Magazine "Kanuukajak" in Estonia tests SeaBird Designs' sport/fitness kayaks and surfski

Kayaking marathons have become rather popular in Estonia and the level of the participants is getting higher and higher each year – while they were more like hiking trips in the beginning, the events are becoming increasingly athletic now. As a logical next step of this situation, the interest of people in faster and more athletic kayaks has also increased. Once you decide to take part in a competition, you wouldn’t want the result to be hampered by the equipment. Thus, the thought of getting a fast(er) boat crosses the minds of many kayakers. Since there are actually quite a few choices and the awareness of our kayakers of these possibilities is not always sufficient, we decided to perform a test of fast kayaks last summer, by which we hoped to find answers to the following questions:

*Can an average hiking kayaker paddle a sportier kayak faster than his or her regular hiking kayak?

*If yes, how big is the difference between the speeds and does it mainly manifest in the peak speed or in the longer-term hiking speed?

*How big a role does equipment play in fast paddling and how big a role the physical capability of the kayaker?

Participants in the test:

  • Piia Narusberg (165 cm, 68 kg) – hiking kayaker. No experience with sportier kayaks.
  • Ahti Reinup (172 cm, 98 kg) – hiking kayaker, has tried various kayaks. No experience of kayaking on a lane.
  • Haiko Käärik (186 cm, 88 kg) – a physically capable hiking kayaker, no experience of kayaking on a lane.
  • Raigo Põder (182 cm, 95 kg) – a former Estonian top kayaker, who is accustomed to using a competition kayak on a daily basis.

The testing took place on Lake Pühajärv. There was mild wind and practically no waves. Everyone used their own oars in the test.

Tested boats:

SeaBird Wave 6.4 pro

  • Length: 640 cm
  • Width 43,5 cm.
  • Wave 6.4 is a surfski for serious athletes. Originally designed for competing on the waves of an ocean. The longest, narrowest and most unstable boat in our test.

SeaBird Salt 51 pro

  • Length: 520 cm
  • Wisth: 51 cm.
  • Salt 51 is a fitness boat, the shape and nature of which closely resemble a competition kayak, but the width is a bit greater and thus the stability better.

SeaBird Sport600 semi-carbon

  • Length: 600 cm
  • Width: 47 cm.
  • Sport600 is a boat that is designed for athletes practicing in multiple disciplines and for those interested in fast hiking. Even though it is quite narrow, the stability is considerably better compared to the last two boats.

SeaBird H2O hybrid

  • Length: 547 cm
  • Width: 54 cm.
  • H2O is a hiking kayak with a relatively convex bottom and straight line of the bottom. Slightly less stable and faster than a regular hiking boat.


  • Length: 540 cm
  • Width: 59 cm.
  • The most typical sea kayak in our test. However, the kayak with a relatively straight line of the bottom is even faster on smooth water than strongly banana-shaped sea kayaks.

Achieved peak speeds, km/h. In the brackets, the approximate speed which the kayaker was able to maintain for a longer period.

Wave 6.4 Salt51 Sport600 H2O WK-540
Piia 11 (8.8) 11 (9.2)   11 (9.8) 10.5 (9.3)  9.2 (8.6) 
Ahti  13.3  13.6  13.5  13.5  13.2 
Haiko  13.0 (10)  11.4 (9)  12.7 (10)  12.5 (9)  12.8 (9) 
Raigo 19.7 (12) 18.6 (11.5) 18.8 (10.5) 17.5 (10.5) 17.1 (10.2)


Wave 6.4 Raigo: a nice long boat, I would pick it for a sea race. I would only recommend an experienced kayaker to use it at sea, though. Ahti: for me, the stability of the boat is too „tender” at the moment and would require more getting used to/practice. I also lacked the physical power to get the boat moving really well. Piia: probably a bit too big for my height as well as my weight. The balance was tender and thus I did not reach the real speed of the boat.

Salt51 Raigo: surprisingly stable for a boat resembling a sports boat. Certainly a good boat at sea and on a river. Ahti: light-weight and well-running. The stability was on the border for me, I could not relax completely. After a bit of practicing, I would surely take it to a river marathon. Piia: a positive surprise – a boat that looks just like a competition boat was not very unstable! For my size, definitely better-suited that Wave 6.1.

Sport600 Raigo: potentially the fastest of all of the boats tested, only lost out to Wave 6.4, because the testing boat did not have a rudder. A perfect boat for racing at sea. Ahti: surprisingly good stability and still very fast. With a rudder, the boat would have had the potential to be the fastest. A bit of practicing and I would dare to take it out on waves. Piia: a bit too big for me. The ratio of speed and stability was very good. It could be quite a good boat for a marathon on a larger river.

H2O Raigo: for a hiking boat and taking into account the width and weight, surprisingly fast. I would use it for hiking in any conditions. If my wallet permits, I would choose the carbon version for a race boat. Ahti: a rather homely hiking boat, which I probably took the 100% out of at the moment. Works very well with smaller waves or on smooth water. Piia: a very nice boat for hiking, especially on calmer water.

WK-540 Raigo: really stable and easy to use. Everyone should manage with it at sea. Ahti: the widest and most stable boat in the test, which even beginners will cope with. But still has good speed.

Observations and conclusions:

In order to take proper advantage of the potential of faster boats, the kayaker must also be in a good physical shape. An average hiking kayaker lacks the power to make the boats that are designed for athletes „work” properly. Thus the peak speeds of potentially the fastest (Wave 6.4 and Salt51) and the slowest (WK-540) boats remained more or less in the same class. With the power of a competitive kayaker, however, the faster boats worked considerably better and there was a significant difference in peak speeds. Stability also certainly had an important role in the test. Wave 6.4 and Salt51 were significantly more unstable compared to hiking kayaks and the kayakers who are accustomed to hiking boats had to focus too much on keeping their balance with these boats. In the case of the remaining boats, stability was better and their current abilities were realized to the extent of close to 100%. Speaking of this test from the perspective of a kayaking race, however, the average speed that a kayaker is able to maintain with a certain boat and how much energy it consumes are usually significantly more important than the peak speed. The boats that participated in the test, all of which are from the faster end of the selection of kayaks, are a bit faster than an average sea kayak. In the case of an average kayaker, the difference in the average speed in the course of a long distance may be approximately 0.5-1 km/h. In the case of Võhandu Marathon, for example, this would lead to a quite significant difference.

The conclusion of „KanuuKajaki”: it would be a good idea for those who want to achieve good results to take a look at faster boats. It should, however, always be kept in mind that, as a rule, faster boats are also more unstable and take some time getting used to. It would also be good to get into a shape worthy of the boat – as we saw, Raigo was able to paddle even the slowest boat in the test significantly faster than all other participants were able to paddle any other boat. If the two abovementioned preconditions are not met, it may happen that the difference in speeds arising from the boats remains considerably smaller than expected or there is no difference at all.


The full story and the conclusion is available here.