SL Review (Downwind Machine!) by Chris Hipgrave
Fenn Elite SL – by Chris Hipgrave
We don’t see too many Fenn’s in the Carolina’s, which is too bad. Video and images of the iconic Fenn’s piloted by the like’s of Hank McGregor and Dawid Mocke, captured my imagine when I started making the transition from racing whitewater to racing surfski.
So it was with some degree of excitement and intrigue that I came to my first Wild Side Relay this week and got to borrow an Elite SL from DJ, making this the first time I would paddle a Fenn. Would I have the skills to captain a ski favored by the worlds best? Would I be able to fit my tall and lanky frame into the cockpit? How would it surf? How about remounts?
I used the SL for a total of 8 days, racking up over 16 hours of training during which time the Columbia Gorge winds did not disappoint. The SL is definitely a through bred. From the second you sit in the bucket and start moving forwards you feel the ski wanting to be paddled hard. The more you give the SL the more it rewards you with speed and agility. From my perspective, this is one of the tell tale indicators between an advanced ski and intermediate ski. Any limitations of the SL are a result of the pilot and not the surfski design itself. The paddling ergonomics were great with low heels, a narrow catch and a bucket that positioned me with a comfortable yet aggressive posture ready to race. Initial stability was never in question regardless of the conditions and when I needed to find the secondary stability, it was readily accessible and I had the SL quickly back charging forwards. I never fell off all week despite purposely challenging my own skill set on a daily basis, which I consider a testament to the progressive stability of this racing machine.
I was quite concerned about my ability to comfortably paddle the SL. I have the inseam of someone 6ft. 6in. with a narrow bony backside. As a result I have found many ski’s I simply cannot fit into due to limited adjustability of the footplate or a bucket so large that I rattle around in it. Thankfully my concerns were unfounded with the Elite SL. The footplate was moved one hole short of its max so it would probably accommodate someone in excess of 6 feet 7 inches. The SL bucket was comfortable too and I didn’t think about my own comfort once in a weeks worth of paddling, which is a good indicator of a well-designed, ergonomic cockpit. The low heels and solid footplate was confidence inspiring in the bigger swell when you where trying to push the bow down into the next hole.
But it’s when you point the SL downwind that it really shins. The bow may be narrow but it is high volume with a great rocker profile making burying the bow quite difficult and as a result the SL really carries a lot of speed downwind. In the Wild Side Relay my max speed was 23kph on the 2nd leg while my max speed all week during training was 27kph. These are impressive numbers that validate it’s through bred status. The deep cockpit and high sides keep the bucket drier than I expected but when I did swamp the two-amble venturi’s had me dry in seconds. On surf, the SL carries its line well and when the bow is up (made easy by the volume and rocker profile), you can change direction quite easily. DJ had a shark fin style rudder installed on this demo SL which tended to snap the SL back to direction a little more aggressively than I wanted in some situations but a more traditional surf or elliptical style rudder would almost certainly remove that snappy direction change and give it a more progressive rudder feel.
In conclusion, I can honestly say that the Fenn Elite SL impressed and I hope DJ will let me demo it again when I return to the Gorge next year. The SL is a through bred that shins in the downwind conditions like we experienced all week in the Columbia River Gorge, validating it’s status as a top tier downwind racer used by some of the best paddlers out there. Huge thanks to DJ for allowing me to play with the Fenn Elite SL during my time in the Columbia River Gorge.
See the Fenn Elite SL in action at Swell City in the Columbia River Gorge here … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-4K5u9F5Zk