Fenn Swordfish Product Review
When I first got my Fenn Swordfish, I was in San Francisco, CA in the week leading up to US Surfski Championships. This gave me the opportunity to test out this new boat right from the get go, running it through all types of conditions from surf to chop to current rips to flat water. I raced it twice in one week, first at the Wave Chasers Sausilito to Berkeley race then at Champs, and was very impressed by its handling. When my wife called from Bellingham halfway through the week to see how I was liking the boat she asked “Is it <the Swordfish> as good as you thought it would be” my reply was “It’s better”. Having been paddling this boat for the past 3 months now, I wouldn’t change my answer. So the question that everyone is asking is “What makes the Swordfish so good?”. Here’s my impression:
Filling the Void
The newest boat from Fenn Kayaks, the Fenn Swordfish, fills the void of a high performance intermediate boat not only in the Fenn product lineup but also across all surfski manufacturers’ products. The challenge for many intermediate paddlers (and more skilled paddlers looking for added stability in big conditions) is that, until now, there hasn’t been a model in between the wider “beginner” boats and the skinny “elite” boats, period. Looking at all the major surfski manufacturers’ models out there, the beam width is either 19″ and above (ok the S1-R says it’s 18.75 but that’s close enough) or 17″ and below. You’re either in a “fat” boat or you are not. The jump from a wider boat to a higher performance boat has been too much for many looking to step up their paddling, leaving them either in a bulkier boat than they want or a boat the is unsafe for them in some conditions. At 17.72″, the Swordfish offers a middle ground. Sleek high performance design with added stability that comes with it’s beam width.
Looking at just the raw data of the Swordfish vs the XT or the Elite (below) will tell you that, yes, this is an intermediate boat that falls smack in between the specs of Fenn’s two main models, but that doesn’t do the Swordfish justice. From the specs alone you can see the beam is going to go up or down an inch from the other two models , overall length is going to go up or down a foot, and finally the height is going to adjust an inch up or down respectively. The weight of the carbon model comes in around 24lbs, again stats that are tucked right in between the XT and Elite. But you can’t simply classify the Swordfish as the filling in between the cookies thereby making the Fenn line-up complete. No, you have to look at the boat itself, it’s design and handling to really see why the Swordfish is in a class by itself.
This boat is designed to surf. There are a number of factors to the design that make the Fenn Swordfish a surfing machine. To start, the length of the Swordfish, at 20′, is hitting a sweet spot that will perform well on swell as well as wind generated waves. After that things get messy, so let’s start from the nose and work our way back.
The front of this boat is designed to cut through waves while at the same time being able to respond quickly to steering. The volume of the Fenn Swordfish nose is actually smaller than both the Mako XT and the Mako Elite. Lining up these three surfski’s bows, I was amazed at the actual size and shape difference in the profile between the three. (See Photo Above) This adjustment to the nose volume in the Swordfish makes for a nose that is easier for smaller paddlers to handle compared to a big volume bow like an Elite.
The seat in the Swordfish is very comfortable. The higher sides and smaller bucket offer a snugger, more secure feeling seat than the low wide seat on the XT but not as constrained at the Elite cockpit which can feel a little clostrophobic if you’re not used to it. Fenn has added cut outs at the the paddle point of entry, making for easier blade placement and also added to the aesthetics of the boat. The footplate and adjustments are standard Fenn stock, with the added bonus of a webbing pully to move footplate more easily.
What the Swordfish lacks in volume in the nose, it makes up for in the tail. The boat has had most of its volume put behind the cockpit, which gives some added stability as well as helping put the boat on waves. With the smaller nose and the fatter tail, it’s hard not to catch a wave on this design, with the tail feeling like it’s being lifted and placed on the wave. When lined up tail to tail, the Swordfish’s rudder is about a foot further forward on the hull the the XT, which helps keep boat from broaching on steep wave.
The overall stability on the Swordfish is great. On flat water one might wonder what the difference is from the XT, it feels that stable. Once it gets out into waves or chop though, the rocker of the hull can be felt the differences in the stability stand out from the XT, making this a boat for experienced paddlers. Primary and secondary stability can be felt on the Swordfish, whereas in the XT it all feels pretty similar and stable.
With the higher sides, the Swordfish is a step up in remounts from the XT, but needs far less balance and skill than remounting the Elite which can be a challenge in big conditions. Overall (for experience paddlers), swims are easy to recover from in the Swordfish.
The Swordfish is a great choice for paddlers who have been waiting for a boat that will give them stability and high performance in surf. Whether you are an intermediate paddler looking to step up your game in the surf or an expert paddler looking for a little more stability and safety on the big days, the Swordfish will make a great addition to any collection of boats. The Swordfish’s performance in the water along with the high quality design construction that Fenn is known for is sure to make this boat a competitor in the surfski market for years to come.