Nelo 550L as first surfski, transitioning from sea kayaks

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3 years 11 months ago #37044 by CaliPaddler
I had a chance to demo a Nelo 550L recently, my first surfski experience ever. Had a great coach there to observe. Coming from 20 years of sea kayaking I was surprised at how unstable I felt, and how foreign the feeling of the rudder was (vs skegged boats). However, it was FUN, not hairy, just kind of inspiring and challenging. The coach said she thought I'd be a great fit for the boat even though it was intermediate, but... everything I've read suggests I should be prioritizing stability in my first ski purchase.

My aspirations are downwind runs but I can train in a flat marina to build confidence. My other limiting factor is a garage that can only take 18ft of length, max. I think the only other option in that size is the Epic V8?

All thoughts welcome, especially from anybody new to the sport who's tried the 550.

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3 years 10 months ago #37050 by tve
I'm really glad I paddled a Nelo 510 before moving up to a 550! A friend of mine is now using the 510 and after ~30 outings is starting to use the 550 on calm days or when he wants to focus more on technique. I wouldn't wish a 550 on any beginner (sorry, I don't think sea kayaking counts for that much in this case)...

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3 years 10 months ago - 3 years 10 months ago #37051 by Atlas
We can give you all the advice in the world but one paddle in the 550 in moderate downwind conditions will tell you all you need to know. Some things you just won't believe until you've experienced it.
You have quite a choice of (sensible) boats at or under 5.5 metres. Nelo 520, Stellar S18S, Carbonology Sport Cruze, Nordic Kayaks Exrcize, Think Eze, Ace & Zen and of course the Epic V8.

Current boats
Epic V10L Ultra, Epic V9 Ultra, Carbonology Sport Boost X LV, Fenn Bluefin, Nelo 510, Fenn XT double, Nelo 600, Expedition Kayaks Azure, Mirage 732.
Previous boats
Spirit PRS, Fenn Swordfish, Fenn XT, Fenn Swordfish S, Think Zen, Epic V10L Club, Carbonology Sport Boost LV
Last edit: 3 years 10 months ago by Atlas.

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3 years 10 months ago #37052 by CaliPaddler
Ha, I love it. Gut reactions are so much more valuable than technical details. I'll start to expand my horizons!

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  • MCImes
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3 years 10 months ago #37053 by MCImes
The 550 is probably the least stable 'intermediate/advanced' ski I've paddled. Considering its 46cm beam, i think it feels more like 44cm. Doesnt sound like much, but 43cm is an elite ski. I find the swordfish at 45cm way more stable than the 550 at 46cm. previous gen nelo's loved their round hulls with zero primary stability, which I am not a fan of. The new ones are supposed to be more stable with a modified hull.

45-46cm is probably too skinny for a beginner, but 48-50cm would for sure be ok in small conditions and you could grow into it in big conditions within 1-2 years (maybe less) depending on how much you paddle. something like a V8 may be more beam than you need if you have been paddling skinny sea kayaks for decades.

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3 years 10 months ago #37054 by CaliPaddler
Yeah my concern with the V8 was that it doesn't seem remarkably different than a FSK. I know there are differences in handling and technique but I would like to challenge my initial stability a little. The Nelo 520 is interesting, and I had never considered the Stellar 18S because it seems to require an over-stern rudder. The rudder thing may just be personal bias.

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3 years 10 months ago #37056 by Epicpaddler
I've never paddled a Nelo 550 before so I can't comment on that. But, coming from a sea kayaking background paddling a 21" wide sea kayak in all conditions made the transition to surfskis a bit easier. I demoed a v8 and it didn't feel any different than my sea kayak. The v8pro at least felt faster with the same feeling of stability. Now that I've been paddling a v8pro for a couple of seasons I'm exploring skinnier skis. Welcome to the sport. Since I started surfskis I haven't paddled my sea kayak at all. Might be time to to let it go.

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  • MCImes
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3 years 10 months ago #37057 by MCImes
What part of Cali are you in? Im in Ventura. you demo'd the nelo at NAC?

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3 years 10 months ago #37058 by CaliPaddler
Yeah, I'm in LA. Usually paddling out of MDR, haven't ventured much north or south yet. My demo was about a year and a half ago now, I recognize some faces on the NAC website but were they branded as something else at one point? Can't recall. I think they were also an official Nelo dealer.

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3 years 10 months ago #37059 by MCImes
VeniceBum also is in your area. search his name on the forum here. He has done some EPIC paddles, including a 35 mile point dume to MDR OC-1 downwind on one of the biggest days I've been out in, like solid 6-9'. I've never met up with him but hes in your area and a very good paddler. I bet he has a couple boats you might be able to try out as well. If you ever come up to Oxnard-Santa Barbara area hit me up.

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3 years 10 months ago #37060 by CaliPaddler
Great! Thanks so much, I’ll bookmark this for when local COVID numbers trend downward and I start venturing out again.

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3 years 10 months ago #37062 by Attilio
I recently tried a Nelo 600 which is supposed to be one of the most stable skis out there and deemed the ski element of paddling too tippy for my needs. I am not saying that surfski is bad, or skiiers are doing it wrong but objectively speaking you have to deal with the fact that the ski has a more round or log shaped hull design and you are sitting on top instead of your weight ballasting the bottom. These two important differences with sea kayaks will mean that at the same width, the touring kayak will always be significantly more stable but the ski faster due to better leverage and less wetted surface area.

You sacrifice basically 100% of your initial stability and a lot of your secondary stability as well for the speed. If you are planning on going downwind and in big waves, it's a huge advantage. The ski will always be faster but if the wind and waves are not behind you, then some of the advantage is lost, and if you're in flatwater like we are (mostly lakes and rives), the advantage is even less. The drawbacks however remain regardless of where you paddle.

However, the ski is only really stable when moving you got to get going. And from the experienced skiiers I talked to swimming and taking a dip will be a regular part of your diet. If you need to stop and have a meal, do something that requires coordination like take a photo, check your sugar if you're diabetic, take asthma inhalers or observe wildlife that's off the table. The rudder is also deeper so you cannot retract it for shallow like rivers and whatnot. The turning is also very poor in restricted areas and if you have to maneuver at very low speed or while stopped like in rocky coves. If you've never fallen into the water in your 20 years of sea kayaking and are not OK with it, like we never have in our 16 years of it, then you will either have to adjust your expectations or if swimming often is not acceptable then you should stay with sea kayaking.

This is not a horizontal move more of a quantum leap both in how much speed you gain, but by the same token you don't get something for nothing, and you get a quantum, logarithmic loss in stability for that speed. Again I am not saying you should not surfski, but these are the objective facts. I've heard some people selling all their sea kayaks and jumping head first because they loved the performance. Others like me would never or could never enjoy ski and return to sea kayaks happily with their tails between their legs. You go a lot faster, but there's a price. It's love it or hate it, YMMV. I suggest holding on to your sea kayaks for the moment and taking more lessons but in the end you'll never be able to completely eliminate the tippiness.

BOATS:
Stellar ST17 double Kayak
Stellar ST14 Single
Stellar Dragonfly packboat
(counting the inlaws boats they more or less let us use when we want below)
Wilderness Tsunami 140
Wilderness Northstar

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3 years 10 months ago - 3 years 10 months ago #37063 by Arcturus
I have never paddled a 550 but bought a 520 S (I’m small) in December, after taking two minilessons in September with a Nelo dealer and coach. The first session was at NAC, the second nearby starting from CG Beach. The lessons were well worth the cost!!!

My sea kayak is actually narrower beam (same LOA but shorter waterline due to lots of rocker) than the 520 S, but the difference in hull contours makes this measurement something not to rely on when gauging tippiness. I consider my sea kayak very stable  for someone of my size, weight, and previous experience, which was 9 years when I bought that one and 19 yrs by now. You already did a good first step, the demo. Since you are in LA (I envy your access to the ocean!), can you take a lesson in whatever ski you are interested in? In my case, the dealer had a demo ski available for me, but this might have been unusual.

The first lesson told me immediately that the ski was a different animal from the sea kayak. Easier glide for the same effort, less primary stability, and yeah I too was used to using edging for turning and skeg for wind compensation. However, the difference was easy to get used to. (Again, this was in the 520 S, the “old” hull, which I like very much). I had asked to practice the remount, which was also a painless adaptation from doing “cowboy re-entries” with sea kayaks. This is something you should try if you didn’t do so in the demo. There is no option to roll up, so it’s the only way to recover.

That said, although I liked the ski, I was not yet convinced there was enough of a speed difference to justify switching over. I did like the seating position a lot better—no splayed legs.

It was the second day’s minilesson that got me hooked. We didn’t have a lot of wind but there were enough “small bumps” to get a taste of what the ski’s strength was. I loved how it took off when I got it right. More pronounced acceleration than what I had had in the sea kayak in similar conditions.

 I found that the secondary stability also was lower than that of my sea kayak. It didn’t matter because I instinctively braced when caught by surprise. I had feared that I was going to capsize a bunch, given the dire comments I had read about ski newbies. It never happened.. I know it WILL happen eventually but you should know that experience with “real sea kayaking” can definitely help in the transition. There is a learning curve, sure. Sounds like you are up for the learning.

Here in my landlocked state, I only was able to get on the water late spring, thanks to COVID closures, I’ve been out 13 times so far, almost all in some wind but only one day did the fetch axis align with the long dimension of the reservoir, combined with adequate wind for usable waves. It brought back the feeling from that second lesson, and this time I was able to catch more waves. I just kept turning back, getting a workout from going both upwind and downwind, plus plenty of practice with side winds.

If your expectations are realistic and you pay attention to technique, you likely will get better at this sport. It is happening with me, and I look forward to more. DO take some lessons, though. You’re in a terrific location to take advantage of this!

P.S.
  Regarding stability when stopped...I take butt breaks every few miles. I just slide my butt forward and lean back against the bucket slope. This gives my sitbones a break. I may or may  ot wiggle around, stretch, or prop legs on the forward gunnels. If it felt tippy enough, I’d just put my legs over the sides. Again, if you’re interested more in moving forward than in sightseeing, the lower stability than a similar-beam sea kayak is not insurmountable.
Last edit: 3 years 10 months ago by Arcturus.

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3 years 10 months ago #37064 by CaliPaddler
I appreciate this perspective from fellow sea kayakers. I plan to continue kayaking even as I learn to surfski; I like surfing, rock gardening, rolling. Very used to wet work. The ski impulse is to get something a little lighter, more "grab n go" for general fitness. It's great to hear that even with similar specs, a ski and a sea kayak are vastly different experiences. I'll take that coaching advice to heart too.

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3 years 10 months ago #37065 by Epicpaddler
The "grab and go" thing is real. Many times I'd grab my SUP over the sea kayak just because it was so much easier to get on and off the roof racks and carry to the launch area. Running Goodboy Vbars and a surfski makes for the easiest possible way to get on the water. The v8pro has carry handles so it's like carrying a briefcase to the water. Everything about surfski paddling is better than sea kayaking (for me).  Lighter, faster, safer, cooler, and more fun.

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3 years 10 months ago #37067 by tve

I have never paddled a 550 but bought a 520 S (I’m small) in December, after taking two minilessons in September with a Nelo dealer and coach. The first session was at NAC, the second nearby starting from CG Beach. The lessons were well worth the cost!!!

I would definitely second that. Michelle at nelo.us / paddlecal.com is great and it can make a huge difference to get oriented in the right direction (technique-wise) from the beginning.

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  • MCImes
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3 years 10 months ago - 3 years 10 months ago #37068 by MCImes

Attilio wrote: ...
You sacrifice basically 100% of your initial stability and a lot of your secondary stability as well for the speed...The drawbacks however remain regardless of where you paddle...

However, the ski is only really stable when moving you got to get going.
And from the experienced skiiers I talked to swimming and taking a dip will be a regular part of your diet.
If you need to stop and have a meal, do something that requires coordination like take a photo, check your sugar if you're diabetic, take asthma inhalers or observe wildlife that's off the table.
...I suggest holding on to your sea kayaks for the moment and taking more lessons but in the end you'll never be able to completely eliminate the tippiness.


Attilio, I understand your unique circumstances and why capsizing is completely unacceptable for your specific situation, but many of your statements are factually untrue.

Your perception of stability is far below where most skiiers start. Anyone with average athletic ability should be able to hop on a V5 or V8 and go. they ARE stable. They 30" arent rec kayak stable, but it is false to say they are unstable. most people perceive this differently than you.

Yes, any boat is more stable at speed, but again, there are plenty of stable skis, even when stopped.

Yes, swimming is part of skiing. If you're not swimming, you're not having fun IMO.

It is completely possible to relax, watch wildlife, use an inhaler, film a video, drink a beer, or whatever else on the water. I have done all of those in large waves on a 45cm ski and I am far from Elite. one of the most impressive feats I have seen is ZachHandler sitting in a V12 and take off a tight fitting neoprene top without putting his legs in the water or wobbling much. Stability is a learned skill no different than riding a unicycle. you suck at it until you put in the hours (unless you're lucky and naturally gifted, which some are).

It is completely possible to not feel unstable at all, even in an advanced ski in moderate conditions. In my case that means waves of any size as long as they are not steep or reflected.  If the water is not messy or steep its easy to take a video, eat a snack, relax, whatever. If you train enough, it is completely possible to feel stable at all times in small to moderate conditions.

Sure, keep the kayaks for other types of paddling, however you have a good time on the water is cool with me, but you're making a mountain out of a mole hill due to highly specific (and valid) concerns you have based around your medical condition. But assuming someone else doesnt have diabetes to worry about, a few swims are fine and the learning curve flattens quickly.
Last edit: 3 years 10 months ago by MCImes.

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3 years 10 months ago #37069 by M.v.E.
The new Nelo 550 that came out this year is in my opinion significantly more stable than the previous model.
I got mine 2 monhs ago. However, it´s still not a beginners boat when Downwind is your desire. This is my 4th Surfski.
I started with a more stable Stellar SR 1. Gen. many years ago and also came from a seakayaking background. I think you should try the new Nelo 540 which is more stable and apparently just a tiny bit slower than the 550. I wonder why Nobody mentioned this boat before.  

Current Ski: Nelo 550 L
Previous Skis: Stellar SR 1. Gen. / Stellar SEI 1. Gen. / Stellar SR 2. Gen.

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3 years 10 months ago #37070 by CaliPaddler
I’ll look into the 520 and 540. The shorter than average length is appealing for a variety of reasons. I don’t know if I should be demoing size L or ML, however. I’m exactly 165lb/75kg, which is the dividing line between the two. 5’11”, 30” inseam.

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3 years 10 months ago #37071 by M.v.E.
I guess the Nelo in M/L size should be right for you. I am 33 inseam and the L size fits me perfect.

Current Ski: Nelo 550 L
Previous Skis: Stellar SR 1. Gen. / Stellar SEI 1. Gen. / Stellar SR 2. Gen.

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