Review: Fenn Mako Elite double

Sunday, 08 March 2009 16:30 | Written by  Dale Lippstreu
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[Editor: Dale Lippstreu recently bought a new Fenn Elite Double to race the doubles season here in Cape Town, South Africa. Here’s what he found.]

Some background

To date I have not been a particularly enthusiastic doubles paddler; my previous double was a Fenn Millennium and it was only taken out of the garage briefly for the doubles part of the paddling season each year. 

While I enjoy the "tandem" racing aspect of a double ski I found the paddling position very uncomfortable.  The width of the ski and semi reclining position made for a constant load on the stomach muscles and uncomfortable paddle stroke.

When I heard that Fenn had introduced a new double with single footwells and a narrower catch I ordered one sight unseen.  I have now had it for a couple of weeks and the assessment which follows is based on my experience and observations to date.

Fenn Mako Elite Double

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Fenn Mako Elite Double

Click here for a larger image

Overall appearance and build quality

The ski is well finished and consistent with the quality one comes to expect from Fenn.  The ski is hugely lighter than my previous double and this produces noticeably better acceleration on the water. 

Despite the weight reduction the hull and deck remains stiff and there's no "oil canning" or waviness visible in the surface.

The new footplates are extremely sturdy and very solid to push against.  I make this point because many skis have quite of bit of flex and play in the footplates and a lot of paddlers complain of this.

Fenn Mako Elite Double


Unfortunately the balers are not good.  I was astounded how long the footwells took to drain after they  flooded after going through the surf and have to say that they are nowhere as good as those on the V10 and Red7 Pro which I paddle regularly.  This is important because the single footwells hold a lot of water.  I plan to do a mod by adding Red7 type bullets which will hopefully improve the baler performance dramatically.

Fenn Mako Elite Double


The ski features a new rectangular plan-form rudder which I believe is a significant improvement on the old "shark fin" style rudder which I have never liked.  Fenn however persist with incredibly thin rudders which have a sharp entry i.e. the leading edge is not radiused.  While I have not yet had an opportunity to paddle the ski in big downwind conditions, I expect the rudder to be very prone to stalling.

It is also worth mentioning that the tiller bar came loose during the first paddle.  Examination of the rudder after the event revealed that the rudder shaft had not been ground down sufficiently to into the square hole in the tiller bar.  The problem was hidden by the fact I had tightened the nut sufficiently to create a friction lock which quickly loosened on the water.  The problem was quickly solved by filing down the shaft but this small quality control issue could have had a serious outcome as it caused total rudder loss about 1km offshore in very rough conditions with a 35 knot wind blowing directly offshore.

Fenn Mako Elite Double

Paddling the ski

Skis have changed a lot in the 6 years since the millennium was launched so it's not surprising that the new Elite is a dramatic improvement.

Sitting in the front the reduction in width is immediately apparent. The width is in fact the same as the single and this makes for a vast improvement in paddling comfort and efficiency.  The seating layout is also the same as the single and removes all the discomfort issues referred to at the start.  The ski transforms doubles paddling for me.

With the great reduction in width it would be fair to expect that the ski would be less stable but it's exactly the opposite: the ski is markedly more stable and if this seems unbelievable I should add that this is not just my view - every paddler I know who has tried the ski has found the same. Overall stability, as any paddler who has tried a range of skis knows, is made up of primary and secondary stability and it the blend of these that creates the true nature of a ski.  Keith Fenn seems to have hit a truly sweet spot with the Elite.  The ski gives such confidence that I find I can paddle through heavy chop with minimal impact on my paddle stroke.

My experience to date is that it catches runs really well and the enhanced stability makes it a lot easier to get those crucial power strokes required to launch the ski onto the runs.


So how fast in the ski?  After my first paddle I called Rob and offered an opinion that we would be between 3-4 minutes in the hour faster in the new ski over the old.  We have just held the 4th race of the doubles season this weekend of which 2 races were in the old ski and 2 in the new.  Our results relative to our "markers" in the field and show a drastic improvement.  Will this hold for all paddlers in the same degree?  Bearing in mind that I was particularly uncomfortable in the old double the results may be less marked for others but I am sure it is only a question of extent.  The ski is definitely a lot faster.

My paddling partner Sean Butler loves the ski as well and his only criticism is that the rear foot strap is too high and too loose.  This will be an issue as locking one's feet into the straps is sometimes the only way to prevent the back seat paddler from being pulled out of the ski when it floods in big downwind conditions.  I plan to lower the strap and add a Velcro adjustment to both the front and rear.  The modification will also add stiffness to the strap so that it remains in place for quick entry at the start of races.  

Millers Run Video

[Editor: Dale and I took the ski for a Millers Run last weekend.  Conditions were great - 25kt+ southeaster with 1-2m swells. We had a ball.  Double skis are wet - and we charged one wave and ended up under water... as you'll see on the video clip.  We were laughing so hard, it took a while to get going again...

We did a second run immediately after in the Custom Kayaks Apex double - look out for the article (and video clip) on that run!]


What I like about the Fenn Mako Elite Double

  • Narrow catch
  • Comfortable paddling position
  • Stability (especially the nature of the stability)
  • Light weight
  • Build quality
  • Performance

What I don't like

  • The balers (no improvement over the old ones)
  • The floppy footstraps and the high rear strap
  • The rudder (but this is in principle only as I have not tested it fully yet)


The Fenn Elite has set the new benchmark for double skis

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