By Garth Spencer, Surfski legend
Last year, for the 2017 King and Queen of the Harbour, we were able to give away a brand new NELO 560, thanks to the generosity of a private individual. I was fortunate enough to try this out, and immediately realized that this felt radically different from other boats I had paddled.
I immediately approached Terry Newsome, local NELO distributor and former King and Queen of the Harbour Race Director, and said "Terry, I have got to have a decent try of that 560." He just smiled.
As we were tying his beautiful grey and lumo-green NELO 560 WWR/4-construction demo-boat onto the roof of my van, he asked if I would do a publish a review of this boat, and so after many months of paddling and racing this in all sorts of conditions and distances, here are my personal views:
How a brand new NELO 560 lightweight 11kg SCS/7-construction came to be given away as a spot-prize is quite another story all together, but I received a call from a local freight forwarder telling me that I had a package that required uplifting from the Mt Wellington depot on a hot, sticky Monday night.
Unwrapping a brand new bubble-wrap-clad boat from the boat-sock in the garage under the florescent light, and assembling the boat from the little NELO tool bag with different rudders, tools and wave deflectors etc. is a euphoric experience for the most jaded of us surfski paddlers.
I probably could have played with the boat, weighing it (coming in under the specified weight) and polishing the superb quality finish all night, but was eventually chased inside by the mosquitoes around midnight.
Taking this along to the Takapuna Tuesday Time-trial the next day I found that the shorter length allowed the boat to accelerate quickly in the flat conditions, but it was the body geometry that I enjoyed: The high seat position, the low heel-position, with the K1-style foot bar I found I was able to rotate more aggressively, almost pulling back against this bar with my non-driving leg.
These footplates are a combination of extruded pvc plastic and carbon, or plastic only for the newer models, and are highly/easily adjustable, well padded to prevent blistering on the top of the foot. Although this took a few weeks to get used to, I just love this now - no other ski to my knowledge has a setup anything like this.
After blasting around the flat water time-trial course as fast as my little heart and skinny arms would permit, I would be told:
"Jeez, Spencer - that's the fastest I think I've seen you paddle, ever."
So there you have it. Boat review completed haha.
Ok, so I know that this accelerates really quickly, and turns on a dime, but I was keen to see how this performed on the big blue rolling swell and harbour chop. Nelo rate this a 2 out of 5 for stability, and although my balance is really good, this girl was certainly a handful in the chop. Tracking beautifully, and holding its line on the flat seemed to give the boat the edge, picking up little washes others couldn't, but with a following sea would this be a disadvantage?
The second time I paddled the NELO 560 I thought I would try the tiny K1 rudder. I headed out with the gang on a flattish evening with a nice little sea-breeze, and was gutted to find the boat sluggish and unresponsive at high speeds. Every-time I put the hammer down the boat felt like it was cavitating around the rudder, with a vibration setting in. This was made so much worse when the beautiful Magnus De Brito self-bailer was fully opened. "Did you remember to insert the bushes?" asked Terry when I told him, crestfallen. The smaller rudder shaft being skinnier in the rudder tube had set up a vibration which acted like a sea-anchor! The correct bushes certainly brought the performance of the boat back up to my first experience, but truth be told, the smaller rudder makes such a difference to stability that I haven't wanted to try this again.
My recommendation would be to experiment, but when trying a 560 particularly for the first time, to get the true experience, make sure this is equipped with the full (more stable) surf rudder. Having said that, I still wish the boat was a bit narrower than the 45cm spec - my skinny ass slides around in the seat bucket a bit and requires padding to prevent this.
My first impression in a downwind was a big NEerly of Takapuna Beach, and again the Tuesday evening time-trial saw us race back from A-Buoy, a good 7km's off shore. With wind chop driven by 20-30 knots, and a rolling swell with a period of 9-11 seconds, it was all-on!
Out of the starting gates the 560 took off, accelerating quickly from an almost stationary start to catch the first runner (who doesn't love that feeling?).
Then is was straight down the mine, nose burying itself up the pedals and flooding the cockpit. I immediately kicked fully open the self-bailer and it felt like the brakes went on, BUT the boat emptied in a few seconds. So, I thought, this requires a different approach.
With a nice empty boat, and my lead lost, I adjusted the balier to the first position with my heel easily (slightly open) and wound up the cadence for the next runner. Sliding easily down this, I used a lighter touch on the pedals and soon I was able to switch the boat back and forth easily, linking runners far more nimbly than I was ever able to do with the longer boats.
Subsequent paddles in some honking downwind have made me a firm convert to the merits of the shorter hull length, with the advantages of better handling in the shorter chop, and increased maneuverability and handling in the big rollers.
The faster acceleration is a major plus for high-speed downwind paddling, when accelerating onto waves and linking is the name of the game.
The performance of the much shorter boat across a wide range of conditions is a surprise to me and most traditional sentiment, where the longer water-line length was supposed to lead to higher speed for less effort.
There is a lot of talk about what NELO are doing particularly in Europe and other larger markets, driven by Oscar Chalupsky and the company's association with the International Canoe Federation (ICF).
Clearly the NELO 560 is born out of a successful legacy of K1 sprint and marathon boats. I think its this association that makes the boat so different from anything else. You will get a high performance machine from this legacy, but it won't be for everyone, appealing I believe to crossover K1 paddlers and paddlers for whom technique is important.
Do not make the mistake as many do through historical association that this is a flat water boat - as a born South African paddling downwinds since a kid, this is currently my boat of choice in ocean racing, and I think it comes alive in the moving ocean.
Will someone make something better in the future? Maybe. Will the person be making these developmental changes have as much downwind experience as Oscar Chalupsky? Doubt it.
With the focus on the R&D side of the sport now firmly in the hands of a number of competitive and very serious manufacturers, its time to get out there and try these new designs, test them thoroughly and be direct with our feedback.
Olympic paddlers Cam and Leda McFadzean of www.performancepaddling.net have written an amazingly thorough review of the 560, complete with speed trials and high quality photographs. Well worth a read if you wish to explore the technical detail further as an Elite paddler.
David Morton has put together a beautiful dynamic surfski comparison/visualization tool which can be accessed at the below link. Select your boats to compare, and it brings these up with a summary of key stats - visit surfskicomparison.com
Want to take a Nelo 560 Surfski out for a spin yourself?
The smaller sized Nelo Surfski are also available to try too. Ask Terry which size will suit you.