I believe a good kayak test needs to be spread over enough time to acquire a few scratches, overcome the novelty factor and develop some familiarity with the nuances of the design. It should involve sea, swell, wind and surf and ideally it should also include watching others paddle the boat so you can check your own impressions with theirs.
The following review is based on paddling the Xplore L a number of times over the last couple of months but is by no means exhaustive. I have paddled it in seas to 2m with winds of 20-25knots, swells to 2.5 metres and rebounding waves and small surf.
I weigh 86kgs and measure 188cm and find the boat trims well with around 5kgs for a day trip and yet still feels comfortably buoyant with around 30kg of extra camping gear. Others who tried the kayak have been in the 75 to 95 kg range and all are experienced paddlers.
COCKPIT: As with all the Tiderace boats I have so far test paddled, The Xplore L has the trademark high foredeck to allow for a “knees up” seating position and a solid, minimalist seat and back band that provide a good starting point for individual paddlers to fine tune. If our demo boat didn’t need to fit so many different paddlers I would add hip pads to keep me from sliding across the seat in surf and when rolling, but because the boat is predictable on edge and rolls so easily it worked ok for me as a loose fit, straight off the shelf. The foam on the seat is thin enough and hard enough not to be too grippy so proper rotation is still possible.
As with all other quality boats in our range, paddlers rated the seat, thigh brace and footpeg setup everywhere from extremely comfortable to indifferent and given that skilled kayakers come in so many shapes and sizes this is hardly surprising. What is noteworthy is that all paddlers felt they could adapt the existing sturdy generic setup to their personal shape if it was their regular kayak.
DECK: The Xplore range comes in four sizes and although this is the “L” model it really doesn’t look or feel bulky. From the cockpit you could easily be mistaken into thinking you are paddling a smaller boat than the stats suggest with a narrow contoured foredeck that allows for a close catch and a high angle stroke. Reflective Bungees and 6mm decklines are sturdy and practical and the boat even has a gloss finish on the external seam. Spare paddles can be stowed fore or aft with tensioners on the bungees to cinch down splits.
PERFORMANCE: Tiderace have a really neat set of numerical indicators on their website covering details like the amount of V in the hull’s cross-section along with rocker; factors that are easy to quantify along with numbers for the more subjective qualities of stability and speed.
Tiderace themselves rate the boat as a moderate V (a rating of 2 with three being deep V and 1 being shallow), rocker is rated as a low with 2 out of 5 (5 being heavily rockered). With the boat on flat ground the low rocker and deep V are quite apparent and both are obvious when compared with the more banana shaped and rounder hull of my trusty Nordkapp.
Despite these features I found the boat surprisingly responsive, exhibiting a predictable, smooth transition from straight tracking to tight edged turns. With a little edging practice I located a ‘sweet spot’ that delivered the maximum turn for edge and it occurred when the boat was still at a comfortable angle of heel; beyond this point any additional edge was wasted and the kayak just seemed to track on its gunwales.
Unlike some low rocker, deep V boats, the Xplore L is not a handful to turn upwind even in moderate conditions. It has a deck profile that balances windage but still provides enough buoyancy for bigger daysw
When paddled to windward the Xplore cuts into the wave crests without excessive stalling or pounding, providing an efficient but wetter ride than my Nordkapp. In multidirectional wave patterns and cross chop the L is very smooth if a little subdued, but then again this also translates into “reassuring” when paddling unfamiliar waters.
In following seas the boat is capable, accelerating smoothly and holding an excellent line at a brisk cruising speed. This is when personal style and taste in boats becomes an issue, personally I prefer a looser tracking boat as a fast cruiser for day tripping and especially when chasing steep runners and surfing small waves but I would really enjoy the efficiency of this boat if I had miles to cover, especially with a load on board. Here's a video of a day out recently where I tested the boat in some moderate chop & winds to 20knots.
Regarding stability and speed I would rate the boat as being more stable than the 2 out of 5 it is given by tiderace but broadly agree with the 4 out 5 speed rating on their website.
In considering the above it is worth noting stability and speed are very “fluid concepts” when applied to real life paddling in waves. Mathematical models can give you numbers for “resistance to heeling” and “speed vs resistance” but don’t easily capture how the boat runs on a wave face or remains predictable in spiky wave patterns.
Despite being one of the narrower boats in our range the Xplore L is steady in a wide range of sea states supporting good posture and form in the rough stuff. It didn’t feel twitchy when upright and the transition to an edged position is predictable with good feedback well before the boat reaches the point of no return.
For me the L sits nicely in the niche between ultra modern ski inspired designs and the classic British style boats. It is not as out and out fast as the Pace 18 as playful as the Xcite or as lively as my Nordkapp but offers an elegant balance of performance features to the sea skilled paddler looking for an efficient all-rounder.