Part 1 – Canoe, accessories, and flat water conditions
Having paddled a Nelo-made surfski before, and having seen the quality of their K1s and C1s used by a number of high performance paddlers in World Champs and the Olympics (including Lisa Carrington), I always wondered what would happen if Nelo decided to have a go at making a V1. Turns out that in the context of V1 becoming a paralympic canoe sprint discipline, Nelo decided to build a V1, and yes, New Zealand’s first Nelo V1 has just arrived in Wellington for testing.
Here are some first impressions and findings.
There is no question that the design of this V1 is a little unusual. It certainly looks quite different than most of its competitors. Word has it that its design is from Tahiti, and it has a number of design elements that expose its Tahitian heritage. For example the raised stanchions to attach the kiato and the design of the nose of both the canoe and the ama are similar to the nose of some contemporary Tahitian V6. However, it also seems that a number of design elements inspired by Nelo’s kayaking and canoeing expertise are coming through. For example, compare the Nelo V1 with their kayak and canoe range, and you will detect some similarities in terms of its lines.
Now, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and some of you may feel differently about it, but I think it has a great look to it. No doubt though, its design is unusual and quite distinctive.
The weight of the V1 is 14.8kg fully rigged. The version we are testing is an F model (i.e. full carbon, vacuum bagged, epoxy resin), but Nelo offers another four different build-options.
Our testing version comes with an adjustable seat and footrest. This is definitely worth mentioning because while most V1s on the market can be customised so that they fit your size, I am not aware of any version where you can adjust both seat and footrest. What’s more, for the footrest you can even adjust the angle of the heel component, for optimal placement of foot and heels. This is great news for a number of reasons:
- As a paddler you can adjust the set up to make it a perfect fit and to optimise the balance of your canoe. You want to sit a little bit more forward/back in certain conditions? No problem.
- The footrest goes right down to the floor, which means you can really push off with your heels, increasing your ability to transfer power into forward motion. Those that paddle K1 will know how important leg drive is. It’s a lot harder to do in a V1, but having a good footrest really helps.
- Due to its adjustability for different paddler heights, the V1 can be used by different (club) paddlers, which maximises its utility.
Adjustment is really easy, the screws can be easily and quickly handled and no tools are required to adjust the seat and footrest, see photos above. (Note that a hex wrench is required to adjust the heel component of the footrest, but its not likely to be changed frequently.)
The cockpit is comfortable and offers sufficient room, especially in combination with the adjustable seat and footrest. The cockpit is slightly wider in the front so that the knees fit nicely into the cockpit.
The V1 comes with two wooden kiato. In comparison with my carbon kiato they are definitely heavier, although during water trials they did not appear to adversely affect performance – the lightness of the ama may compensate for the slightly heavier kiato. Nevertheless, replacing the wooden kiato with carbon versions could reduce weight and thus result in some additional benefits in terms of performance.
Skirts can be fitted, because the version I am testing has cockpit gunnels featuring a lip. While this could be an advantage by preventing water from entering, it is likely not needed if you are using a pump. Also, the rim protrudes slightly out from the cockpit so you have to be careful here not to whack your paddle shaft and your fingers. (Definitely worth considering ordering one without a rim or you could easily grind it off!)
Overall, workmanship and the paintjob appear very good. This is in line with their existing water craft options. The whole vaa is incredibly stiff including the ama, and this is only their base model, so quite impressive!
In terms of its performance on the water, let’s have a look at flat water conditions first. For most of that part of the testing, the distance between ama and hull is about 98.5cm in the back, and about 97cm in the front (so a slight toe-in).
Paddling in conditions with relatively little wind and wave action, the V1 holds a good line but is also responsive to steering actions. In stronger wind conditions it also holds a good line. You will notice that the part of the V1 from the cockpit forward is quite low, this appears to lower wind resistance and appears to improve handling especially in cross winds. But I will need to conduct some further testing to confirm this.
The hull feels very stable and even when the ama is lifted out of the water, it does not feel overly tippy. I find that in combination with a light J-stroke on the right, the ama can be flown relatively easily while at the same time the canoe tracks nicely.
Pick up and acceleration feels good in starts, the same goes for speed changes. Unfortunately the poor weather in the last couple of weeks has prevented testing against the clock and other V1, but Rio will be a useful and objective test, especially if conditions allow a comparison of winning times against those in previous years.
The ama appears to have a little more volume than, say, the standard ama of a Fai, but it seems to perform well in flat conditions. Again, it will be interesting to see the feedback from those competing in Rio as that will be a good test under high-performance sprint conditions.
For some long distance races, the ability for the V1 to turn quickly is important (e.g. a 180 degree turn around a buoy). Having tested this aspect a few times, I can say that in line with its good responsiveness to steering actions in flatwater, the Nelo performs excellently.
To conclude this initial review, the new Nelo V1 definitely has a number of things going for it and looks like a high quality package.
Part 2 – Open water
Unfortunately I did not have a lot of time testing it in open water and surf conditions, it was simply too flat for the time I had it, but here are some things I picked up.
One key feedback I have is the small distance between the rear kiato and the seat. That means that for rudder strokes or steering on a wave you tend to hit the kiato (with your forearm), and it limits you from reaching further back (at least on the left). The V1 has to be steered mainly from the back in surf conditions, so this is a key disadvantage I feel.
This issue also limits your ability somewhat to play around with the seat up. As a comparison, in the Fai 3x, the cockpit goes much further far back behind the seat – which gives more space for steering (this also allows for storage of a drinking system, so definitely worth considering that space).
The Nelo I tested also lacked a bulkhead in the front, in the surf it’s a must because if you get any water in its hard to bail it out because it distributes over a larger surface, plus if you put the nose down into a wave it tends to flush the water to the front – not good to control the balance of the V1.
The edge of the cockpit behind the seat is also a little high, so if you lean back (eg to shift the weight back so that you can take weight off the bow if it’s a steep wave), it can be a little uncomfortable.
For sprint paddling it’s definitely worth considering and the adjustable seat makes it a great option for clubs with many different users, but for ocean paddling and surfing it would benefit from some design changes.
By Jörn Scherzer