New Surfski - Allwave DNA - First Looks

Tuesday, 28 August 2018 13:53 | Written by 
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The Allwave DNA - the latest creation from Allwave Kayaks in Italy. The Allwave DNA - the latest creation from Allwave Kayaks in Italy.

Yeeeeeha!  As I accelerated down yet another small run, I thought, ‘I can definitely handle this boat’…”  In fact, in the conditions I was paddling in, the DNA gave me a taste of what it feels like to be an elite paddler…

Leaving, on a jet plane…

When the opportunity came up to fly to Italy to visit Allwave Kayaks just outside Rome, and to paddle their latest creation, the Allwave DNA, I didn’t hesitate.  A renewed passport later, and I was on my way.

Allwave CEO Roberto Spigoli met me and the new Allwave Australia agent, Stefano Pirrello at Rome Airport and took us straight to the factory, about 40 minutes away. 

The business has a small but dedicated team building a range of products including outrigger canoes, lifesaving boards, paracanoes and of course, the main attraction as far as I was concerned: surfskis.

I first saw the Allwave CX in Cape Town in 2011 and after having paddled it quite extensively I wrote a fairly glowing review (click here to read the review).  In essence, I really enjoyed it, but found it a little tippy.

So, I was interested, excited, and to be honest, a little apprehensive about paddling Allwave’s latest top-end boat, the DNA.

Why apprehensive?  My balance has never been legendary, and it’s been a while since I paddled a top-end boat – my usual mount these days is a Fenn Swordfish in which I feel absolutely bullet proof.  So how would I find the DNA?

CX v DNA

The DNA is based on the older Allwave CX

What’s in a name?

I was amused to find that the Allwave folks had been slightly wounded by my criticism of the CX name in my previous review and Roberto explained that the DNA was named for their having combined the “genes” of all their previous experience into the new design!  I think it’s a pretty cool name – and it’s certainly memorable!

After touring the factory, we headed towards Roberto’s summer residence.  For three months of the year, Rome gets really, really hot - when I was there, the temperatures ranged from 33C to 38C – and the Spigoli family move out of their home to a camp under the trees at Lake Bracciano, a spectacular body of water some 8km across that provides Rome with an emergency supply of drinking water. 

The lake is incredibly clean – motorised craft are not allowed – and on weekends is full of sailing craft, paddlers and fishermen. 

The DNA – first looks

Like all of Allwave’s products, the finish on this boat is spectacular.  Measurements are:

  • Weight: 11kg (in carbon)
  • Length: 640cm/21ft
  • Width: 42.8cm/17in

While it looks similar to the CX, Roberto confirmed that the main differences are:

  • Cockpit moved 7cm forward.
  • Rudder moved 7cm forward.
  • Raised rails (to make the cockpit drier).
  • Slightly increased volume in the nose.
  • Increased footwell length to cater for taller paddlers.

The rocker in the hull is unchanged.

In other respects, the DNA is the same as the CX: it has the same footplate and adjustments and you can adjust the leg length while seated in the ski.  The angle of the rudder pedals is also easily adjusted using a jamming cleat mounted on the front bulkhead.

Cockpit Fittings

Footplate fittings

The rudder bar (beautifully machined and clearly extremely strong) is now hidden under a hatch cover and they’ve done away with the emergency steering mechanism that I so admired in the original CX.

(Roberto said that the practical problem with the system was that the bungy cord tends to lose its elasticity over time and they had complaints from paddlers who said that the system didn’t work when it was needed… 

My answer to those paddlers - having used the system in a real emergency - is that they should replace the bungie regularly along with their rudder cables.  This is called “annual maintenance”!) 

Paddling the DNA

My first paddle was on the sea, near the ancient Roman Port of Ostia (my mind was constantly blown by the history of ancient Rome).  On the way we paused for the first of many times for coffee…  It seems that in Italy one cannot go for more than about 45min without a hit of caffeine!

Buddies

Post paddle - with Stefano Pirrello, Allwave's agent in Sydney, Australia

Conditions were perfect for the first run – a light breeze and an almost flat sea.

The DNA is a snug fit for me; plenty of room to rotate, but you’re firmly in contact with the boat.

Setup was quick, with no need for Allen Keys or other tools.

(Not having brought my own paddle, I borrowed an Orka Inner Pro, made by Orka paddles in Cape Town.  I used the paddle for my entire stay and enjoyed it – it’s an easy and comfortable to use medium-size blade that plants in the water cleanly and doesn’t twist or skid in the stroke.)

Stefano (in the CX) and I did a number of ins-and-outs and my immediate observation was how fast the boat feels. 

It’s more tippy than my swordfish – but that was no surprise.  (As time went on, however, my feelings changed from “Nice, but I’d sweat it on a Miller’s Run” to “Oh boy, I can’t wait to try this on a Miller’s Run”…)

The sea was calm, but there were small bumps in the water.  Several times as Stefano and I were paddling steadily alongside each other, I found myself catching runs and smoothly accelerating away.  This was the first sign to me at rate that the boat is a surfing machine…

Back to the lake and out we went for dinner – and possibly the best fish dish I’ve ever experienced at the Ristorante Il Pioppo…  oh man.

I have to digress here and mention the food.  It was wonderful to stay with the Spigolis and to experience authentic Italian food…  the pastas were, not surprisingly, nothing like the imitations we get back home.  And in three days I put on more than a kilo in weight…

Coffee Break

Italians seem to have an insatiable appetite for caffeine!

Flat Water

The next morning, we started with some paddling on the glassy lake… 

Stefano and I did a series of intervals and even with my disreputable flat-water technique, I was maintaining around 13kph, which for me is appreciably faster than I normally achieve on the flat!  

Lake paddling

Glassy conditions on Lake Bracciano

We had just returned to shore when I noticed the Sabazia II ferry boat, the only powered vessel allowed on the lake, passing on its two-hourly circumnavigation…  so of course, we headed out to ride its wake.

It was too far out, and we didn’t make it – but we were able to turn and ride the wake waves anyway and once again it was clear that the boat just loves to jump onto a wave, however small.  I was riding the waves diagonally and the boat didn’t show any sign of broaching either.

Chasing wakes

Chasing wakes

Ladispoli Downwind

Then it was time for more pasta, before we headed down to the sea again, this time to paddle from Ladispoli to Passo Oscuro with one of Roberto’s customers and friends, Emilio. 

We stopped on the way for coffee (of course) and we finally figured out that what I normally drink at home is what Italians recognise as Café Latte…  One drawback of ordering a latte though is that I was left behind while the others tossed their espressos down…  I swear for them, it’s just a caffeine hit.

The paddle turned into a really pleasant, mellow run…  It wasn’t exactly a downwind; some of the time we actually had a gentle headwind (which was a blessing in the heat) but we did have small runs the whole way, and it was enormous fun. 

For me, the fundamentals of a good downwind boat include:

  • A perceptible acceleration as the back of the boat lifts up and you take off onto a run – even on a very small wave
  • The ability to surf diagonally down the face of a wave without losing control and broaching
  • The ability to turn from a diagonal back onto the run so that you execute s-turns to stay on a wave

Clearly any boat will broach if you’re careless, but I’ve paddled boats in the past that had a clear propensity to broach and some that either had rudders too far back or that were designed badly, making them ineffective.

Roman Downwind

Mellow Roman downwind

The DNA is enormous fun in waves…  It feels fast and feels as though it’s accelerating onto the runs and I thought it very manoeuvrable.  The rudder on the one that I was paddling was a big surf rudder and it was highly effective.  I could catch a run, move to one side or the other and swing the boat back. 

I found myself on my own when I reached what I thought was the finish, so I paddled back into the waves to meet the other two – and realised that I was feeling extremely comfortable in the boat.  Conditions weren't exactly hectic – but balance was proving not to be an issue at all.

There was another issue though – my coccyx had developed a raw area from rubbing on the back of the seat.  I have an unusual backside, however and have struggled with many a seat that most paddlers have no problem with. 

Back to base and a late supper before the final day of testing.

Swapping Boats

Next morning Stefano and I did some more intervals, this time swapping between the CX and the DNA.  On flat water there didn’t really seem to be much difference between the boats – hardly surprising given the hulls are very similar.  When I put the hammer down, I could get the boats up above 14kph, but 100m or so of that and I'd have to back off.  

The Sabazia II came chugging past again and I paddled out hard to meet her…  Unfortunately (as Roberto commented knowledgably) her hull is extremely efficient and the wake waves are at an extreme angle making it virtually impossible to catch them and steer the same course as the ship…  But however, we managed to stay with her for 500m or so, enjoying the 15kph waves.

Bracciano Downwind

In the afternoon the wind arrived, and we had a very pleasant, mellow downwind crossing of the lake.  Once again, the boat really came alive on the bumps and again, although the chop was small, I remarked how stable I felt.  Allwave are sending a couple of the boats to Cape Town next month, and I can’t wait to try the DNA in our conditions.

Bracciano Downwind

Paddles down (just) on the Bracciano downwind!

Remounting

We jumped off the boats a couple of times over the three days, sometimes to test remounting, sometimes just to cool off. 

Because of the narrow seat and higher rails, I think this is a slightly more difficult boat to remount than the CX, and it’s definitely trickier than other, wider boats like my Swordfish, but it’s by no means impossible.

(At the time of writing there’s just been a tragedy in New Zealand where a paddler died after having been unable to remount his surfski in cold water.  This is an absolutely critical skill that must be practised.)

Overall Impressions

In case it’s not obvious, I’m a big fan of Allwave, and the DNA in particular.  We didn’t paddle in rough conditions, and I’ll be writing a follow-up piece after having paddled the boat in Cape Town, hopefully sometime in September.

The positives?

  • The build quality overall – everything from the footplate controls to the tiller bar are top notch and have been thought through from a useability point of view.
  • I love the way the boat behaves in small downwind conditions – and I can’t wait to try it in some bigger stuff.  The more I paddled it, the more stable I felt (duh!), but I'm keen to see how I feel in our choppy waters.  

Things to watch out for

  • Can’t really blame the boat, as noted above, but my coccyx was rubbed properly raw after three days. Is there no standard seat out there that suits everyone? 
  • The higher rails and narrow seat makes this (like many of the elite-level boats) more tricky to remount than wider surfskis. Just make sure you practise remounting – no matter what boat you have.

And yes, Roberto and Mario, I think the DNA name is just fine!!

For more information, click here to go to the Allwave website


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