The man who brought the sit-on-top kayak to market has started a new brand: Swell Watercraft. The result is the among the best-designed sit-on-top kayaks on the market.
No doubt, a paddlecraft’s attributes are a balancing act, a banker’s scale. Often, hull speed compromises primary stability. Maneuverability compromises tracking ability, and so on. It’s why people who search for a boat that will do everything have their hopes crushed after paddling their new purchase for just a few weeks.
Back in the day, many people viewed kayaks as crafts for aficionados. Cockpits were small, few paddlers had the skill to safely roll, and far fewer understood the mechanics to teach it properly. Then came Ocean Kayak, founded by Tim Neimier. Suddenly, anyone who could sit in a recliner could safely paddle a kayak.
While Tim has moved on to other projects, his vision of a new, more efficient sit-on-top (SOT) kayak has manifested itself in the Swell Watercraft Scupper 14.
Swell Watercraft Scupper 14 Review
The first thing I noticed about the Scupper 14 was the array of points of organization. Hatches, bungees, fishing rod holders, and gear tracks abound. The boat is not cluttered, though. Everything is laid out well, in a place to serve the most utility. No doubt this comes from spending a lot of time on the water.
The second thing I noticed is that the boat is heavy. As a former competitive paddler, hull speed triumphs over all else for me. That means lightweight composite layups. Every time I’m around a rotomolded plastic boat, I’m shocked by its weight. Probably more so with the extremely well-outfitted Scupper 14.
As a testament to the brand’s development process, the designers and developers saw fit to equip the hull with a skid plate so that you can drag the boat to the water. Getting it on and off of your vehicle? Do those shoulder presses.
Swell Watercraft Scupper 14: Pros and Cons
Boats, above all else for me, should allow your body to function in the most efficient biomechanical movement pattern. Swell realized this and incorporated three features that I just love.
First is that the seat is higher than the footwells. Virtually every paddle stroke depends on torso rotation. While every paddler preaches this, the virtual reams of YouTube videos that exist rarely display it — even several instructional videos by leading organizations. With the seat elevated above the footwells, a paddler’s hips are a bit freer to articulate, leading to more efficient strokes throughout.
The second feature I adore is the gunnel lines that are contoured to allow a more efficient, more vertical forward stroke. While this feature makes the hull appear asymmetrical — more akin to a performance flatwater boat — the hull is actually symmetrical, according to Swell’s Jim Marsh. Even with the symmetrical hull, the Swell Scupper 14 is no pig to paddle.
Third, Swell designer Adam Bierschenk refined the scupper valves of SOT kayaks to come up with Swell’s patented valve design. This allows the user to reposition the scupper drain holes, which allows them to lower the seat by a few inches. With the added stability, Bierschenk was able to narrow the hull down by a few inches without compromising comfort. The result? Again, greater efficiency.
The features and advantages are many. Pros and cons that stick out in my mind are as follows:
- This boat is an immense improvement in biomechanical efficiency over virtually any other recreational SOT. Yeah, I know. You’re not racing. However, to go a bit farther with less effort and feel fresher at the end of the day is a good thing.
- The brand thought out the points of organization extremely well. Too often I see products where manufacturers just tack on everything they can — because they can. Not the Scupper 14. It’s well-outfitted for everything from a few hours to a few days.
- Great initial stability and crazy secondary stability make this a safe craft in addition to being efficient.
- It paddles and serves like an efficient touring kayak, not a pool toy. In addition to biomechanical efficiencies, when one executes an initiation stroke and leans the boat, it turns with grace and predictability.
- The Swell Scupper 14 is a unicorn. It does a lot of things very well. That may be because the brains behind this product really know what they’re doing and have been doing it for a long time — not years, but decades. That scale of insight has manifested itself in a boat that makes many other SOT kayaks feel obsolete.
- It’s heavy. To load it single-handed, I came up with a sequence using a two-by-six that allowed a solo load on my raised 4Runner. No doubt the heavier weight and thicker rotomolded plastic contribute to greater hull efficiency.
- While this falls into the nit-picky file, the fishing rod holders are positioned well for storage, but not so much for trolling. If I were to own a Scupper 14, I’d want to invest in Scotty rod holders.
Swell Scupper 14: Who It’s For
So, who’s this boat for? If you’re after a dedicated fishing craft that you can stand up in, this is probably not your boat. Looking for a performance boat for entry-level racing? Nope. How about a whitewater sit-on-top? Look elsewhere.
However, if you’re after a something that can tackle everything in between with grace, the Swell Watercraft Scupper 14 is your boat. A quick workout? A day of fishing? A 4-night trip on Lake Powell? A few nights cruising and camping the Delaware River? Check, check, check, and check.