Review: Carbonology Sport Atom

Sunday, 12 June 2011 18:47 | Written by 
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Carbonology Sport Atom Carbonology Sport Atom Credits: www.surfski,info

Ok, let’s sprint to the other side of the harbor,” I said.   Issuing a challenge like that to my training partner Dale Lippstreu always results in a ball-bursting, neck and neck, 110% redline effort.  This time though he just disappeared (behind me) and 200m later I looked back to see him paddling backwards.  “I thought I had something on the rudder,” he said.  Nah.  We did it again and the same thing happened.  I was on an Carbonology Sport Atom – and on flat water it made me look like a paddling super-hero.

Build: Plain and Simple

Well, perhaps “elegant and simple” would be closer to the mark.  I’ve seen a number of skis from Carbonology Sport (including the innovative Green7 built of cork composite under license from Red7) and I’ve been uniformly impressed with the quality of build.

The boats are light and strong and the finish is comparable to most manufacturers around the world.

The ski is relatively short (5.95m/19'6") and narrow (.44m/17.3").

Being physically quite small, and vacuum moulded, the skis are light: 9-14kg/20-31lb depending on the layup.

Carbonology Sport Atom

The Atom (bottom) is a relatively small ski - EOS 660 (top) and Zeplin (middle) by contrast 

Setting the boat up

Installing the rudder was simple – the tiller bar being attached with a self locking nut; the shaft is beveled to lock the bar at 90 degrees the rudder.

The tiller bar is particularly accessible on this ski: the entire assembly stands proud of the deck, covered by a tear shaped blister.  Simple.  Elegant.

Carbonology Sport Atom

The tiller bar stands proud of the deck

Carbonology Sport Atom

...and is protected with a simple cover

The rudder lines comprise steel cables running from tiller bar to cockpit joined to rope that runs through the self-adjusting rudder pedals.  So, setting up the footplate on the beach was a quick and painless exercise.

(Having used a wide variety of rudder lines over the years, I like this arrangement – in my opinion, steel cables are still the most robust, reliable solution.)

The footplate ended up near the limit of its adjustment, emphasizing that this is not a boat for very tall people.  (I’m 1.87m/6’2”).

Carbonology Sport Atom

Paddling the ski

I paddled the ski in a variety of conditions ranging from a race on flat water, to a fairly hectic downwind run and on choppy water in Hout Bay.

The cockpit is snug and I felt secure – although my coccyx was left raw after a couple of hours in the boat.  This is a personal affliction – and I’m pretty certain that most paddlers (provided they have a narrow backside) will find the Atom comfortable to sit in.

Carbonology Sport Atom

Flat race

This was a round the cans race in Fish Hoek bay.  My impressions of the boat were:

  • It seemed fast; I was slightly ahead of where I’d be normally.
  • I felt quite tippy.
  • It seemed very responsive and quick onto the small bumps
  • It turns on a dime

And these impressions were reinforced with all the other paddling that I did in the ski.

Choppy, messy water

We paddled in Hout Bay one evening in classic conditions for the area: Hout Bay is surrounded by cliffs on two sides and the incoming ocean swells bounce off them, sending reflected waves in all directions.  The resulting chop can be challenging, but often offers runs wherever you’re heading.  It can be a lot of fun to paddle there.

That evening though, I really battled, focusing more on staying upright than paddling fast.  Both upwind and downwind, my paddling buddies were able to drop me.

Back on the flat protected water of the harbor, however, it was a different story.  We did a couple of sprints and every time I paddled away from the other skis.  After the first run I looked back to see my buddy reversing.  “I thought I had some plastic on the rudder,” he explained.  He hadn’t.

Carbonology Sport Atom  Carbonology Sport Atom  Carbonology Sport Atom


I did a Millers Run (my favorite 12km downwind route here in Cape Town) in the ski on a blustery day, 25kt of SE with 3-5ft waves.

The conditions were classic for this run: not much in the way of big ocean swell; the waves were short, steep, wind generated.

Considering my feeling of twitchiness in the choppy water in Hout Bay, I felt surprisingly stable, both going out to the turning rock (800m diagonally into the wind and waves) and on the runs downwind.  Going into waves I often find it easier if there’s a strong wind (unless it’s right on the beam); it seems to give you something to push against.

Skis are often at their twitchiest as you move through the crest of a wave, as you’re about to accelerate; It’s frustrating sometimes to have to brace at the exact moment you need to make the strongest strokes and many a wave has been lost this way.  I think the low volume of the Atom helps in that the ski may sink into the wave more than some others – creating stability just at the point it helps most.

Carbonology Sport Atom  Carbonology Sport Atom


I did find that if I wasn’t careful, I could let the ski broach quite easily.  I suspect that here in Cape Town we have these short, steep, wind swells more frequently in other parts of the world – and that any tendency to broach might not be as important elsewhere.  Suffice to say that I lost control of the ski on several occasions.  The broach wasn’t as vicious as on some other skis I’ve paddled, however, and by keeping speed up I was usually able to turn downwind again without wallowing.

I found the boat quite wet.  I weigh around 83kg and if I buried the nose, the water would come over the foredeck and fill the cockpit.  With dual Red7 Bullet scuppers the footwell drained fast and, in contrast to some other skis I’ve paddled, the Atom was still responsive and easy to accelerate even with the weight of water in the flooded cockpit.  (The cockpit is relatively small of course, so the volume of water is too.)

I did the run in 48min – which is what I’d expect to do in those conditions on my usual ski.  So given that I was unused to the boat, and broached a lot, it was an excellent time – highlighting once more that to me, this is a fast craft (especially if you know what you’re doing!)

Carbonology Sport Atom

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Click here for a bigger image

Carbonology Sport Atom

Click here for a bigger image

What I like

  • The high quality build
  • The aesthetics of the boat – simple and elegant
  • The feel of the cockpit overall – felt snug and secure
  • The speed and acceleration onto runs
  • The turning ability of the boat, especially on flat water
  • The lightness of the ski

What I don’t like

  • The tippiness; I found it a handful in messy, choppy water
  • The bucket!  (My coccyx suffered – but most people seem comfortable in the ski)
  • The low volume – perhaps it’s a personal thing, but for my weight, I like to have more volume in the nose of a ski.

Carbonology Sport Atom

“Fast, but you need to know what you’re doing”

When Hein van Rooyen (who owns Carbonology Sport) sent me the ski, he said, “It’s a fast ski – but you need to know what you’re doing.  It’s not a beginner’s boat.”  For once I am 100% in agreement with the manufacturer; it is really fast – amazing, considering that it’s a relatively short ski.

As a 48 year old mid-packer though, I found that my balance and skill level weren’t good enough to get the best out of the ski in rougher conditions.

But for elite or A-grade paddlers - especially if they're on the smaller side - this ski is well worth a look.

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