Think Uno Max 3rd Gen v NELO 560 v Epic V14

Thursday, 21 July 2016 13:56 | Written by  Sune Wendelboe
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NELO, Think, Epic NELO, Think, Epic Credits: Sune Wendelboe

Sune Wendleboe is a mad keen Danish paddler living in Oslo, Norway; he's owned 16 surfskis in the 6 years he's been paddling!  He's just had the opportunity to try out no fewer than four of the latest, fastest elite level surfskis from around the world.  Here's what he found.

Wow!

Taking a first look at the new 3rd Generation Think Uno Max will make you feel just like that – wow! Shape, design and finish – all are very much near perfect. 

Having waited 6 months since ordering mine, it suddenly arrived in Stavanger, a 7-hour drive from Oslo. 

NELO Uno Max 3rd Generation

The profile of the Think Uno Max is impressively fast-looking

Since getting my hands on the boat I’ve paddled it in all sorts of conditions and will try to point out a few observations and compare it to two other hot skis, the NELO 560 and Epic V14.

Last Minute

This article was due a few days back but delays due to bad Internet in our remote summer cabin meant I was able to add a last minute but long test paddle of the adventure racing surfski Nitro Pro from Nordic Kayaks. A test paddle that surprised me and is added to the last part of this article.

Having to drive 14 hours just to pick up a surfski sounds terrible, but this being Norway, a road trip to the fiords of the west coast will only add to the experience no matter how jaded a traveller you are.

Lyse Fjord

Driving to Stavanger the Lyse fiord is a nice short side trip

Think Uno Max 2nd generation

In 2015 I went here to pick up a beautiful black and red Think Uno Max 2nd generation. The boat turned out to be the perfect combination of speed and stability for the water I race – flat to small runs - and the level that I was at, average Joe paddling 4-5 times a week, a little less in winter if there’s a lot of ice, and occasionally racing our SeaDog series.

Think Uno Max 2nd Gen

Think Uno Max Ultimate Generation 2

Personal Records

The Uno Max helped me set new personal records in anything from flat to 2-3ft chop, smashing almost all my previous records set in my previous 19 different skis over time. In bigger conditions, however, my trusty beat up Swordfish was still faster for me.

So the Think became my preferred all-round boat, but not all was perfect in the generation 2. It would delaminate much too easily, and when winter came around the seat was just a bit too narrow for good rotation even with the thinnest dry suit. Sort of a deal breaker when winter lasts from November to March!  I’m 186cm, 80kg, not particularly skinny nor fat.

Think Uno Max 3rd generation

In the summer of 2015 I was chatting to Sean Rice and learned about the new design coming up. Sean reported the changes planned including a wider seat, tougher layup, thicker tail and more rocker. Instantly I knew I had to get one just to keep my fastest boat on the water through winter.

Think Uno Max 3rd Generation

3rd Generation!

So finally, I got my hands on my black/silver 3rd generation version of the ski. First impression is how fast it looks – it’s a rocket shaped around the paddler. It´s also clearly a high volume ski with voluptuous curves. All in all a very attractive looking ski.

Think Tail

Fatter tail in the new version

The tail section now has considerably more width giving it better lift when surfing and it’s got a bit more rocker, nothing I can visually see though. Nose still looks aggressive and built for speed.

Think Nose

More rocker in 3rd generation

Fittings

Fittings are of the usual high Think standard and not fiddly at all.

They are not as lightweight as the new style fittings you'll find on the new NELO 560. I know from experience with my other Think boats that they will take a lot of abuse and still work smoothly as they did on the first day and won't rust, oxidize, get stuck and require tools like some other brands tend to after months in the sea.

Changing the distance to the footplate is very easy, maybe not club-boat-easy. I really like this solid setup - except for the bailer which is a simple plastic lid, it works, not too fast and not too easy to operate with your nails in confused conditions compared to the de Brito bailer, however it has never failed on any of my three Think boats.

Fittings

Although I've read older reviews of no-so-nice finish on performance and elite Think layups I've never seen it and must say that I've only received boats with extraordinarily perfect finish.

Compared to the competition

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on three top models this summer. The Epic V14, the new NELO 560 (see earlier review) and now the Think UM 3rd generation. I’ve been paddling these boats 5-6 times a week since delivery looking for the perfect all-round surfski in flat to mid-sized conditions. I can´t take out any of these boats on a huuuge day, so finding such a boat might be a project for when the autumn storms hit Scandinavia.

The three

I've had two V14s as I really like how fast they go on flat waters. I was recently blown away how fast and stable the new NELO 560 was in most conditions, and last year I was really happy to smash all PRs in my Think UM 2nd gen. Let's line the boats up and take a closer look.

Cockpits

Here they are, the Epic V14 being an older carbon version I owned a few years back, my current V14 is the Ultra layup.

Cockpit-wise they're the three skis are quite different.

Cockpits

NELO 560

The new NELO 560 is completely different design to the older pre-Oscar NELO 560, and has a very wide cockpit following the pronounced flare while the back has a very low angle giving you loads of room for rotation - way too much for me - so this is my first ever padded ski.

I don't like padding chafing my butt at all and prefer to go natural, but that’s not an option in the NELO. Reentry into the NELO bucket is a breeze as it's relatively wide and has low sides.

It drains impressively fast like a maelstrom - but it needs to as it’s a wet ride.

You can fix the deflector as they say, but laws of physics just won’t let me attach this as snowplowing requires larger engines. [Editor: clearly a Norway-specific comment!!]

I find plenty of room for drysuits and with a bit of work on the carbon foot strap also for winterboots, thumbs up to NELO for that improvement over older NELOs where winterboots wouldn’t fit and the narrow older bailer was horribly slow and filled the boat with freezing cold water in winter.

Think

Then there’s the Think. My last Think UM was so comfortable I could’ve used it as my office chair, just pure comfort. It is high and will push you forward into a really good position to apply power while protecting your lower back. The new one does the same thing, however it’s a bit wider letting my butt slide a bit further back chafing my coccyx against the steep back.

Chafing

The new Think is only the 2nd of my 19 surfskis over 6 years that does actually chafe me. This is of course a personal affliction and shouldn’t worry potential buyers. Maybe my butt is just getting older and bony, so I’m experimenting with padding once again. I haven’t fully solved this issues with seat pads yet, but apart from this it’s the same great cockpit filled with quality fittings and no creaking at all.

It drains slow-ish though and I’d guess that might annoy big guys on big days and will change over time. To me it’s irrelevant as it’s a very, very dry ride thanks to the big nose. The wider seat is very welcome, you can feel that it’s only the back part of the cockpit that is wider, it still grabs your thighs and calves in a secure way giving you great control. Nice one!

As the boat has kept its outer width but became a bit wider inside, it follows that gunwales are thinner. And indeed remounting is made a bit tricky as they are now very sharp and will hurt a bit if you’re not wearing a life jacket.

Epic V14

With the chafing issues of the new cockpit there’s no doubt that the Epic V14 has the best cockpit of the three for me. Might be a bit wide, but plenty of room for rotation and good connection throughout otherwise.

It’s just very comfy and drains really fast through the bailer that’s easy to operate under stress. Footrest is easily adjusted as on other Epics, but as all Epics I´ve tried it can get stuck as the metal and spring parts will oxidize a bit. Gunwales are low and re-entry into this very unstable ski is surprisingly easy, sort of a good combination.

The Front

The noses of the skis are different too. NELO has a needle nose, the Think looks fast but is a much larger volume nose. It feels very aggressive though and makes you feel fast.

The Epic V14 of course has a very narrow nose, especially compared to the V12. New generations of skis are coming out with more rocker to surf better and then others with less rocker to go faster, can be a bit confusing, but mainly these are mostly minor tweaks to skis that are already very fast. Enough about noses!

Bottoms up

Three skis

NELO 560, Think Uno MAX Ultimate, Epic V14 Ultra upside-down

The bottoms are different too. Forget about documenting this in 2D.  The perspective of such a shot will make me able picture a cow as highly aerodynamic and a needle as sort of fat in the middle.

But my observations are that:

  • The NELO is sort of lively and not too flat, but then flares out to give you a lot of secondary stability.
  • The Think is very flat bottomed, and even more so now as chines in the 3rd generation have been moved just a bit apart. It feels surprisingly stable for its class when you first sit in it. Put any of these boats in larger conditions and the NELO will show how the flare above the water line literally gives you tons of stability.
  • If you’re looking for flat bottoms don’t look at the V14, it’s quite hectic like the V12 but lacks the secondary stability.

V14 Elite

A session in the V14 Elite

Performance

In waves - Think

I got down to the beach for my first paddle in the Think and felt a bit uneasy, as there were white horses all over. It’s what the ski was made for but not conditions I’m comfortable with first time in a new high performance ski. Got the Think on the water and smashed upwind noting how dry the ride is, how stable a ride it is. What – stable? Yes, kept thinking Swordfish.

Turned a few hundred meters out and immediately caught a nice wave and surfed all the way back to the beach. Easy, fast and a pure joy.

Think Surfing

Surfing in the Think Uno Max

Next day was bigger, more confused. Larger older waves under steeper younger ones. The Think didn’t give a damn and just found the largest waves and raced on with me as a very happy and surprised passenger. It kept surging forward choosing the fastest path almost on its own. Very reassuring, could apply full power, had fun, got back home babbling about how wonderful this sport is.

I love it when this happens.

Waves - NELO

R15

Happy NELO 560 owner

I had sort of the same feeling in the NELO 560 on the first two days, but for different reasons, difference being that it’s much more agile and nimble and requires a bit more attention at all times while having much more stability all over.

I like both, but must say that it is enormously funny sitting in a top of the line surfski on big waves just going downwind and feeling stable, fast and focused.

Think Rough Water

Taking the Think Uno Max 3rd generation out on a windy day

Waves – V14

The V14 is a different beast – it’s fast on the flat, very fast. It has a very appealing and direct water feel, see a small ripple on the water and you’ll feel it going through your hips moments later.

I like this direct response and feel that the challenges it presents make me a better paddler, but to average Joes like me this has it’s limitations. Larger waves do grab it and stabilize it like they do with the NELO and very much with the Think, but confused choppy sections on a low contrast day will reveal that the V14 is a very unstable boat.

One that I don’t master yet, it’s out of my league on messy days and that’s a big difference compared to the NELO 560 and Think Uno Max that many more paddlers will be able to handle. Especially the NELO is way, way more stable than most high performance skis I’ve ever paddled, I get the feeling that it won’t stay at the top of the NELO range for long.

Time trials

A few friends of mine and I have arranged a SeaDog Oslo race on Thursdays, a short 4km around the can race. On flat days I use the track to compare skis in sort of comparable conditions. It’s nothing scientific, but it’s part of my little quest to find the perfect all-round surfski.

The results on this track are:

  • the NELO 560 is 2-4 seconds faster than the Think Uno Max 3rd and
  • both are way faster (15-20 seconds) than any other boats I´ve owned.
  • The Epic V14 is 15 seconds slower than the NELO - in my hands that is, but will likely be faster if you have better skills.

In summary

In summary all three boats are of very high quality; they’re capable of very high speeds and surf very well.

NELO 560

The NELO is probably the most user-friendly if you’re looking for your first high performance ski, it’s surprisingly stable, fast and easy to maneuver.

It’s also interesting as it has new solutions to many things, shape, fittings, surfing capabilities etc. It’s very interesting that you get to choose your own design completely and that it’s taking advantage of the huge experience NELO has got with materials and solutions. At 9,4kg my NELO 560 feels as tough and rigid as any ski I’ve owned or seen.

Think Uno Max 3rd Gen

The Think Uno Max 3rd Gen looks like a speed machine and it is. Updates might be minor, however I feel that the boat surfs way better and is much more stable in larger conditions than the 2nd gen model. To me it’s a different boat, but still not nearly as stable as the NELO 560.  

It’s also an esthetically really nice ski. A near perfect boat also allowing you to choose colours, (although to what extent this is an option is a bit hard to get any usable information on). I would definitely spend a little more energy on the story telling behind the boat if I were Think. It’s pretty cool that Sean Rice played a big role in the design using his vast race and training experience.

Think

Epic V14

The V14 is a boat that requires a very capable paddler to produce good results. I love the Epic V14 as it’s a damn fast boat on the flat stuff, perfect for learning bracing strokes and becoming more stable. Stability over ability they say.

I agree, but to a certain extent, which I know is almost disrespectful, but I really appreciate what I have learned from unstable boats as well over the years. It’s a fun boat to paddle in many conditions, much more lively than the V12s I had, that I felt would really only fly in fast strong waves.  But if I could only have one boat the unstable V14 would never be it as I’m not good enough.

Bonus – Nordic Kayak Nitro Pro

Just before deadline of this article I had the opportunity to paddle the Nordic Kayak Nitro Pro surfski. A battered leaking boat, but under 10kg and looking fast.

Nordic Kayaks Nitro

I took it out on Bagsværd Paddling Stadium. The seat was so comfortable, just like it was built for me. It’s not stable, somewhere between the V14 and Think Uno Max.

Then I went on to set a new personal record on 1.000m smashing the record I had just sat in the NELO 560 by 3 seconds.

And I now crave this boat! Not so much because of the few seconds, but because I’m sitting really perfectly in it and to me this is what it comes down to. I love all of these boats, could live with any and will recommend any of them. But in the end only your own experience counts. Do try before you buy. Just like I should...

Nordic Kayaks Nitro

Postscript

If you get a chance to visit this part of Norway do pay a visit to Ut i Naturen, a dealer stocking no less than 130 surfskis with direct access to the sea.

Ut i Naturen

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