Surfski Reviews: McGregor Classic and Rhythm

Monday, 01 October 2018 08:56 | Written by 
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Erik Borgnes finds the McGregor Rhythm an enigma, but likes both surfskis! Erik Borgnes finds the McGregor Rhythm an enigma, but likes both surfskis! Credits: Erik Borgnes

[Editor: Knysna Racing Kayaks released the Lee McGregor-designed Classic and Rhythm surfskis in 2017.  Contributor and passionate surfski paddler Erik Borgnes has been paddling both them; here's what he thinks of these "short" boats...]

I'm now on my third "short" racing ski after a long string of standard length ocean skis.  Right now, I have the McGregor Classic, released in early 2017, and the McGregor Rhythm, released shortly afterwards.  I didn't think that I'd fit in the Classic when I read the early reports on the ski, so I bought a Rhythm.  

Then, during a moment of insanity, I hopped an early morning flight from Wisconsin to Florida, rented a car and drove through 30 miles of flooding roads during a week-long South Florida rainstorm, met up with Bruce Gipson of Venturesports, demo’d the Classic, and flew back home that evening.  That’s nuts, right?  "Unfortunately", I fit in the Classic just fine and had no seat issues after our one hour paddle, so I ended up buying the Classic, too.   

CLASSIC 

First Looks

The Classic is 19’ 4 long x 16.1” wide (590 cm x 41 cm width) and listed as being for paddlers under 90 kg weight. 

It looks like a K2 bow mated to a standard ski stern.  The hull cross section is a narrow U at the bow, is flat under the seat, and progresses to a boxy curve at the stern.  The "chines" under the seat area are about the width of your sit bones / ischial tuberosities, or just slightly wider. 

classic bucket

The seat is deep and the bottom of the seat pan is flatter and wider than usual - so the seat shape sort of follows the inner contour of the hull underneath it.  The seat bottom feels a bit higher than your heels, though, so the sitting position is pretty good and since I usually sit on a 1 cm thick seat pad, it’s pretty darn comfortable.  The knee hump seems standard height as does the gunwale height.  Rocker is pretty generous both in how it looks and in the way the ski behaves on the water.

classic footwell

The weight of this ski is about 22 lbs (10.5 kg), so it is very lightweight. 

It feels adequately stiff in the hand and on the water.  My ski had no soft spots or significant “oil canning” in the hull.  I can’t really say much about the build quality other than to say that I have had no issues with this ski and it’s been completely watertight.  The footrest flexed too much for my liking, and the footpedal surfaces didn't align perfectly with the footrest which bothered my big feet, so I swapped it out for a stiffer footrest and redrilled holes as was necessary to make it fit.  Most paddlers probably wouldn't feel the need to do that - only the finicky ones like me. 

The rudder crosspiece is like the one on Fenn skis and fine for what it does, but I wanted more security and the ability to use a variety of rudders, so I swapped the Classic's out for a Think crosspiece and Think rudder (both take the same size shaft.  An Uno Max rudder with one or two thin washers works for shaft length).  The ski came with scuppers, which I'd probably leave alone if I mainly paddled in the ocean, but for flatter water use, I blocked off the scuppers and had a bailer installed.

Comfort

The Classic is the skinniest ski that I can fit my rear end into.  Because the hull is chined, the bottom of the seat is wide, and I drop all the way down to the bottom of the seat without hip pinch.  The sides of the seat are vertical, meaning that they don't flare outwards at the top.  The back of the seat bucket doesn't flare back like some newer skis do.  

The boxy seat cross section feels about like the Gen1 and Gen2 Think Uno, though the Classic's seat is just a hair wider from top to bottom.  It’s also wider than the Gen 3 Uno Max, a ski that is too narrow for me.  Compared to the Epics and the Nelo 560, the Classic's seat is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top.  Like always, some will fit comfortably while others won't. 

The footwell is narrower than a 2G V10 but not as narrow as the 3G Uno/Uno Max/Ion, and the catch is quite narrow as well.  

classic 07 hull

Paddling - Flat Water

On flat water, the Classic feels like it sinks down a bit, especially under my 190 lbs (86 kg) weight.  The flatness under the seat gives it a trace of initial stability.  Lean it over to the side, and since the chine is right underneath you, it doesn't firm up all that much.  Lean it over further, ...and I can't because the opposite gunwale digs into my ribs and the ski won't lean any more. 

Under power, the Classic feels halfway between an ICF K1 and a long ski in that it accelerates more easily both from low and high speeds than a long ski, but not as well as a K1.  The corrollary to that, however, is that it also probably decelerates faster than a longer ski does. I would think that as long as the deceleration rate between strokes is not too fast, or your stroke rate too low, then it might be a good trade-off.   

Paddling this back to back with my Vajda Infusion 2 ICF K1, the stability feels fairly similar, so in other words, it's a fairly tippy elite level ski.  The only reason that I am comfortable in the Classic in mildly rough water is that I fit pretty snugly in it, the seat is low, and the trace of initial stability keeps it feeling fairly planted on the water - all of which keep me from panicking.  

Paddling in Waves 

In multidirectional waves of 1 ft (30 cm) or so, the Classic feels pretty solid for a short, skinny, lightweight ski, though it's still a handful due to the narrow beam, the flatter hull, and the high rocker.  On small downwind runs, with waves up to 3 ft (1m), the Classic works well with the small volume skinny bow seeming to more easily punch through the waves ahead than longer higher volume skis with wider bows.  I noticed this in the Nelo 560 as well.  

Downwind in waves up to 3ft (1m), it really benefits from having a larger swept back rudder and a bow deflector.  It’s easy to control on another ski’s wake and it picks up small runners well like most skis do.  But, I find that I can get onto more runners in the Classic since it accelerates faster and with less effort.

Boat Speed? 

I find it difficult to compare boat speed between elite level skis even when using my gps and HRM on flat and deep water because the differences between elite skis nowadays are so small.  

An analogy I like to use is to compare elite skis like this to a single speed time trial bicycle with a gear size that correlates to our strength, fitness, paddle length, etc.  A faster hull is like swapping out the wheels on that single speed bike for slightly more aero wheels -  which should increase our speed, right?  But it only sort of does.  With the faster wheels, it takes less effort to bump up our speed during an interval, and we might be able to accelerate better, but in a longer effort, we tend to fall back to the same or nearly the same speed where our single gear feels most comfortable and efficient.  This might just be a function of our own efficiency of muscle contraction  - meaning that maybe we automatically settle in at our optimal cadence / stroke rate.  

At any rate, I suspect the Classic is on par with other elite skis in terms of overall drag and how fast it is at marathon pace in the 7.5 to 8.5 mph (12 to 13.7 kph) range.

classic

Seat first, Hull second

I like the design idea behind the Classic whether it was done on purpose or not:  build a narrow racing ski but design the hull to accommodate the width of seat that will allow more paddlers to fit, i.e. design the hull around the seat.  Sure, the hull would have been lower drag had it been optimized first but then the seat would have been really narrow or really high.  The shorter length has less wetted surface area, so some of that extra form drag is made up. 

Overall - Fun and Fast

Having used the McGregor Classic for a full year (minus 5 months of winter), I'm finding that it works very well for me as a flatter water ski because it meets the three main criteria which we all use:  It's comfortable enough for how long I plan to be in it; it's fast enough so that I don't feel like I'm penalized for not being in a different ski; and it's fun to paddle.  It's not a ski for everyone because it's a tippy elite level ski.  It also wouldn't be my first choice in a bigger downwind, as a rough water ski, nor as an ocean ski (I mainly paddle large fresh water lakes and slow flowing rivers).

Several other very good paddlers have taken the Classic for a spin back to back with their standard longer elite ski or their K1, and they've all had the same impression in that the Classic feels surprisingly fast, comfortable, and fun to paddle.   I suspect it accelerates well because the shorter length and narrow waterline gives them less wetted surface area, though maybe it's the rocker, or maybe it's the exaggerated swedeform shape, or maybe all three?

McGregor Rhythm

RHYTHM

The Rhythm is essentially the same ski as the Classic and the same length, but about 1 3/4” wider from in front of the cockpit all the way back to the tail.  Knysna lists it as 590 cm length and 45.5 cm width and for paddlers under 100 kg weight.  Not knowing any better, I would guess that the Classic's mold was split in two and progressively widened to the seat area and then narrowed back to the tail. 

The hull bottom looks considerably flatter and wider from about where your feet are all the way back past the rudder.  Rocker, I'm told, is the same for both skis.  The Rhythm that I have looks and feels a bit more polished or of higher quality than my Classic.  Weight is the same and about 22 lbs (10.5 kg).  

Comfort 

The Rhythm's seat feels much wider than the Classic's, and its seat bottom feels flatter and like it slopes down and back more.  It feels similar in shape but slighly wider than a Gen 3 Ion.  The back of the seat slopes away gently like the Classic’s, but since the seat is so much wider, there is much more room around my “love handles” - so while I might get skin irritation in that area after a few hours in the Classic, there’s only daylight between my skin and the seatback in the Rhythm. The seat feels similar in shape but slighly wider than a Gen 3 Ion.  

rhythm

I suspect that those paddlers who often have tailbone issues with seat backs might have issues with the Rhythm, though, of course, that's just a guess.  The footwell of the Rhythm is medium to narrow like that of the Classic, and the catch feels narrow as well. 

I found the footboard too flexible for my taste, so I swapped it out for a stiffer Fenn footboard like I did in the Classic.  I have a replacement Think rudder crosspiece ready but I haven't yet swapped it out and installed a Think rudder. 

rhythm

First Impressions

The first time I sat in the Rhythm, I thought for sure that I had a defective ski because it felt almost like the ski was only floating on the bow and stern - like an arch or a bridge.  I actually got out of the ski and scanned the hull to see if I had bent the thing, and of course, I hadn't. 

That feeling dissipated while underway and over time and I suspect that it was just the difference in midships volume between it and the Classic - meaning that both have the same rocker but the Classic, being much narrower, sinks deeper.  Another thing that I noticed months later is when a 165 lb (75 kg) friend paddled it, about 3 inches (8 cm) of the stern were out of the water.   I suspect that he was too light for it, though I don’t know if that would affect its performance.

Stability 

The primary stability is much better than the Classic’s while at rest or at low speed, though it has a bit more of a ‘wiggly’ feel due to not sinking down in the water as much.   At higher speeds though, the Rhythm’s stability feels pretty solid and it feels like it floats up higher on the water than other skis do.   It's hard to compare its stability to other skis because most all other skis that I've paddled use the same formula of lower initial stability and high secondary stability, while the Rhythm is the opposite of that. 

What I can say, though, is that once you get used to the stability swap, it feels much more stable than the typical elite ski and probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a V10, Ion, SEI, or Swordfish on flat water - though the Rhythm has less of a side to side roll while underway.  

To give you an idea of its stability, I put a V8 Pro paddler in it and he was very uncomfortable with its tippiness.  He made it about 8 strokes before he swam.  Five minutes later, though, he was able to wiggle his way straight for several minutes.  It’s not that the Rhythm is a tippy ski, it just feels different - it’s loose and wobbly at rest and at low speeds.

(Picture this: in a typical narrow ski, when you lean it to the left, the keel line of the hull feels like it stays in the same spot and it’s you that moves to the left.  When you lean the Rhythm to the left, however, it feels like you are stationary and the hull is sliding to the right.  Yikes, right?  But, it’s just a matter of getting used to it.) 

Paddling - Flat Water

On flat water, I think the Rhythm feels great and I'd say it's the most comfortable flat water ski that I've paddled.  Why do I feel this way?  Mostly because the seat is really comfortable for me, the primary stability at speed is huge, the catch is narrow, it accelerates really well, and it has a very nice glide in my LSD training range of 6.8 to 7.2 mph (11 to 11.5 kph).  

At higher speeds, I find that it still goes really well though it feels just a bit higher in drag than the Classic.  It surfs wake and small waves well like most skis these days.

Paddling - Waves 

My experience in small beam waves with the Rhythm is that it gets thrown left and right far more than most other skis because its wider and flatter hull tends to follow the pitch of the water's surface.   On downwind 3 ft (1m) waves, I found the Rhythm to feel very loose and twitchy and not all that confidence-inspiring because it felt like it would quickly and continually flip from chine to chine.  

Years ago, I had a Custom Kayaks Mark 1, which was wonderful in waves and slop.  It had a hull cross section somewhat similar to the Rhythm, but with a wider beam and longer waterline, so I was optimistic that the Rhythm would eat up the waves like the Mark 1 did.  But the Rhythm didn't do that for me, and I'm not entirely sure why not.  

Enigma

The Rhythm is a bit of an enigma for me.  It's truly got the most comfortable seat and paddling position of any ski that I've been in.  It's really stable on flat water if you're used to elite skis.  While its speed feels just a small notch below the Classic (I'd roughly equate the Classic's speed to a  Gen 1 V12 and the Rhythm to a Gen 2 V10) it's far more stable and, in my opinion, more enjoyable to paddle on those long leisurely paced LSD sessions that many of us do. 

But, in my opinion, the Rhythm misses the mark as a rough water ski, probably because it's too flat bottomed.   The predicament that I'm in right now is that I have my Rhythm up for sale, but the more I paddle it on flat water, the more I like it, and the more I think that I need to keep it just for these 3-4 hr flat water paddles that I do about once a week.  

But, do I really need to keep this ski just for those long flat water paddles when I could sell it and get something newer and shinier?   I probably do because comfort is paramount and it can take years and piles of money to find at a ski that you can sit comfortably for hours in.


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