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  • Steve Leveen

A Veteran Recreational Kayaker Reviews the Epic V5

by Steve Leveen

Author of America's Bilingual Century and Founder of America the Blinigual Project

4 November 2022

I've been a recreational kayaker for some 40 years, fortunate enough to split my padding between Maine in the summers and South Florida in the winters, which means dealing with two very different sets of conditions.

In Maine, where air and sea temperatures can be lethally cold, traditional sit-in kayaks are great, but in south Florida, it’s too warm to tuck into an enclosed kayak, even without a sprayskirt.

Consequently, we have done most of our Florida paddling in two Perception plastic sit-on-top kayaks. For some 25 years we have enjoyed these stable, slow, and study boats. I’ve never worried about friends and family members crashing them into whatever they decide to crash into. But, alas, our battleworn Perceptions are near the end of their service life, taking on water because of too much dragging of their heavy stern ends over sand and concrete. Accordingly, I found myself in the market for a pair of new sit-on-top kayaks.

What about pedal kayaks?

Of course pedal kayaks have revolutionized recreational kayaking, especially for fishing. I must admit to being a skeptic–until I tried one myself. Now, I’m a convert. We own two Hobie pedal kayaks that we enjoy in Maine where we have deep water and long distances to go before landing on rocky beaches. I also enjoy an 11-foot inflatable Hobie pedal kayak in Florida. This craft is our dog’s favorite, since Chet comes along in flat water, sitting or standing behind me on this wide, stable design that doubles as a stand up paddleboard.

But I was shopping for a sit-on-top to use both on Florida beaches as well as on the shallow, grassy waters of the Everglades. In both situations, pedal mechanisms are not ideal. You really want a smooth-bottom boat that will not get packed with sand on the beach or clogged up with grass in the Everglades. Plus there was the age factor.

Chet with the V5 Ultras.

As I’m now in my late 60s, and my paddling buddies are of similar vintage, I wanted something lightweight so that we could easily lift them on and off our vehicles. And at a far distance, at least, light boats could help us look like young studs moving fast through the water. I knew this meant a fiberglass boat, if not some more advanced carbon fiber composition.

But after checking the major kayak brands, I wasn’t finding what I was looking for. Most sit-on-top kayaks are heavy plastic bombers like my old Perceptions. These boats have their place to be sure. They are inexpensive, rugged and are definitely what I’d buy if I were outfitting a rental fleet, but I wasn't finding the performance oriented design I was hoping for.

Finally, I came across Epic, which I knew from their surfski line. Also, I’ve enjoyed two carbon fiber Epic paddles for years and once met Epic founder, the Olympic Gold Medalist, Greg Barton, at a tradeshow when he was just starting out in the boat business.

For those of you unfamiliar with surfskis, they are basically longer, skinnier, and quite a bit faster sit-on-top kayaks used by crazy people. Their idea of fun is racing these things in open ocean swells, downwind in gale force winds.

Not surprisingly, the sport is popular in South Africa and Australia where people think dodging Great White sharks makes for a fun afternoon. Despite this intimidating pedigree, I actually bought a South African surfski ten years ago made by Fenn. At 19´ long and 19” wide it is by far the fastest thing on the water that I’ve pushed or pulled. (Well, maybe the racing shell I tried on the Charles River in Boston would have been faster, but I capsized at the dock, so I’m not counting that.) And my surfski, while tippy, is a beginners model. Competition surfskis can be 21 feet and a scant 17” wide, vertible stilettos of the seas.

But Epic was smart. Not only do that make racing surfskis for competitive paddlers, but they went in the other direction, too, making shorter, wider boats for more stability and more practical maneuverability for recreational paddlers like me. The shortest and most stable of their lineup is the V5, and that’s the boat I got excited about. So excited that I ordered two, constructed in the lightest construction Epic offers, what they call the Ultra, and this without even going for a test paddle.

Trials in sea and swamp

As soon as I got my V5s home, I installed the rudders and took them out, first on the flat Intracoastal Waterway and then in the open ocean.

The first thing I noticed was just how fast the V5 accelerates and maintains speed. A more diligent reviewer would provide GPS speeds, but I can report that I was smoking those people walking on the beach, while padding through moderate chop in the ocean. Surely this swift performance is due to not only the design of the hull, but to the potato-chip weight of 28 lbs. Even this old guy can carry this V5 two blocks to the beach, changing hands just a couple of times.

Easy to carry!

As for stability, it felt just about as stable as in my old beamy Perception boats. With a beam of 23.6”, the V5 has the widest hips in the Epic family, but retains the knife sharp bow and stern, reflecting its surfski genepool.

The next nice thing I noticed is just how quiet the V5 runs. Epic scallops out the hull where your paddle enters the water. This is for a better stroke in racing, but a nice side effect is that I never banged my paddle shaft against the boat. One of my joys of going out, especially early in the morning, is the quiet. And it’s not just my zen that this quiet allows, but also sneaking up on manatees. (I have to admit to sometimes listening to my the Duolingo Spanish Podcast or News in Slow Spanish while paddling, too. What a great way to build those exposure hours to the language I’ve adopted.)

This narrowing of the hull also puts your feet really close together, so I found I have to go barefoot to operate the rudder pedals, but hey, it’s Florida, and my water shoes stow easily in front of the rudder pedals, handy for when I step out.

After my ocean trials, my son joined me for a 6-mile loop trail in the Everglades. We carried knives in case we had to do a Crocodile Dundee, but alas not one gator introduced himself. My more serious concern was whether the rudders would get fouled in the abundant plant life. At the midpoint, I hauled out at a float and found no grass at all on the rudder. We paddled the rest of the loop right over the lily pads with no problem. The 14’3” length allows for the tight turns and dodges we had to make and the boats are so fast that we completed a loop that by canoe takes three to four hours in less than two, and felt like we were on a relaxed wildlife tour.

A downside to the V5 Ultra is its lofty price. You can shave off a grand with the Performance layup if you’re willing to add a few pounds. (This comes with black tips and tails, rather than the Ultra’s red tips and tails.) Or you can save a bundle and order the rotomolded polyethylene V5, which is probably smart if you plan on bouncing off rocks. This plastic version adds 20 lbs, about the weight of a case of Sam Adams.

It's commonplace for sporting goods companies to claim their products for amateurs have the features designed for pros. With their V5, Epic actually delivers this dream, a boat that slipstreams into the Goldilocks zone. This veteran amateur lifts his beer in appreciation.

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