Getting in Esquif’s new Excite, I couldn’t get Secret’s antiperspirant tagline out of my head: Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman. While one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time, I don’t really know what it means. The Excite, on the other hand, was designed first for women, and then up-sized for men. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. But the boat is awesome.
Esquif Canoes’ Excite
Length: 9 ft 6in
Price: $2,000 USD ($2,225 CAD) with wood trim
Sabrina Barm is the first female canoeist to compete in North Carolina’s infamous Green River Race, and at the time she had competed in two Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championships paddling OC1 against fields of kayakers.
Let’s just say she’s a badass open boater. Barm’s also an automotive engineer with a background in boat design. With an extreme race resume and a few theories on acceleration, precision, hull speed and ergonomics, she approached Esquif Canoes owner Jacques Chasse about designing a polyethylene creeking and river running canoe specifically designed for smaller paddlers, namely women. Seemingly never too small a niche for Esquif, Chasse gave Barm the green light.
The Extasy is the most radically different canoe design we’d ever tested. I just wished I weighed 40 pounds less and had thinner hips—words I thought I’d never write—for squeezing between the integrated polyethylene gunwales. I wasn’t the only one. Enough Esquif team paddlers and other dudes were sneaking runs in Barm’s lawn dart to convince Chasse he needed to upsize the Extasy.
The Excite isn’t just a chubbier Extasy, but a completely new boat inspired by it. First of all, the Extasy is rotomolded polyethylene like the L’edge, Spanish Fly and almost every whitewater kayak on the river. The Excite, like most full-size solo canoes, uses a plastic laminate material. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll know Esquif saved whitewater canoeing by coming up with its own special blend to replace Royalex, called T-Formex.
The top edges are capped with black vinyl gunwales and deck plates. The Extasy is available with bulkhead outfitting, and because the Excite’s T-Formex inner layer allows glue-in anchors, it is also available with pedestal saddle and straps.
The Extasy is super light, which is one of the best features for women and smaller paddlers on the water, portage trail and while roof topping. The Excite, on the other hand, is not super light. Our tester was an even 50 pounds with bulkhead outfitting and good nylon bags. This is the least exciting part of this new design. In my opinion, Chasse overbuilds most of his canoes. Admirable, but please make me an Excite Light—it even rhymes. I promise, Jacques, I won’t make a warranty claim when in 10 years I wear through the chines.
Just looking at the Excite, you can tell this boat is going to be fun. The mid-section—let’s call it the cockpit of the Excite—sits above a 15-inch wide and 32-inch long flat section. On either side, the boat widens with six-inch pontoon-like bulbous sections just behind your hips. The bow sweeps up sort of like the Spark or the old Dagger Prophet. The stern radically narrows and kicks up the rocker aggressively 10 inches behind the seat. If you’re not following along, let’s just say this is not your typical symmetrical canoe. And it doesn’t paddle like anything you’ve ever tried before—except maybe the Extasy, if you could fit in it.
On the water, the Excite is exciting. The wide cockpit with stern kick rocker and an upswept bow makes it feel like you’re sitting and kneeling on a beach ball or one of those Flying Saucer snow sleds. Coming forward with your weight to engage the narrow bow makes it feel faster. Do this onthe way into an eddy and it carves. Stay centered or come back a little bit and the bow releases making the Excite one of the most aggressive offside tilt-to-pivot boats we’ve tested. So snappy. So fun. This isn’t just awesome for micro eddies; it’s fantastic for mid-current pivots for changing direction.
Need to jump over a reactionary wave or boof a hole? Just come back a little and the Excite tips back on the rockered stern, lightening the bow dancing up and over as dry as can be.
The Excite is also one of the most fun solo boats I’ve ever surfed. The wide flat saucer section is super stable on the wave. On a steep wave, the tricked-up stern takes the profile of the wave face or pile rather than sending you down into the trough. The high-volume rockered bow seldom locks into the upstream water. It’s like you’re surfing on the saucer. The Excite is so free of locking in, I could even drop my T-grip hand and rudder to carve back on my offside. You need to try it.
Okay, you’ve probably figured out I really like the Excite. But I don’t like swimming. I swam more out of the Excite than I have in years. Here’s my excuse.
I don’t think the Excite is hard to roll. I just had the float bags fully inflated, filling the bow and stern tight to the foam bulkhead. The bulkhead has only two small holes through it—holes too small to equalize the water to my offside quickly enough. I’d be drilling holes, cutting channels or installing a saddle and straps. Problem solved.
Almost any new open boat is exciting. The Excite is truly an exciting new boat full of fresh ideas about what makes a canoe fun to paddle. The best part most dudes will be excited about is that we don’t have to lose 50 pounds to go surfing or creeking.
Esquif’s Excite is an exciting design, full of new ideas about what makes a canoe fun to paddle. |Photo: Alex Traynor