Epic V6 Review
by Kenny Howell (Epic Expert)
The Hottest Tomale On the Water
I recently put in some miles on the Epic V6 in a wide range of conditions, including a calm protected bay, a tide rip on San Francisco Bay, a downwind run in a gale, and a surf session at my local point break in Half Moon Bay, California. Here are my impressions of this innovative design…
Give someone a V6, and whether novice or expert sea kayaker, you will witness a euphoric glow envelop the paddler as he or she glides away into kayak nirvana. I have observed this phenomenon many times, and must attribute it to the boat design rather than any supernatural influence. Once, on a warm midsummer afternoon at a sylvan mountain lake, I insisted that a friend who claims NOT to like kayaking (he prefers to SUP) try the boat. He paddled off, and was gone so long I thought he was lost. He lost himself in V6 bliss.
Wherever I go with the V6, curious paddlers notice the sleek lines and surfski outfitting. They want to know, “Is it a surfski, or a kayak?” Put simply, the V6 is a hybrid design: a fast touring kayak with a surfski cockpit. It combines the advantages of a sea kayak with the benefits of the modern, ergonomic open cockpit. The hull dimensions of 16’ x 23” are virtually the same as Epic’s 16X sea kayak (a closed-deck design). Fiberglass sit-on-top kayaks have been around in various forms for decades, but the concept has yet to capture the imagination of the closed-deck inclined sea kayaking diaspora. This may be due to the fact that most sit-on-tops on the market today are heavy plastic beasts-of-burden, often with strangely misshapen and warped hulls; sluggish and cumbersome, plastic sit-on-tops are perhaps good enough for the daily abuse of a typical kayak rental operation, but the paddling experience is not exactly inspirational.
I believe one should feel inspired by their paddlecraft. I want a light, responsive boat that is a joy to paddle, and I want to enjoy every moment of my time on the water. I have seen too many new paddlers struggle and become frustrated by a kayak that is too heavy, too big, and too hard to maneuver. Some paddlers just don’t realize they are working too hard with their “traditional” sea kayak, when they could be enjoying the benefits of a modern design like the V6.
When designing the V6, Epic took a good idea and made it better. In their own words, “Epic kayak hull designs are based on data from naval tow tank tests, complex drag calculations, video analysis and years of experience. We use high tech lightweight materials. All our kayaks are designed on CAD (Computer-aided design)”. The key hull design concepts are full waterline, minimal rocker, plumb bow, soft chines, and integral rudder. The result is an extremely efficient touring machine that gives an exciting, pleasurable ride. As a bonus, for overnight trips, the boat converts to a luxury yacht, complete with a wine cellar! (Read on, wine connoisseurs!)
During a recent November trip in the middle of a northern California “Indian Summer” heat wave, I packed the V6 with enough gear for 3 days to explore the bucolic Tomales Bay in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Tomales Bay is a popular destination for sea kayak camping and day tripping 25 miles north of San Francisco. Surrounded by rural landscapes, happy dairy cows, and a bit of wilderness within the boundaries of the National Seashore, the bay is 9 miles long and about two miles across at it’s widest. Sheltered from the full force of the ocean swells and breezes, and rich with marine life, it is the perfect calm-water kayak camping locale. I decided to take the V6 as my “expedition” kayak to see how it handled the work load. My boat of choice for previous camping trips was the Epic 18X, but I wanted to experience the freedom of the V6 open cockpit. I don’t travel lightly when camping, and it would be interesting to see how all my precious possessions fit in a boat 2’ shorter than the 18X.
Packing turned out to be easier than expected, although it required some clever stowage techniques. A quick survey of equipment includes a 3-man tent (AKA the Himalayan Hotel), sleeping bag, air mattress, fresh food and water for 3 days, camp stove and fuel, pots and pans (including a cast iron skillet, critical for frying eggs), camp clothes, hiking boots, toiletries, books, magazines, binoculars, and 1 litre of red wine...The menu included fresh vegetables, smoked salmon, cheeses, stuffed croissants, and other decadent delights - no freeze-dried backpacker food would touch my lips! Because no wood collecting for campfires is allowed in the Park, I hauled a 15 lb. bag of store-bought kindling on the rear deck, lashed so it formed a perfect headrest while laying back in the seat. Perimeter deck lines are a requisite safety feature on expedition-rigged sea kayaks, and the V6 deck lines provide convenient lashing points for a spare paddle and dry bags. The hatch covers seal with pressure by turning four simple yet elegant latches that lock securely in place. I had been skeptical about the reliability of these hatches until finding they survived a good thrashing in the surf, keeping the cargo hold bone dry. Stout handles recessed into each side of the seat allow for easy solo carrying - that is, when the boat isn’t loaded like mine with the loot of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
When carrying the fully loaded V6 to the water, it took two strong backs lifting from the sturdy, ergonomic, bow and stern handles. The combined weight of cargo and paddler were close to Epic’s published capacity of 335 lbs (152 kgs); however, the trim of the boat stayed well above the gunwales, despite my attempts to sink it by overloading with gourmet rations. I could have easily carried several more litres of wine and remained afloat.
I was used to packing a kayak with food and water for 10 days during numerous expeditions to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. A loaded boat feels very different from an empty one. Nevertheless, once you get a freighter moving, she likes to keep moving! It wasn’t difficult to maintain 4-5 mph with the V6 into a 10-15 knot breeze. Choppy water made the boat bounce around like a rocking horse with stiff springs, but the “ballast” made it feel extremely stable. The group of novice paddlers I led on Tomales Bay managed to cover the 4 miles to our campsite in 90 minutes, including a leisurely rest stop on shore.
In breezy conditions, for total comfort and safety I had the luxury of a Goretex drysuit while paddling the V6. Northern California‘s coast is not as balmy as the beaches of Bay Watch, and every NorCal kayaker must dress for the possibility of hypothermia regardless of cockpit style. Incredibly, during that spectacular autumn weekend on Tomales Bay, the weather remained warm and calm enough that I could paddle the V6 without the drysuit some of the time, wearing only board shorts, a rash top, and neoprene booties to keep the toes warm. How glorious it was to work on tanning the legs while kayaking! Not many kayakers have tan legs, after all. If the wind kicked up, I always had a light splash jacket handy to take the chill off. How perfect the V6 would have been for those journeys on the Sea of Cortez, where a spray skirt is about as welcome as a goose down parka in Acapulco.
Water occasionally sloshed into the footwell and seat, typical for an open cockpit in choppy conditions. The V6 includes the same innovative bailer mechanism as the Epic surfski models, which allows a dry footwell in calm seas; you can open and close the drain in small increments as needed with a little push or pull of the heel. This is a wonderful feature for cold water regions, but the retractable mechanism also gives the hull a more efficient glide - in theory - when flush against the hull; however, the efficiency factor was undetectable in the loaded boat. I kept the bailer partly open 90% of the time to drain the “bilge water”, and closed it once the footwell drained dry as we paddled in and out of small chop throughout the journey.
On our the second day of the trip, we left base camp and paddled light kayaks to explore the far corners of Tomales Bay. It was child’s play to load day gear in the two big hatches, fore and aft. I packed lunch, plus several liters of water and extra clothing and emergency supplies This cargo weighed roughly 30 lbs, but the V6 felt like a different boat with the lighter load. It transformed itself from a luxury liner into a nimble and quick craft that one expects of a surfski or fast touring kayak. It takes only a short while to get used to the “lively” feel of the V6, as the 23” beam is about the same as a typical sea kayak. The secondary stability is excellent, and you can edge the boat for sweep turns if desired.
The rudder is an ingenious kick up system: paddle over a rock or shallow area and it retracts automatically, then springs down as you pass into deeper water. You can also haul up the rudder part way, or fully retract it and cleat it easily with the haul line; when up-hauled, the rudder locks in the neutral position, and the toe pedals stiffen in place. I am 5’9”, and my leg inseam measurement is 30”, and the foot brace adjustment was near its short end. A shorter paddler might need to have the foot brace customized to reach the proper adjustment. I experimented briefly with paddling while the rudder was retracted; the boat has enough keeline to give it decent forward tracking without the rudder. So, why use a rudder at all? I asked Epic co-founder Greg Barton this burning question, and he explained with the precision of a mechanical engineer who happened to win two Olympic gold medals in kayaking one morning in 1988:
“A rudder adds roughly 2% drag to a boat. With a corrective stroke you lose more than 50% of your forward power. Even a minor corrective stroke loses 20% of the forward power. It's more efficient to accept the 2% rudder drag and then be able to apply 100% of your stroke power in an efficient forward direction.
Even Olympic sprint racers use rudders. These events are in a straight line on calm water - so you wouldn't think a rudder would be necessary. But over the past 50 years, 100% of Olympic sprint kayak medals have been won with boats utilizing rudders. Where races are often won or lost by 1/100's of a second, they have figured out the most efficient way to paddle (with a rudder).”
When you paddle the V6, the benefits of the surfski cockpit become immediately apparent; the ergonomic configuration aids the paddler in generating a more comfortable, efficient, enjoyable forward stroke. I made a list of the things that I love about the V6 cockpit, and its benefits:
- You can generate tremendous power from “leg drive” with the footboard.
- Posture is better when the legs and knees are together, rather than splayed outward as in a typical closed cockpit.
- Core strength is enhanced in this seating position (knees and legs together).
- The cut-away shape of the front deck allows a very close catch for the forward stroke, critical to efficient technique.
- No sprayskirt needed; one less piece of equipment to purchase and worry about!
- No cockpit to flood with water, reducing a major safety hazard in the event of capsize and wet-exit in a decked boat. The self-bailing open boat is inherently a very safe design - assuming of course, the paddler can remount his craft.
- A stable sit-on-top model like the V6 is easy to remount side-saddle style; like any remount or rescue technique, it must be practiced in the conditions one is likely to encounter.
- Launching and landing is easier and faster with a sit-on-top than a decked boat.
- I would rather have an open boat for launching through surf, allowing a quick and easy “water start”, avoiding the potential awkwardness of a beach launch.
- When “rafted” with other kayaks, or assisting another boater, you can easily put one or both legs over the side of the boat for added stability, turn around in the seat, and even hop off the boat and hop back in if needed in a jiffy.
- For kayak fishing, an open cockpit is very popular for the convenience and safety factors.
There will always be a time and place for a closed-deck boat. I grew up paddling decked kayaks, and learned the Eskimo roll (with or without a paddle when necessary!). I have run dozens of whitewater rivers, and still keep a surf kayak handy for those days when nothing else will do in the waves. If you paddle in an environment where rolling is essential - such as whitewater, or ocean rock gardens - then you can make a strong case for decked boats; however, sit-on-top enthusiasts also exist in those environments. If you don’t have a reliable Eskimo roll, then an open cockpit should strongly be considered for use in open water; it will also save you hours and hours of laborious rescue practice, since re-entering a swamped sea kayak in rough water can be a tricky business. And yet, if you care about performance and hull speed, sit-on-top options are limited. A setup like the V6 offers a very appealing solution.
Undoubtedly, the V6 performance in the surf zone could be improved with the addition of thigh straps, allowing the boater to lean more aggressively when broached in a breaking wave, and to stay connected to the seat in the turbulent water. A custom quick-release seat belt, like the types used for waveskis, could conceivably be rigged to the V6 if the paddler desired to roll it. All things considered, after 10 years of paddling surfskis on the ocean, the verdict is in: I am a reformed deck boater, and love the freedom of the open cockpit!
Late in the afternoon, we paddled to a remote trailhead and hiked out to Tomales Point to observe herds of tule elk foraging in the wind-lashed coastal scrub. From the point, we gained awe inspiring views of wild and exposed Pacific beaches pounded by surf, and romantic, rugged sea stacks shimmering offshore in the sea mist. The Point Reyes region is referred to by poets and dreamers as the “Island In Time”. Thanks to the infamous San Andreas fault, which runs the length of Tomales Bay, the whole land mass to the west is shearing off from the mainland of California on a separate tectonic plate, and it will eventually become an island in the sea, moving slowly but inexorably northwestward towards Alaska, riding atop the Pacific Rim “ring of fire.” In California, the earth itself is restless, much like its citizens, forever seeking new horizons…
After the invigorating nature hike, a 25 knot sea breeze greeted us back at our kayaks on Tomales Bay. The group enjoyed a thrilling downwind ride for several miles to camp, staying close to shore for a margin of safety and protection. While paddling slowly, the V6 occasionally broached in the wind waves as the rudder disengaged from the water. I attribute this to the fact that I wasn’t being aggressive, and noticed that the bow turned slightly into the wind like any kayak; but, this was easily corrected by paddling forward normally, and letting the rudder do its job. “Weathercocking”, the bane of many skegged kayaks, is definitely not an issue for the V6 as long as the rudder is deployed.
As we approached our camp off Marshall Beach, 3’ surf rolled along in perfect form, like lines of corduroy on the water. I waited until the last paddler had rounded the point and turned into the shelter of our little cove, then I paddled back up wind for a few minutes to get one more downwind rush in the V6. I turned the boat around and with a couple good strokes, she bolted like a rental horse headed back to the barn. Suddenly, it felt like I was on a surfski again, linking waves, surfing a glassy roller for a hundred meters without taking a stroke, and working the rudder gently to keep the boat in the sweet spot. It was shocking to discover that that the V6 surfed so well. I knew it was fast for a 16’ kayak, but it turned out to be one hot tomale! Whooping and hollering, I waved to the campers on shore to show off. If you have never seen a kayak fly across the water, you wouldn’t believe it could be done. Mission accomplished, I headed to the beach for another fine night of seaside camping. We had fresh oysters to eat around the campfire, and red wine to sip. Tomorrow, the V6 would transform itself back into a touring machine, and take me safely home with style and grace.
In October of this year, Epic held a conference for their North American Dealers in Charleston, South Carolina, home port for the company. As an Epic Expert, I attended the event to gain further knowledge of their products, and get some quality face time with Epic founders Greg Barton and Oscar Chalupsky. It’s a tough call which was the better highlight of the conference: keeping up with Oscar for 4 nights at the trendy local pubs, or discussing the minutia of wing paddle hydrodynamics with Greg.
During a feedback session at the conference, the idea for a V8 with hatches came up. Should Epic do this, and how many hatches should it have? After all the good times had in the V6, I can only imagine the joy of a fully-rigged expedition V8! More cargo room, more hull speed, more fun! Baja, here we come…another hot tomale.
EPIC V6 SPECIFICATIONS
Length: 16' 00" (4.88 m)
Width: 23" (58.4 cm)
Depth: 11.5" (29.2 cm)
Capacity: 335 lbs (152 kg)
Weight: 39 lbs
CONSTRUCTION OPTIONS - PERFORMANCE GRADE
Infusion grade foam core
Composite hybrid of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar
Vacuum infused, heat-cured epoxy
Black bow & stern