- Posts: 66
- Thank you received: 23
A quick review of the Fenn Spark. Hopefully this is useful to those lightweights out there considering a new boat. For context, I am male, 65kg, 172cm. Although in Australia, I would probably be what the South Africans call a B grade paddler. I take it seriously, but no reason to be looking for me up front. I have had my carbon Spark for a couple of weeks now. I also have a V10L and a Swordfish.
First, this is a dramatically small / low volume boat. Very narrow bucket, no real nose or tail. I have a 30 inch waist and the boat fits me well. This is the first boat that really seems to fit me. Everything else I have had to pad out in one way or another, but not the Spark. Just jump in and go for us smaller folks. Also, it is very light. Far out. Unfortunately I don’t have a scale at home, but this is the lightest ski I have come across. That makes sense, because there really isn’t much to it.
The Spark is low volume enough that at 65kg I press it fully into the water, which lets me use the full waterline. First boat for me where that is the case, and it translates into a marked improvement in flatwater speed over the V10L (which although the low volume version of the V10, is still too much volume in my opinion at 65kg). That is relatively interesting because the Spark is a low volume version of the Elite SL, not the Glide, and the Glide is the flat water boat. So, for us lightweights looking for a pure Fenn flatwater machine, I guess we are waiting for the Elite Spark Glide! But, we all know that will never come and in reality I don’t think it matters. With the hull fully in the water the Spark is very fast on the flat and you will be smiling on calm or harbour days.
Most smaller paddlers complain about boats corking around, I being one of them. Not the case with the Spark. The low volume means that us lightweights can plant it.
I took it out with some mates on a really ugly day yesterday. Started with 30kts on the beam, then a monster downwind. Really big. I was worried that the Spark might be too low volume for extreme conditions. In actuality, at 65kg it was the perfect amount of volume. The nose never buried and I did not find it to be an overly wet ride. It is pure Fenn going downwind, fast to pick up a run and rock solid when on. Secondary stability is excellent. Being such a small boat, I found it very nimble in the runs. Fun to toss around. I did jump off once in big swell and found the Spark very easy to remount, even in hectic conditions. It has low gunwales and is easy to press into the water, making a sidesaddle remount pretty uneventful.
Complaints? Not much. I have no idea why Fenn can’t come up with better systems than a cork for a bung (already lost mine, back to the good old gray tape!) and a bungee for steering. Typical Fenn, working the rudder feels like you are grinding glass. But on the positive side, the Spark comes with an elliptical rudder which I think is a big improvement over the standard Fenn sharkfin. It is a narrow elite boat, so I certainly wouldn’t call it stable, but it’s not a death trap either and as I said above, secondary stability is excellent. Compared to the V10L, I find the Spark marginally more lively in the flat or confused water, but similar or better secondary stability once in the runs.
If you are a smaller paddler with good balance or are looking to move up to an elite boat, I think the Spark is a winner.
Metro that review certainly kicked up a storm...
however it does seem to have triggered one sale that we know of
Thanks for your review of the Spark. I too am about your height and weight and am glad that manufacturers are designing skis that fit that size. As you have mentioned, and I concur, there is a big advantage to someone our size having a lower volume ski, particularly when moving in a high-wind beam or front-quarter sea, where any extra volume tends to get blown around and make it harder to track.
My experiences with my stellar SES are similar to yours in the Spark - I hope to get a chance to paddle a Spark as they make their way across the USA.
Yep good review Metro, and will definitely be keen to try one of these as at 70kg and 1.8m I also suffer from the ski "corking" in any sort of bump which the bigger paddlers do not seem to suffer with.
How about seating position comfort compared with Epic?
I have always suffered numb feet when paddling a Fenn but not with Epic or Nelo?
I have always found both Fenn and Epic buckets comfortable, so unfortunately I don't have much to add there. I would say that I like the Spark setup - narrow bucket, low hump, perfect for smaller paddlers.
Bill L, I have paddled the SES. A nice boat, but given all of the room in the cockpit, in particular in front of the footboard, it just didn't feel like a small boat to me. In contrast, the Spark feels scaled down in all respects. Very well thought out.
For the lighter paddlers also check out the Flow Kayaks Sharpski 6.5. They are not easy to come by but seem to suit paddlers under 80kg. I have posted a review with detailed pictures on the iTunes iBook Store. I will try getting the review posted on surfski.info shortly for those who don't have iPads
I know a few paddlers doing very well in the Fenn Spark and it won both the mens and womens division in a recent popular race in Australia. I'm disappointed that my hip bones are too wide for the Fenn Spark because it was fun to paddle on the brief trial I gave it.
my comment re: 'Storm' was of course facetious as my good friend 'metro' would expect from me.
The comment was made only after a number of days of the post, and no comments beening made.
The other sale I alluded to was to myself, I'm a Spark owner, and for some 12 months.
I agree with all review comments that metro made. And can validate his ejection from it then, and many more times since that post. mainly due to the extreme conditions we paddle in, which is by choice.
Kayaker Greg wrote:
I find that when you start modifying much of anything on a boat, you end up with a whole lot more weight. It's all relative, but why spend an additional 1000 dollars to save 1.5 pounds if you gonna add 1 pound of custom-work later?
Comfort? Perfect fit?
The Spark is probably made for the euro market. Finally a boat for ME !
(really wish we had even more choices regarding low volume boats)
Kudos to METRO and thanks again for sharing your feedback.
I just ordered my Fenn Spark - it should be here (Brittany, France) next Tuesday.
Judging from everything I have read, it's the very first competitive boat specifically designed for smaller people. Perhaps I am being hopeful, but this may very well be the first surfski that I don't have to pad to raise the cockpit.
Time will tell… heck… DAYS will tell.
Point of View: Fenn Spark Surfski
It was the longest 11 days – but I received my brand new surfski very late yesterday evening. It's now 5:05am and I am already rigging it; installing the rudder and adjusting the foot-pedals to suit my preference.
Below, you will see my first impressions: the unpacking, the first look, the rigging, etc… Later, we will take a very close look at how it handles water; all sort of water conditions. Please remember that "my point of view" is rather personal and that I am merely trying to share with you my enthusiasm and first impressions.
Well, after all, this is the first obstacle for many people. Compared to dozens of other surfskis, the Spark from FENN is actually very reasonably priced (one of the most affordable actually). I have indeed seen cheaper surfskis like ZEDTECH but the built quality doesn't even come close.
People who know me know that I love receiving new toys, but I have never wanted to videotape the opening of any of packages, until last night. There were two of us, delighted, giggling, and cutting away at the near-perfect packaging. I could tell someone from South Africa paid close attention to details – all the way down to the packaging. The recycle cardboard with local writing was bonus – I knew it wasn't from China.
First layer of defense was the cardboard, the second heavy duty plastic, the third was made up of bubble-wrap, and finally the whole thing was meticulously covered with tape. Opening everything may sound difficult, but in fact was as simple as one single precision cut of a knife right-down-the-middle.
With the packaging, the Spark felt very light. Once removed from its cocoon, I was blown away.
On the scale, my Spark (vacuum fiberglass version) comes in at 11.3 kilos – including the rudder!
Overall stiffness is amazing; I am talking very rigid as I felt the entire boat. Truthfully, I have yet to see a Zedtech, Nelo, Epic or O'Krea with such stiffness in key areas of the boat – like the deck in front of my feet. This boat is waiting for very large swells. So first impression on its rigidity: very pleasantly surprised compared to what I have seen on the market in these last few months.
Who says looks isn't everything?
Seriously, the boat is "blah" looking; it's pretty much all white except for its logo, but its lines are beautiful. Next to my K1 quattro, this thing looks fast, but that too is so very subjective.
Of the things that got my attention was the finishing touches on the cockpit area, notably the footrest / pedal assembly.
Nelo, for instance, looks overly complicated, busy, and downright ugly with wires and tie-wraps all over the place.
The Spark has zero tolerance for tie-wraps. The system is just clean and works great (I sad in it for 25 minutes – freezing to death, but happy as a camper).
DETAILS – rudder
There is nothing extraordinary about the rudder, in fact: it's quite blah.
Removing the cover (with a weird looking phillips screw) will give you access to the rudder area that you will need to install yourself. The rudder could benefit from a re-design, but aside from its looks, I have to say that it's very light. Mine is made of carbon, with a stainless steel rudder. The bar (that attaches to the cables) is far from modern: in fact, TwoGood Kayaks of Hawaii used the same square system about 25 years ago. A closer look at the carbon on my rudder revealed that someone at Fenn doesn't like building rudders – massive air bubble, carbon weave looks trashy, etc… But did I mention that it's light?
DETAILS – cables actuation
Some of you will laugh at me, but I am actually so pleased that spectra was not used to control my rudder. I would have saved some weight, but removed a lot of the safety I like so much about surfskis. My rudder lines are made up of heavy duty cable. I plan on changing them to a thinner version to save bit of weight, but I will stick with cables. I am hearing nightmare stories about people snapping their spectra lines. Sure, there are remedies and ways to fix it while at sea, but that's not something I even plan on – I am sticking with metal cables and I THANK YOU FENN !
DETAILS – pedals
The pedal system can be adjusted easily: crank and play / pull a single lever and slide the entire system.
I am not sure if this is new this year, but coming from a Nelo and Zedtech, this is a very clever system. As mentioned above: it's very clean.
Fine adjustment to your pedal cables is made with a small allen wrench. Think of it as a little tiny stopper, one stopper per cable, each stopper with two allen bolts to ensure no slippage.
Believe me: it's very clean looking and very simple to operate.
Big points for Fenn on that one.
DETAILS – rudder compartment
Well, I mentioned the rudder bar above (looks old-fashion and cheap). I have seen many systems that I deem superior, including the ones on Zedtech.
To my great surprise, opening the rudder assembly cover reveals another improvement opportunity: the rudder cables have cable housing (similar to what you would find on a bicycle) and the ending looks absolutely horrible. My advice, take the cover off, put your rudder on, silicone the cover for waterproofness, put the screw back in there and close the entire assembly so that you never see it again.
No points for Fenn here.
DETAILS – seat area
As a reminder, let me just say that the Spark is said to be designed for smaller paddler. Now, I have heard that one plenty of times before, like Zedtech Griffin ++ (which offer very little correct adjustments for someone 1m68 with normal legs), like the Epic V10L (which stands for low volume, which has way too much volume for 60kg paddlers). However, as soon as you sit down in the Spark, you will know that they worked really hard to provide us with something "different" - it's really designed and made for smaller paddler. As of right now, it feels better than any boat I have owned, and it may very well be the very first boat I do not have to add padding to. Obviously, time will tell and I will need to spend hours on the boat before coming to that conclusion, but it sure feels "perfect" right now.
The pedal / foot rest is 1/2 way across – I have 10 cm of adjustment left over to make it shorter if I want. Being that I am only 1m68, it's a relief.
Comparatively speaking, the Zedtech Griffin ++ is maxed out and still too long for me, and the Zedtech Dominator is perfect only after maxing it out, adding 3 pads in the back, and one small pad on the pedals.
DETAILS – volume
The overall volume of this boat is, well, not very voluminous. To my best surprise of them all, the Spark resembles the Chalupsky surfski that Oscar used many years in a row to win the Molokai channel in Hawaii. Low volume up front, requiring the user to interact a little more with the ocean. That was my favorite boat of all times, but the seat area was never quite right (clearly not designed for me on the Chalupski – duhhh). Speaking of the seat area though, the Spark has a shallow seat bucket, again, similar to the Chalupsky).
You will no doubt notice low volume here:
Bow, Seat area (which should make remounts much easier), and stern. That should make the Spark a fantastic contender for windy conditions (upwind, horrible side wind) - and make lighter / smaller paddlers very happy. So far, the Spark is telling me that it has very little volume and wants to play. I best accommodate.
DETAILS – boat lines
I mentioned earlier that to me, the Spark has beautiful lines. One of its appeals is for sure the paddle entry point. It's very narrow (as noted by others and its specs) but that in turns also adds to its beautiful lines. I am however glad that I don't like to paddle backwards: The Spark needs "something" on its stern deck; it's kinda blah. Moving past that though, you will notice another very appealing line when admiring the last 30cm of the stern - it's very narrow, and very cool looking.
DETAILS – the stickers
Fenn will have to redesign its stickers – the Spark is so small up front that the stickers start at the deck and end all the way down on the hull. Bluntly put: those stickers are too big and will come off (I may even save 200 grams for both, and that's almost a 1/4 pound off) - which is too bad because they add the only color to the boat.
FIRST IMPRESSION – CONCLUSION
The boat looks so good that my friend is pretty much determined to get a Fenn surfski.
I'll need to paddle it and plan on spending hours on it before sharing my paddling experience with the Spark, but so far and judging by its cover, the boat makes you want to paddle it.
Thanks tourfr for your description above on receiving your new Spark. It was like a child unwrapping a Christmas present!
Anyway, not so much a review but some feedback here from an ordinary Joe Bloggs paddler who is stoked with his carbon Spark and wanted to share this for those that are also looking for a smaller volume boat.
A few days have gone by… I have spent every day in the water with my new Fenn Spark. Here's a quick look at what was felt.
Attention Experienced short people: this boat is really made for you.
Being one of the most important thing at my age (46) I must admit that the Fenn Spark fits me better than any other skis I have been on. Of course, this may have a lot to do with my morphology (54kg, 1m68, and thin bones to add to the mix). Smaller paddlers: chances are, the boat will also be a dream-come-true for you. As for me, comfort allows me to "feel" rested, and paddle harder for longer. In the end, I added a single 1.5cm pad to raise my butt a bit, but that's only because I have been so accustomed to being in a raised position. The cockpit is spot on though.
When leaning forward / leaning back in the cockpit, I am finally finding a result: the Spark reacts immediately. This is probably common to all of you bigger guys, but for me, it's a first. I have always felt this while surfing or windsurfing, but never experienced before on a surfski – any surfski before this one. Clearly, this won't matter on flat water, but it takes surfing ocean swells to a whole different level.
The rudder is just bonus. I should say: the Spark reaction to the rudder is "BONUS" - think of it as surfing, going fast, and taking the time to play – go find more. This boat reacts so fast that you will always be looking for something else to stick your nose into.
In a hurry? Try hitting the pedal hard on the flats - it's like an instantaneous 90 degree turn – or almost.
WEIGHT and STIFNESS
I purchased the vacuum Glass version. It's very light (12.4kg) - and super stiff. Call me stupid, but picking it up isn't going to throw your shoulder out – ever!
You can "hear" the stiffness and you can feel it when it goes up wind. Downwind, you almost feel the power transfer. I can't even imagine trying out an carbon version one day. It is my understanding that fully rigged vacuum glass Sparks aren't usually this light, but either way, I am very pleasantly happy.
People talk about a 1% speed difference, sometimes (and on rare occasions) a 5% speed difference. Well, I hope you are sitting down.
Based on my weight, my paddling ability, and perhaps based on having a boat whose waterline is set as intended, I just got an amazing 17% difference in speed.
First, I though it was a glitch – so instead of posting my results right away, I kept going out. Sometimes, I even went out twice a day… Either way, this is day 5: same results (+/-2 %) but still 17% increase in SPEED. My overall speed may very well attributed to comfort on the ski, correct waterline, better stance, much narrower early catch, but also the feeling that the Spark surfski always wants to accelerate.
It's so much faster that I will compare it back to back with my Flat Water Kayak (soon, one day when I am done playing) – I am just blown away.
The first thing that comes to my mind is how "effortless" the Spark will catch a wave – I am talking about the smallest of ripple 15cm in height – it just wants to point downhill.
The second thing: this thing is like a sniffing dog – it will find things you didn't think was "worth it" - okay, so it's almost like the first… Just to show you how psyched I am about that.
Change in direction: amazing, but not kamikaze style crazy either – very controllable. It will take riding swells to a whole new level.
Stability: All right, this one is tricky, so let me put it into prospective a bit. This is a very low volume boat. As such, you will immediately notice that it looks a lot more like your flat water kayak than a surfski. The front end is so narrow and the catch is so close to my K-1 that I was a bit intimidated by it all. Perhaps the apprehension that this new surfski was going and had to be tippy helped me, but in the end, and considering its attributes: the Spark is relatively stable, in fact: I find it surprisingly stable. Having said all of that, it's not intermediate-stable, so you'll have to pay attention and be awake. Disclaimer: if you are looking into having a picnic at sea, this may not be the one. I have yet to take it out on a storm, so perhaps more on that when the time comes. If you have paddled a Epic V10 (standard, not the L, and not the Sport) or a Zedtech Dominator, or a Nelo M, you will find stability near equal – so close it's ridiculous.
Gliding: Accelerate a bit, catch a small wave… Stop paddling, look at your GPS… To my great surprise, this surfski just wants to glide, even after the wave is gone. Before I know it, I will look more and more like Oscar (every time I see him, he's never paddling) - though for obvious reasons, I will never be as fast. I'll get more glide than I am used, and I am totally okay with that.
Rigging: clean and simple to fine tune your cockpit to your liking. Pedals feel solid.
HOW TO IMPROVE IT
Since I am always looking for ways to improve something or another, I had to include improvement points about the Spark. In all seriousness, and as you will notice very quickly, the following are almost unimportant (at least to me). Fenn: don't think this the wrong way – I love every effort you have put into designing this low volume boat.
The plug – those who do not know, don't worry much about it: the plug system sucks – so just get yourself a small drill and a small amount of string. For those who know: I am sure you are smiling because you know that plug needs improvement.
Leash attachment: would be great to have a tiny, surf-style leash attachment between our legs. This would be used as the life-link between paddler and surfski. Not a big deal, because the handle can serve as the same purpose / attachment point, but it gets crowded up there.
Rudder compartment: would be nice to have a seal on that. Again, not a deal breaker, but would be a nice peace of mind to prevent unwanted water from entering.
Stickers: I like… Scratch that… I really like the new sticker design, but they are too big for this low-volume boat.
Handle: okay… This one may be very personal. I enter and exist the ski on the left (when ever possible). In huge waves, when submerging is needed, I like to use the handle to pull the boat under water to let the waves go over the ski. For this, the boat must be inventoried, thus I need the handle on the right… Since it will be on my left when I flip the boat. You see… Placing the handle on the RIGHT could be better… In fact, when short people put the ski on their shoulders, the handle on the right would also prevent the need of an after-market longer-arm.
Handling waves: don't you touch a thing (you really nailed it)
Pleasantly surprised when I first received it and…
Very Pleasantly surprised on the water.
It's a keeper!
Greg, you need one of these! Modify the bucket or modify your hip bones. It is the most responsive boat I've ever paddled. It makes me realise that in every other boat I've been in, I'm responding to what the ski does. In this one, it genuinely feels like an extension of myself. So even though it is classed as an "elite" boat it feels immediately more comfortable for me because it fits and because I don't get the feeling I'm trying to muscle a big hull around me. Shifting my weight forward or back makes a noticeable difference to its attitude. The stability response felt immediately familiar: it is like the swordfish. Tippier, but with the same predictability. Such that it is the first boat I have been able to edge and feel in control.
The stock rudder is waaay better than the Swordy. I don't need to replace it with an elliptical for a change.
And Tourfr, I took all the stickers off and it looks sensational! If you are going to fall in love with a man, (or insert appropriate gender) he doesn't have to be handsome, but it's a great side benefit.