud for you: I spend less money buying the Air Fusion + the better accessories (carbon paddle, gauge pump, tour sprayskirt, AF Skeg) + top notch paddlers PFD and the best dry-suit out there (ps220) for far less money (half) than just a hard-shell.
I am using my AF on hot weather days, rainy days, windy days and icy days. I survived a thunderstorm in my AF on a big river getting blasted by hail. I never felt more comfortable in my kayak, only hoping that lighting would struck the trees ashore and not me in the middle of the river...
Happy moments in the AirFusion:
hard-shell kayaker paddles over from the other side of the river only to find out just a few yards away that I am not in a hard-shell. "That's not a hard-shell, that's an inflatable". 'Yup... pretty fast huh?'
Rain hits the deck and I feel warm and comfi, enjoying the soft foot brace and my warm dry socks. (I took me a while to realize how well insulated the kayak is: lots of still air!) And there are so many foot positions on the thwart, hard-shellers would only dream of...
Surfing on a cargo ships stern wave enjoying the agility of the kayak. I own 2 other AE kayaks (8' & 11') and thought the Air Fusion was going to be the ultimate blow-up boat. I took my time assembling the boat (2 hours) and thought I did a good job. One snap- lock on the tubes broke during assembly (another one broke the second trip). I duct taped the joints and it seems to hold OK.
PROPPER ASSEMBLY IS CRITICAL.
First 2 times out the boat wanted to turn left all the time and weather cocked really bad in a <10 MPH breeze. The trips were miserable. I finally noticed the bow was turned to the left an inch or so. Long story short, the main air chambers were installed (by the factory!) incorrectly with the right one almost 2" ahead of the left one. This corrected, the 3rd time out it tracked straight but still weather cocked in the slightest breeze. I adjusted the pressure down in the main chambers. This helped so I let more air out until the chambers were, to me, getting pretty soft. Problem solved. It seems too much pressure causes the boat to ride too high in the water giving the feeling you are paddling a teacup.
After owning 3 AE boats, I am still trying to figure out how you measure air pressure in the tubes. AE warns over and over not to over inflate the tubes but I have not found a way to check it. If anyone can help me here I'd really appreciate it. Storage is very minimal for a boat this size. Getting anything through the front zipper is impossible because of the rod that runs directly under it. The rear zipper may allow something small such as a thermos but, you can't get to it without getting out of the boat.
The seat sits on the center bottom rail which looks more uncomfortable than it is. The problem with the seat is that, although the boat is 25" wide, the distance from the left air chamber to the right one is less than 12" measured at the seat bottom. I've tried every way I can think of to make it more comfortable but nothing works. Suggestions, anyone?Nothing ruins a kayak trip faster than a ill fitting seat.
I like the boat for the most part. Speed, stability and turning compare favorably with a hard shell boat this size. But, the difficult assembly (once assembled I will never take it apart!), factory alignment error, lack of storage and bad seat force me to give it only a 7.