"One should never have affairs with other boats - it can really mess with one's head, especially in the build up to a big race!" Dawid Mocke's wise words last week, following his successful 2014 New Zealand King Of The Harbour campaign, after trying the latest offerings from FLOW Kayaks in New Zealand.
All of us know the feeling of paddling our hearts out in a race, but much fewer of us probably know the feeling of being able to truly draw deeply from that well of confidence, in knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the boat under our very backside is THE fastest boat on the water, for us, for these conditions.
This is a powerful differentiator at the top end of the field, and the psychological advantage proffered probably far exceeds the empirical, physical advantages. Well, it's no secret I have really enjoyed FLOW's original Sharpski, but lately I must admit, like many of you I expect, I have been flirting with a newer model, and it may make an Addict of me yet.
It is amazing how attached us humans become to inanimate objects: Our phones, our cars, our surfskis... With the fervour of a schoolkid with a new hobby, we spend hours and hours googling videos and images of surfskis, reviews, discussion posts, grainy Go-Pro footage of dodgy downwinds, completely ignoring our loved ones, who patiently humour us as we spend fruitless hours on surfski orientated Facebook pages and websites (just like you and I are doing now, right?)
All of us are seeking that extra edge, that little tip that will tweak or refine our technique, or our boat set up, to eke out another 0.0012 km/h boat speed. We treat our boat selection the same way. And so we should! Nobody enjoys paddling a boat they know is slower. It is like, well, an addiction! I am sure Richard and Andrew had this in mind when they chose the name!
The rocker of a rocket: (Addict-Right, Sharpski-Left) The reduced rocker of the Addict is clearly visible when aligned with its predecessor, the Sharpski.
Richard Usher, iconic New Zealand paddler/multisportsman-extraordinaire, and the Businessman behind FLOW Kayaks, and Andrew Martin, FLOW's master-kraftsman certainly had a very clear idea about what they wanted from this boat.
The Addict is 6.4m in length, 43 cm wide and has approx 19mm less rocker than the Sharpski. The volume behind the seat is fairly significantly wider than the Sharpski (and probably most elite boats I have seen) and a number of other enhancements make for a very serious paddling setup for the paddler.
Weighing in around 12.5 for the standard lay-up, the proven Andrew Martin Carbon/Kevlar is ruthlessly tough, and what one would expect when the same layup is used on their riverboats. Drop it, or forget it's on your cars roof, and drive into the garage, and you'll see. (I have experience in both departments I am afraid to admit! Although to be fair it was my wife driving my car that day.)
The latter is a rather extreme example, and in this case the damage was somewhat significant: Bloody landlord made me repair/paint the damaged wooden beam in the garage. Oh, the boat was fine. The seams are tough, and the care with the finish is immaculate, as you would expect from the boutique, hand-crafted-with-love-in-the-FLOW-shed-in-little-old-Nelson-NZ manufacturer. Larger scale production of this boat is on the cards, and the FLOW team are working closely with local NZ potential manufacturers here.
The FLOW Addict, attracting attention in Aus and NZ currently, about to commence trials in Auckland.
The most obvious change for me is the aggressive waterline, almost downward-angled nose shape, emphasising the boat's reduced rocker. You know that feeling I was describing earlier, when you know you have a faster boat in a race? Well in flatter conditions, like me, you might find yourself questioning this, if the nose of your ski is 1 meter proud of the water, and dry...
The Addict holds it's line beautifully in smaller chop, pitching less, sitting firmly wetted along its entire waterline length, even when accelerating over a wash/wave.
A serious nose-job: (Addict-Right, Sharpski-Left) The aggressive snitch provides for closer-to-K1 handling in smaller chop, with the boat holding it's line better, and pitching less. Again, I believe this adds to the boats surprising stability. The optional nose-loop was difficult to get used to in the beginning, but now I wouldn't have it any other way. Like me you might find yourself surprised how often you use this!
FLOW Kayaks have a particularly snug shaped seat, as mentioned in a number of reviews. You either love it or hate it. I reckon my butt is similar to Andrew's, so I fall into the former category here. The Addict has a slightly broader seat shape, and there is an XL cockpit for the fat-asses out there (you know who you are!) which also caters for the longer leg length paddler.
I am 190CM tall and paddle with the footplate a few notches back from max extension, but I must say I do miss the few CM's more space that I used to have behind the footplate on the Sharpski for my juice-bladder. Lets not forget the forward-placed cockpit on these boats, which I reckon is central to their awesome ability to drop down over runners. I think combined with the extra tail volume this is now a formidable offering.
The solid, well-engineered footplate and steering system is simply designed, does not pose any corrosion risk, and is easily adjusted. The new self-sealing bailer and the new fairings/cockpit lip on the upper deck are designed to keep the cockpit really dry, and even in the biggest chop this is remarkably effective.
The ass of this bad-ass boat is big: A bold design step that seems to differentiate this boat from many others - there is considerably more volume in the tail. When I first paddled this in some awesome large downwind conditions in Cyclone Lusi a few weeks back, it was immediately evident I needed to paddle the boat differently. I wasn't able to slide the tail around and zig-zag as aggressively/nimbly as I normally do when surfing my loyal Sharpski.
This was initially disconcerting, but have since discovered that the extra tail volume and reduced rocker combine nicely, leading to a more stable performance in the chop, aiding in paddling over waves, maintaining a more even keel and holding it's line better. The extra width in the tail is probably also the central factor in the boats significantly increased stability over the Sharpski. The fixing point for the unique optional oversteer rudder is clearly visible in the below pics, and serves the NZ estuarine/ocean-paddling race mix well.
I like big butts and I cannot lie! The additional volume in the tail (Addict-Left, Sharpski-Right) creates a surprisingly stable boat in the elite category of racing surfskis.
So, you ask, what does all this mean? Is it faster? How much? yes, I have had the same questions, but how does one answer this? The funny thing about water is that it's, well, fluid. So many freakin' variables: Tide, wind, sea conditions, technique, effort applied etc. I mulled over this for some time. Understand, I have a boat I love (anyone with a Facebook account will tell you this!) so this is a very serious position to be in.
Eventually Dawid recommended a simple set of tests. "Set your heart rate to a constant BPM, not too high that you cant keep in constant, and not too low, say 145, and do multiple 1000m efforts on the GPS, in the same conditions in both boats. Simply compare the results."
So this I did. On three occasions. I adjusted my Garmin 310XT display to only show distance and HR. Then, chose a morning that was pretty flat, and at around low tide (to minimise any tidal currents) I performed four 1000M efforts, from standing start, keeping my HR between 137 and 143 in the Addict, and then repeated this again in the Sharpski. Then I repeated this exercise another 2 occasions, on different days, first in the Sharpski, and then in the Addict. Results were always similar:
Results of the speed-trials that tested the Addict against the Sharpski, show that on the surface the Addict is 0.09km/h faster, off a standing start, 1000m efforts, with a constant, purposefully moderate heart-rate. See full data attached to this article, and the conclusion below before seeking a warranty claim off FLOW Kayaks if you don't see this speed advantage immediately!
In this conditions, on a flat day, keeping a nice constant 140BPM of effort, for me, from standing start, it appears the Addict is 0.09km/h faster. This on the surface appears to be a significant speed advantage, and one that has more importantly I guess, been a great source of entertainment for my paddling mates at Royal Akarana Club over the last week or so. (Yes, I like to talk about surfski paddling. A lot!) The pre-race conversation at last weekend's Bo Herbert 30km race went as follows:
Jeremy K: "Garth, you reckon that Addict is faster than my Sharpski?"
Me: "Yip - speed trials telling me it is 0.092287645km/h faster in these conditions."
Jeremy: "Ah, so... if you had paddled this in the King of The Harbour last weekend you would have finished 3 places up?"
Me: "Yip! Another way of saying this mate: If we paddled at the same effort today, my race will effectively finish 207m shorter than yours!"
And so on. This is half the fun though. Right? Dodgy math being worked out by an oxygen starved, salt-addled brain, mid race... Love it!
However, closer inspection of my speed trial data shows that if I remove all samples between the start of my efforts, and the point where I have my HR at 137BPM (effectively removing any subjectivity associated with the rate of acceleration for my starts of these efforts) I find the two boats perform remarkably similarly. (In fact, the Sharpski came in at a slight speed advantage over the Addict, 0.012km/h faster). To me this seems to indicate that the Addict is quicker off the line, and quicker to accelerate. Which makes sense for a boat with less rocker. This is probably quite an important feature when surfing runs too.
My conclusion would firstly be: stay well away from paddlers who claim their boat is 0.092287645km/h faster - they are probably talking crap! Find something you like, something that is fun to paddle, and something you can see yourself falling in love with.
Love your boat and be loyal to this. I think there is a lot to be said about getting to know a boat intimately, and someone who is absolutely at home in a boat that doesn't give them a sore arse, or test their stability too much, is probably not only going to be faster, but is also going to have more fun. The Addict is a wonderfully constructed boat, tough, beautiful, and remarkably stable for an 'elite' boat. Handles well in flat, and cuts beautifully through the chop, and surfing downwind appears to relish the runners.
Don't try surf it left and right as aggressively as on a Sharpski, or a FENN Elite for example, due to slightly less rocker. I love it, I have had heaps of fun performing these trials, and to quote Dawid's brief, scientific conclusion: "Jissie, thats a very lekker boat, China!" (and if you need a translation here, you'll have to attend one of his Mocke-Clinics!)