Review: Spade Kayaks’ First River Runner

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

To call a spade a spade is to tell it like it is. Some people might be offended by this straight talk and consider you rude, but I usually like to lay all my cards on the table. So what is my initial assessment of the Ace of Spades from German start-up Spade Kayaks? If I were heading out on a class II or class V run in this boat I’d come back smiling.

The Ace is the first offering from Spade Kayaks, a small company made up of five paddlers turned entrepreneurs (read more about this well-known quintet on page 38). Currently the Ace is offered in only one size, though a smaller version is in the works, and with three different outfitting options—Basic, Whitewater and Pro.

I got my hands on the Pro version, which features a beefy middle rail to keep the hull rigid and a footrest that is extremely comfortable and takes up all the space in the bow to prevent any issues with a foot getting caught. The bow also contains the frontbone, an alternative to a foam front pillar, that makes the cockpit stiffer and gives you lots of room.

The seat is comfortable with easy-to-add Velcro foam shims on the hip pads and a rope and cleat system, similar to Jackson Kayak, to adjust the backband. The cleats face the paddler, meaning you pull the rope towards you to tighten it. I found I couldn’t get things as tight quite as easily as the Jackson system but I still like it more than most traditional ratcheting systems.

On the water, the Ace feels sleek and more compact than it looks. Its smooth rocker profile keeps the bow and stern up for quick spinning and clear of any boils and grabby eddylines when in bigger water. Putting it over on edge you can zip around the river and carve deep in and out of eddies with speed. Beginners will love that you don’t need to edge very far to get that responsiveness out of the Ace and that it has rock solid secondary stability. Even though I can carve with ease, the edges don’t feel grabby like some flat-bottomed play boats.

This gives me even more confidence in harder whitewater as well as those runs where I want to slide off, over and around lots of rocks. With all the design features that make this boat maneuverable and agile it does give up a bit of speed. While the Ace certainly isn’t a slow boat, I doubt it will be on top of the podium for many downriver races where longer, less rockered boats tend to dominate.

The Ace is manufactured using a blow molding technique. Spade claims that this makes for a lighter and stiffer hull that is more durable than the more common rotomolding techniques. It does feel very stiff. I didn’t piton into rocks to test durability.

The Ace is a boat that beginners will be able to grow with and take skills to the next level with confidence. The expert paddler who pushes class V will also love the quick and snappy ability to rip into eddies and work down a rock-choked creek. I hope Spade expands their lineup because they’ve certainly dealt a winner with this kayak— it’s one of the best all-round boats I’ve paddled in a while.

v18-iss3-Rapid.jpgThis article originally appeared in the Rapid
Summer/Fall 2016 issue.

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