"PADLING" magazine tests SeaBird Designs' Qanik

Greenland Kayaking in a modern flavour

The test boat’s small cockpit opening sets strict demands on the paddler’s rolling skills. Disembarkation at high piers is also a challenge that is unlikely to succeed on the first attempt. Enthusiasts may – at a very reasonable price – still risk being totally won over.

Text: Jan Fjelde

Photo: Trond Eriksen and Jan Fjelde

The Chinese manufacturer SeaBird Designs, which is owned and operated by the Norwegian Len Ystmark, has for the last three years worked closely with the well-known kayak designer Björn Thomasson.

The partnership has so far resulted in no less than eleven models, including the three Greenland-inspired editions: Black Pearl, Sea Pearl and Qanik. The test specimen is the most voluminous of the trio. All three models have a playful and responsive hull with hard chine and a lowered keel.

For whom?

The seat well opening of 40×60 centimetres means that more of the deck has been drawn towards the paddler. This provides for very “correct” contact with the kayak. Since the kayak must be entered via the rear deck, beaches and low jetties will be a natural starting point. By using the paddle as a support behind the apron, the paddler can easily get on board and ashore. High jetties will by contrast only offer interesting challenges (!).

Kayaks with a so-called ocean opening put extra demands on a solo paddler when it comes to self-rescue techniques. In slightly choppy conditions there are really no reasonable alternatives to the Eskimo roll and a wet re-entry. Fans of other methods should rather go for a kayak where these can be utilised. Fortunately, Seabird can offer the boat in two models. The first option has a large cockpit opening of the keyhole type. This opens the way for a wider user base. The roll can at the same time be practiced on general conditions. Extra playful and responsive boats with lowered keel are in general aimed at highly skilled technical practitioners, or those who have a strong desire to become such. In the dedicated environment, kayakers with an ocean opening will receive an extra star. That’s how it must be on a Greenland kayak!

Elegant lines

Björn Thomasson has designed a beautiful kayak. He does not deny that the original Illorsuit from West Greenland has been his source of inspiration. The keel and deck have a distinguished flair. Laterally, one third of the hull below the waterline is extremely moderately rounded. The form then goes to a V-shaped hull that increases sharply towards both ends. The transition between bottom and the steep hull sides has hard chine. The bow has a large overhang and is as straight as a ruler. Compared to the Black Pearl and the Sea Pearl, the hull and deck on the Qanik are raised by a few important centimetres. Purely visually the grips are hidden in an elegant manner. The test boat still appears sleek, low and refined.

The chalk-white version is produced in a carbon/Kevlar hybrid. In more simplistic terms, this involves a fibreglass construction with carbon reinforced aramid mats on all exposed areas. Our own weight measurement of 24.6 kg verifies that nothing has been spared on the materials used. The finish and casting quality maintains a standard that is usually found in a higher price range. It appears that the manufacturer has outdone themselves in respect to quality of the interior visible surfaces. The finish is actually better than ever. Seabird has always produced an exemplary joint between hull and deck on their composite versions. The test boat is no exception.

Handles in wood

The deck rigging is nicely presented and all the fittings are recessed. Fifteen centimetres from the ends of the kayak there is the characteristic hole to secure the wooden lifting handles. A cord keeps them firmly against the deck to prevent rattle. The fact that the factory has taken the trouble to create these beautiful wooden details by hand gets a smile not only from me. If the ends that run through the handles were to be extended a few inches, they could be pulled over the “edge” so that they can also act as rescue handles. The area along the front hatch has a safety liner that is easy to grasp. In front of the seat well we find good cords that run through three fixtures on each side of the deck, plus one in the middle. The configuration provides excellent mounting possibilities for maps and other equipment. The security lines on the forward deck share three of the anchor points with the cords on each side. Solid fastenings must be compensated for with a more limited grip between the three points.

The hatch on the forward deck has an opening of 24 centimetres. At the front of the kayak there is provision for mounting of a compass. The area closer to the bow is fitted with a cord for securing an extra paddle. The distance between the cockpit apron and the bow is 265 centimetres. The extra paddle therefore does not have to be divisible. At the rear apron edge on the starboard side there is a day hatch of 15 centimetres. Behind this a cord is arranged in an X-formation across the deck. Then comes a large oval hatch. The effective opening measurements are 42×30 centimetres. The security lines on the aft deck provide a good grip. In my opinion, they are still slightly short. Near the stern, the kayak is equipped with further fittings for an extra paddle. Such low-profile kayaks have less volume than the more typical sea kayaks of the same length. With smart packing, however, the Qanik has all you need for a long weekend.

Each hatch chassis is coated with silicone and screwed firmly to the deck. The supports have good drainage and all covers are secured with ropes. The forward hatch and the boat’s day hatch kept the cargo area completely free of water during the entire test period. The rear decks oval version allowed in a few drops. As suggested in previous tests, this may be blamed on user error on our part. Oval rubber hatches must always (!!) be set completely straight in a longitudinal direction, otherwise the water will pass between the cover and the hull.

Good ergonomics

The test boat is equipped with sturdy lumbar supports. They are attached with star-head screws and can optionally be either moved or removed. The shape is good and they provide firm and secure lumbar support. The space margins in the seat well’s opening is, however, so limited that for a short time I chose to remove them. After removing the lumbar supports there is more noticeable knee contact with the underside of the deck. The kayak is significantly easier to enter and wet re-entry is possible in less time. If the supports are removed, it may be wise to upholster the contact points for the knees and lower back by cutting up an inexpensive sleeping underlay and gluing the pieces in place – a simple operation that everyone can perform. Slighter paddlers can probably retain the lumbar supports. Here, fortunately, it is just a matter of trial and error.

The company-produced footrests can be slid back and forth with your feet. Locking is done via extension arms that can be reached in the sitting position. Sufficient height between the floor and the deck allows my knees to be at a comfortable angle. The seat has a good shape and can be adjusted in the longitudinal direction by removing four star-head screws. When the mouth of the seat well is of the ocean type, there is little point, in my opinion, to be able to alter the length of the seat. Rather, cement it permanently and remove the screws. Most seats in boats from Seabird are padded. They remain warm even when damp. Personally, I prefer a moist heat-insulating underlay, than a cold, wet and totally bare plastic seat. The padding is attached with pegs and can be removed if desired.

Extra fun

Just like the joint between the hull and the deck, all the fixtures of the cockpit frame are well presented. It has a large enough space toward the deck for the thick neoprene cover to be easily fastened. The Seabird cover is of good quality and is a perfect fit. The backrest is mounted low and provides adequate support without restricting movement. It can be tightened with a buckle at the back. The same tightening can also be performed via a line at the right thigh. Actually, a little overdone, if you ask me. The support is near the seat well apron. The rear frame edge is sufficiently low so that the execution of the Eskimo roll is not affected. Proponents of the hand roll will probably achieve better results in the even lower Black Pearl and Sea Pearl. I myself got so far backward that both rolling and sculling were easy to perform. The seat well’s overall impression is absolutely satisfactory. A firm and good posture no doubt helps the paddling technique and playing in the waves becomes extra fun.

From the first twist of the hips

The sum of the stability parameters is of a standard that experienced paddlers especially will meet with ovation. The boat is easy to manoeuvre in the primary plane, without feeling stiff in any way. Primary stability operates within a fairly limited range and is ranked a little below average. Secondary stability, on the other hand, is good and provides a comfortable resistance to tipping, but does not appear to be dominating. It ends up in a responsiveness of a slightly rounded character. Neither is it troubled with carving characteristics by a structure that resists it too much.

Here, we touch the object’s very best quality – the carving response is in fact of the ultimate kind! The kayak is razor sharp in its response to tipping by the hull. In combination with custom paddle strokes, it is possible to turn within a couple of boat lengths. It is in its element when one calls it for play and fun. Here, the kayak plays along and allows thorough enjoyment for the paddler. Since the pattern of movement in the primary and secondary planes is free and predictable, technical exercises can be calculated more easily.

Slides through the water

The hull undoubtedly has a favourable “drag coefficient” at normal touring speed. The kayak slides through the water easily and elegantly. It requires little force on the paddle for the boat to generate small waves. On flat water our GPS measurements reveal that the most efficient hull speed is between 3.8 and 4 knots. Average speed in our test run ended up at 4.4 knots. Top speed peaked at 6 knots.

The test conditions varied widely. On the last day of the test, an ice cold Fanafjord delivered a southerly breeze. Thus, the Qanik had the opportunity to display its properties in bad weather. Seabird has been more generous than usual in the distribution of the lowered keel. The huge blade stands at about 60 degrees in the water when it is completely lowered. The operating lever is located on the starboard side of the seat well. Under normal tour paddling and when playing around, it was never used. However, it is reassuring to know that under the hull there are several square centimetres ready for action. The boat’s windage and drift are relatively modest. With the adjustable keel fully recessed, the kayak is willing to run against the wind. If the keel is lowered halfway, directional stability is maintained in a side wind. Seas from behind will, in varying degrees, require adjustments by carving, use of the keel, or steering action with the paddle. If the maximum available area of the huge adjustable keel is selected, the course stability with the wind from behind and on surf is very good. The ability to suddenly change course is of course correspondingly reduced. Surfing willingness is irreproachable. The hull is not particularly choosy about either wind speed or wave height. It does not take very much before one feels that it plays along with the forces of nature in the form of lovely waves.

Directly against metre high waves, or at a slight angle to these, the bow shows some tendencies to strike. From experience we know that trimming with moderate amounts of ballast can work wonders. Then it is possible to fine-tune the depth of the sharp bow. Large overhang and concave sides right forward mean that much of the seas are directed out to the side. This reduces the amount of water coming over the deck. Even if the deck’s rolling is moderate, only exceptionally are there large amounts of water splashing over the spray cover. At an angle to the waves, hard chine structures can cause harder going than with soft chine. Something must be sacrificed for the benefit of excellent carving response. Qanik is a kind of sea kayak in a GTI version. A little more direct, rather harder, with less space and a higher fun factor!


Seabird and Björn Thomasson have good reason to be pleased with Qanik. The glittering response makes it a truly fun playmate. Good comfort and cargo volume also invite to take longer trips. Two alternative sizes for the cockpit opening expand the customer base significantly. The ocean cockpit of the test example really separates the wheat from the chaff. Skilled technical paddlers can successfully rely on this. The keyhole version is a more popular version. The relationship between price and quality in both cases is very good. You get a lot of Greenland-inspired kayak for your money.

Technical data

  • Length: 546 centimetres
  • Width: 52 centimetres
  • Cockpit, test boat: 60 x 40 centimetres
  • Declared weight (net): 21 kilograms
  • Padling’s check weighing (ready to go): 24.6 kilograms


Price: NOK 11500


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