A Paddle (and Conversation) with Keith Fenn

Thursday, 12 January 2006 18:49 | Written by 
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 (by Rob Mousley)

Keith Fenn (Photo: Rob Mousley) 
 Keith Fenn

I love my parents in law (really!) but the thought of spending my Christmas vacation with them was daunting. Why? They live in East London, 1100km from my home in Cape Town... and, having logged many, many hours training for the 2005 Cape Point Challenge I had agreed to play family man and leave my ski behind. Ten days with no paddling...? It couldn't be done.


A cunning plan occured to me however - the Fenn Kayaks factory is also located in East London. Could it possibly be that Keith Fenn might agree to lend me a ski so that I could write a review for surfski.info?

I called Keith at the factory three weeks ahead of time. "No," he said, "I don't have a ski available in your size... but would you like to paddle the prototype of my new model double?" Would I?! We agreed that I'd make contact once I'd arrived in East London.

Seconds after we pulled in at the in-laws' I called him on his wife's mobile (Keith doesn't have one)... "Let's get together after the Christmas weekend," he said, "wait for a nice westerly and we'll do a downwind run from Gonubie to Cefane."

The day finally arrived and I met him (for the first time) on the beach at Gonubie. He's a big friendly giant of a man and he grinned as he saw that I was all togged up, ready to go. I eagerly scanned the ski... Surfski.info proudly scoops the news - the imminent launch of the all new Fenn XT Double.

Fenn XT Double 
 Fenn XT Double - note the raised rails around the back seat...
Fenn XT Double
 Fenn XT Double - side view

The ski has the classic Fenn look with the same bow shape as Keith's other skis. The primary aim of the design is to make the ski more stable and easier to paddle than its predecessor.

XT Double Front Seat (Photo: Rob Mousley) 
 Fenn XT Double - Front Seat

Both the single foot well front cockpit and the standard rear seat have adjustable rudder pedals.

XT Double - rear seat (Photo: Rob Mousley) 
  Fenn XT Double - Rear Seat

The rear seat has raised rails, designed to reduce the dampness of the rear paddler. (As any doubles crew knows, the rear position is often flooded, especially when going upwind over waves.)

In summary: the ski looks great, seemed stable and caught waves well.

Keith hasn't been doing much paddling recently. At least he didn't in 2005 and the reasons included the pressures of the factory - he usually arrives home after dark - and the pressures of family life. He and his lovely wife Kerryn have three children, the youngest of whom is a toddler. He clearly loves paddling though (and has done all the big races in South Africa, coming 2nd in the 1993 Cape Point Challenge) and intends to get back onto the water in the future.

His entry into surf ski manufacturing came when he started making them to paddle himself. "Everyone built their own in those days," he said. The technologies used in surf skis come from the yacht building industry, but surf ski manufacturers are constantly innovating. "There aren't many people building 6-metre craft that are only 43cm wide!" he said, "so we have to develop our own techniques." The stringers in Keith's skis run vertically the length of the hull, while an additional horizontal stringer strengthens the bow section against the twisting action of big waves. He builds both in glass fibre and carbon fibre lay ups.

His carbon skis are mostly exported to the United States; he exports mostly glass fibre skis to Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

And does he have another new model ski waiting in the wings?

Yes, he does. He'll be unveiling a new top of the range single ski towards the end of the first quarter of 2006. It'll be narrower than the Millennium ski but will have the same cockpit. He doesn't believe that a single foot well offers any advantages. Will it be faster? Will it be more or less stable? Keith grins, "I'll tell you after I've paddled it!" 

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