09 March 2010

REVIEW: first impressions of Elverkayaks

In the quest to find a kayak that would fit me and have a low deck I considered a skin-on-frame.

On a recent visit to Australia Brian Schulz (http://www.capefalconkayak.com/index.html ) taught a kayak building class in Sydney and produced a fresh crop of SOF and sparked a new interest in these ancient crafts.
Tom Nicholson from Elverpaddles was the organizer of the class.
During the course he built a classic kayak: the 1931 Disco Bay.
That kayak appealed to me very much.

Tom paddling "Marzipan"
The classic lines, the low profile and the simplicity of the design intrigued me.
I wanted to paddle that kayak.
A meeting was arranged and I eagerly drove a few hours South to meet with Tom and paddle the “Marzipan” (his Disco Bay).
What first surprised me was that the kayak had a very tight skin and not the saggy affair that I have seen pictures of builds from others.
The kayak had a smooth finish and no urethane paint drips were visible.
Inside the kayak the typical skeleton made of wood was supporting the tight nylon skin. The ribs however appear to be stronger than usual with the use of bamboo.

The kayak is pretty true to form. It is however expanded in by 7% all over, which equates to about 30% increase in volume. It has historically correct lines, includes the historically correct deck fittings (including the two rifle attachment points on the bow), and is basically a ‘correct to form’ west Greenland boat for large paddlers – but it’s not a ‘replica’. Its based on documentation of KOG 67 in Harvey Goldens book
Kayaks of Greenland’.

Sliding into the ocean style cockpit is different than my large butt-in-first style cockpit of my composite kayaks.
Launching off the beach required getting into the kayak first and then beach launch.
Since the kayak is so incredibly light that was an easy task.

Van superkayaker (c)
The very first paddle strokes were tentative while trying to understand the kayak’s initial and secondary stability.
A couple of sculling strokes gave me enough feedback to regard the kayak not any more “tippy” than my Mockpool.
The secondary stability was however way more solid.
Being a hard chine kayak it was a totally new style of maneuvering for me.
This kayak was responding to my lean turns.
The location provided ideal conditions for gentle surfing.
The swell was producing very soft and long waves that rarely crested and spilled.
While the waves were not steep, surfing them with “Marzipan” was a real joy.
I was using an Elverpaddle Tour carbon (balsa core) that was allowing me easy propulsion of this superlight kayak.
I was catching waves that I would not dream of in my Impex Assateague.
My paddling companions had all composite boats and while some of the waves were caught by all of us some other ones were clearly mine solely :-)
The kayak does not broach more then my hard tracking Mockpool. The biggest difference was edging the kayak: if I was misaligned on the wave and the kayak was starting to turn (broach) I could easily bring it back with a bit of a stern rudder and edging, something that my rounder hull Mockpool or Assateague don’t respond to as much.

Elverkayak #1 (c)
Rolling the SOF however was a different story.
The traditional small cockpit did not allow me to do laybacks.
The kayak is only temporarily fitted with a bit of thin closed cell foam and no back band.
In my composite kayaks I am used to have a contoured seat and the back band to stop me sliding too close to the cockpit rim.
With those two items missing in the SOF I was hitting my back on the coaming.
Later on a talked to Tom and he said that he was not that happy with the cockpit set up.
I suggested a longer cockpit that by the aid of a back band would allow me to be further away from the hard edge of the coaming and let me bring my back closer to the deck when doing layback rolls.
Tom had only temporary arrangements on the Marzipan and was still working out a more secure and contoured seating position that would lift the body away from the keelson (yeah, kind of annoying to have that piece of would digging into my crack :-)

Paddling a skin of frame requires probably a higher degree of skill level since rescues from wet exits are not as easy as with a kayak with bulkheads.
Some skin on frame paddlers use sea socks to prevent the kayak getting flooded in the event of a capsize that could not be rolled back up but I envision a sea sock a little hot in a tropical climate.
Special large inflatable bags that fill the space inside of the kayak not occupied by the paddler’s body are the alternative.

I believe that a skin on frame would not totally replace any of my current kayaks but it would just add to the collection.
Specifically designed to my requirements an Elverkayak could be what I am longing for: a kayak that would fit me exactly.


  1. Impressive looking kayak! I quite like the look of that two-tone paddle Tom is holding too, it would look great in my paddle collection. ;)

  2. Thanks for writing about this boat. Are there other types of rolls one could learn that aren't layback that would get the kayak upright again?

    I imagine paddling such a light craft was great compared to your heavier layups!

  3. Building your own skin kayak is an experience of its only. Go paddling it is another total overwhelming sensation. Like you say secondary stability is very strong on these boats, and very soon, if the kayak fits you (which it is supposed to since you build it around yourself), then it really is the best kayak you can think of. The only thing that might change is the volume : smaller kayaks for rolling, larger for heavy seas and surfing. Anyway I can only recommend you start building your own.


Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Because of spam received from unwanted manufacturers/retailers all comments are now moderated. Allow a few days for your comment to appear when the operators of GnarlyDog News are on safari.