Review: Kayak Centre Zeplin

Sunday, 30 January 2011 08:23 | Written by 
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Kayak Centre Zeplin Kayak Centre Zeplin

A big ski for big people: supremely stable and massive fun downwind (it makes a superb camera platform!)

Zeplin Mark II

Towards the end of last year, Kayak Centre released the updated version of their Zeplin ski – aimed at the beginner to intermediate paddler.

I’ve had a demo boat for a couple of months now, and have paddled it in a variety of conditions.

First Looks

The ski looks big: it has a huge amount of volume in the nose and tail – and the trademark humped hood over the footwell.  (The hood on the first version of the Zeplin was too high and I kept bashing it with my paddle but the mark II is much better.)

Kayak Centre Zeplin

The cockpit hood

As you’d expect for a ski designed to be stable, it has a wide, flattish hull.

Kayak Centre Zeplin

For a larger image, click here

Kayak Centre Zeplin

For a larger image, click here

Kayak Centre Zeplin

For a larger image, click here

Most beginner skis are short; this one is just as long as the elite skis – around 6.4m.

To give you some idea, my Fenn Mako Elite is around 43cm wide at the seat; the Zeplin is 48cm; at the catch the Elite is about 34.5cm; the Zeplin is 43cm.

Kayak Centre Zeplin Kayak Centre Zeplin Kayak Centre Zeplin


The finish is good – Kayak Centre have been manufacturing kayaks and skis for many years and their experience shows.

In standard glass layup, the ski should weigh in at less than 16kg.

What’s changed?

  • The bucket is narrower
  • The cockpit has moved forward
  • The hood is smaller

Bucket and footwell

The first version of the Zeplin had a massive bucket that I slid around in; this one, while still wide (39.5cm on the inside) is much better.  My coccyx impacted with the bottom of the bucket so I installed my trusty Lincke butt pad which sorted out the problem.


Paddler's eye view

The Kayak Centre skis have an easy to use footplate adjuster – a lever mechanism manipulates the locks.  Some observers have questioned the reliability of the setup; but my buddy Dale Lippstreu has had an EOS 660 for some months now with no sign of corrosion or wear on the mechanism.  Worth keeping an eye on though.

Footwell Hood

I’m still in two minds about the hood.  It’s pretty easy to remove (being held on with Velcro) and I paddled the ski both with and without the hood.  In biggish downwind conditions the hood made a dry ski even drier; without the hood some water came into the footwell over the sides of the cockpit.

(Equipped with bullet scuppers, the footwell drains rapidly.  This is one of the driest skis I’ve ever paddled.)

I usually carry the ski upside on the roof of my car; when the hood is on the ski, it impacts the car’s roof...  which means you really have to install cradles so that you can transport the ski right-way-up.  Or, as I did, take the hood off.

Paddling the ski

I gave the ski a pretty good workout – in all kinds of conditions, from flat water in Hout Bay harbor, to small, confused chop around the edges of Hout Bay to roaring gale-force downwind in False Bay.

Flat Water

This is a wide, stable ski.  You’re not going to expect to compete with the racing snakes on flat water.  But the Zeplin didn’t feel entirely like a barge – perhaps due to its length (although the nose does stick up out of the water to some extent).  Who wants to paddle on flat water anyway?

Confused chop

One evening I took the ski out into Hout Bay with two other paddlers; one on an EOS 660 and the other on a Fenn Mako Elite.

Conditions were challenging – with classic Hout Bay reflected chop running in all directions.

Paddling in cross-chop the other two found that their stroke was compromised by the tippiness of their skis – while had no trouble at all in keeping 100% of my effort in my stroke.  And I kept up with them with ease.

When we turned downwind, the other two did pull away – but it was instructive to see just what a difference the stability of the ski made when we were going across the chop.

A little while later, this was illustrated again when I was paddling my Mako Elite in choppy conditions upwind in False Bay.  Another friend was on his Zeplin – and actually pulled away from me.  This guy is built like a tank with strength to match – but he’s not nearly as experienced as me.  Again when we turned downwind it wasn’t long before I passed him – but in the chop he had my number.

Big Honking Downwind

I paddled the Zep on a number of classic big Millers Runs – and loved the boat.  In a nutshell – it holds its line well, is maneuverable and, because it’s so stable, it’s easy to put those explosive strokes in that are necessary to catch runs.

Most importantly (and this improved still more once I installed the optional elliptical surf rudder) it had very little tendency to broach.  There is nothing that irritates me more than losing control as I accelerate down the face of a wave...

Kayak Centre Zeplin

Optional Surf Rudder (top) and standard rudder

Finally – because of the stability, it makes an awesome camera platform!

Midwinter Millers HD from Rob Mousley on Vimeo.


Because of its width, I found that remounting the ski, while straightforward, was more comfortable when done sidesaddle.

Who should consider the Zeplin?

In my opinion, here’s the sweet spot in the market for the Zep:

  • Bigger paddlers – 85kg and over.
  • Looking for a stable boat.
  • Looking for a bigger boat than the XT/V10 Sport/Horizon – especially in downwind conditions.

What I like

  • The construction quality
  • The footplate adjustment (with the caveat that it’s quite complex with a number of parts to it)
  • The stability
  • The directional stability – I can track down steep runs diagonally.
  • The maneuverability – especially with the big surf rudder, the ski is very nimble downwind.

What I don’t like

  • The cockpit hood – limits your options on the car (carry it the right way up)
  • The drain plug position (the first few times I paddled the ski I wasn’t even aware of it stuck under the hood and I left it unplugged)
  • The small rudder in downwind conditions

Too many paddlers use skis that are too tippy for them

(This is a theme that professionals like Oscar Chalupsky often repeat.)

If you’re a paddler who loves going out in rough conditions, but you find that your stroke is compromised by having to brace all the time; if you find that you’re nervous about going downwind in big waves and wind – try something like the Zeplin.

There’s nothing like being relaxed and able to focus on putting all your energy into your technique.

Kayak Centre Zeplin

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