According to Stellar Kayaks rep Vaughn Smith, “People have a head-trip about surfskis—they’re skinny, they’re tippy, they’re weird.” But the people to which Smith refers aren’t the manufacturer’s devoted niche of hard-core racing kayakers and fitness fanatics, a group who will no doubt welcome the arrival of the Stellar S14S surfski.
Stellar S14S Specs
Material: Advantage fiberglass
Weight: 34 lbs
Stellar’s S14S is sleek and graceful
Any reservations I had about the new Stellar S14S, however, began to erode the minute I laid eyes on this sleek, bubble gum pink 14-footer. And they vanished completely when I slid into the surprisingly comfortable seat bucket for a frosty crossing to a cluster of offshore islands.
With its open cockpit, knees-up-and-together seating position, narrow racing bow and long waterline, the S14S is clearly a surfski. Just don’t tell Smith that. “We’re marketing this as a performance sit-on-top, that just happens to be incredibly fast,” he says. Like its longer, narrower siblings in the Stellar surfski family, the S14S is designed for maximum efficiency.
Catch a free ride
As I discover minutes into the crossing, when I absent-mindedly pull away from my companions’ 16- and 17-foot touring kayaks, greater efficiency doesn’t just equal more speed, it delivers that sweet, hypnotic glide with ridiculously less effort. Ergo, more miles covered in an afternoon, and more waiting for your friends to catch up.
The effortless acceleration is particularly rewarding on downwind runs, where the S14S refuses to let even a small swell go to waste. If catching free rides on every wave doesn’t plaster a smile on your face, you should probably take up hiking.
More significant, perhaps, than the Stellar S14S being the fastest 14-footer we’ve ever reviewed is the fact that this is a boat beginners will feel comfortable paddling. The Swede-form hull—measuring a beamy 25 inches across at its widest point behind the seat—combined with the soft chines produce superb secondary stability. Should you take an unscheduled swim, the shallow deck is easily remounted from the water.
The S14S makes you want to go fast
Adding to the S14S’ versatility as a crossover vehicle between fitness and recreational paddling or touring, is the inclusion of two watertight storage compartments. Overnight trippers especially will appreciate the extra-large stern hatch and tent-sized bow hatch.
Like all Stellars, the S14S is available in four different composite layups, from basic fiberglass to featherweight carbon fiber. Featuring the mid-range Advantage construction, our demo weighed in at just over 34 pounds, translating to an equally effortless experience off the water. Grasping the two cockpit handles placed perfectly at the boat’s balance point, I easily lifted it off the roof rack and solo suitcase-carried it to the water.
Cleaving through a light, evening chop back to the mainland, I felt the undeniable tug that columnist and surfski convert Neil Schulman explored in “Paddle Faster.”
Head out on a weekend trip
Stellar’s steering system combines an over-stern rudder with gas pedal-style foot controls that are responsive without being twitchy.
The Stellar S14S may be novice-friendly, but advanced touring paddlers won’t be bored—twin hatches give this pocket rocket the capacity for weekend trips.
The contoured cockpit is comfortable and supportive. Pull the plug on the Venturi drain to empty water from the foot well while underway. The puddle under your butt you’re stuck with till shore.
Catch the wave with a Stellar S14S
It’s true that as a sit-on-top ‘ski, the Stellar S14S robs you of certain facets that some kayakers consider integral to their experience—rolling, dynamic edging and bracing, extended tripping—but in return this boat offers something different and equally tantalizing: a spare, athletic grace accessible to almost anybody.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.