We listened to kayakers:
“I’m a good kayaker and I want an inflatable kayak that performs like a hardshell.”
“I want to use public transport to go kayaking.”
“Inflatable kayaks are cool but I want a kayak that moves!”
First Gumotex and now Europe-wide, French sports retail giant Decathlon have turned to dropstitch (DS) technology in a bid to improve rigidity and so, the performance of their inflatable kayaks.
Only Decathlon haven’t just added a DS floor to an existing model, but with the single-seater X500 Strenfit have designed an entire 10psi (0.7 bar) DS hull, complete with a deck sheet and coamed hatch supported by two D/S beams. (Do you need a deck?) Above left, Serge and Nanook take their X-boats for a spin. UK price is reasonable and delivered with a two-year guarantee, although the essential SUP two-way pump (right) is another 25 quid.
‘Itiwit‘ is a Decathlon water-sports brandword, contracted from ‘itinerary’ and ‘Inuit’, the latter being fur-clad denizens of the Arctic who invented sea kayaks all those centuries ago. I suppose it sounds better than ‘Inuary’.
Watch the slick vid below to get your head round the unusual design. It looks like the dark grey V-floor panel is one chamber, plus a lighter grey sidewall panel each side and then the two deck-supporting thwarts or beams. And being French-designed, it conforms with their national watersports regs which allow it to stray a full 300 metres or more from the sea shore.
Vital stats are 3.8m long by 64cm wide and 18kg making it similar to an undecked but flat-floored Kxone Slider 375, and between a Gumotex Twist 2 and a decked Framura or Swing II. And it’s not made of PVC, but polyethylene (PE) over a polyester (PES) fabric core (though PVC is mentioned, perhaps mistakenly, in the blurb-chat). I’m not sure that makes a massive difference to longevity or cold-weather ease of folding. Like most other DS IKs, you can be sure it’s made in China.
Because DS hulls have less air volume than regular tubed IKs, they’re slimmer (thinner walled, giving more space in the boat) and are quicker to pump up (3 mins, claimed on the X500). But that lower volume explains a modest payload of just 125kg. No dims are given on the hatch size, but based on the length, I’d guess it’s 80cm long.
Below, watch Nanook film Serge as he effortlessly assembles, paddles and then disassembles his X500 in what may be real-time. The roll-top rear hatch is a clever idea; not seen that before, though it looks like water may pool there. And the proper wave-slicing V-hull dispenses with the need for a skeg to aid tracking, although the boat may benefit from a rudder or skeg in cross winds. Like most IKs, the X500 sits fairly high in the water, unlike a proper hardshell sea kayak which is barely above it. With the narrow V-hull and poor knee bracing, many report it feels unstable until it’s moving, something that is far from the profile of most IK users, myself included. Lighter paddlers have found dropping the psi a bit make the boat float lower and adds stability. But this also adds up to a fast boat, making it most sea-kayak-like IK since Feathercraft’s short-lived Aironaut. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a revolutionary DS IK.
Below a review by a sea kayaking chap on what looks like the balmy Med. I agree with his suggestion: would be good to see a longer version, but that will probably be a tandem which, with the fixed deck, won’t adapt to solo long-range touring.
The X500 has strap–adjustable footrests but he also mentions poor knee bracing – often an IK weak spot, even with decked boats. Nevertheless, he still manages to bang out a pretty smooth eskimo roll, and it would not be impossible to glue or somehow clip on some thigh bracing straps which would greatly improve the connection with and control of the boat.
One the way back from the Regents Canal the other day, I dropped into my local Decathlon to have a closer look at the X-boat. First impressions were it wasn’t half as narrow as I expected – at least at cockpit level. The hatch is nice and big and it sure looks more kayak-like than the rest of the Itiwit range of bloats – that sure isn’t a typical flat DS floor which might explain the tippiness some report. The boat wasn’t at all saggy as you’d expect from an Intex watersofa sat in a showroom for months. But as mentioned, if your boat has a slim V-hull, you really need some knee-bracing to control any rolling. The deck felt quite slack but there must be some way of rolling it short of trying to glue in thigh braces. As always, the good thing is others will see how Decathlon took a big step forward in DS IKs, and try to improve.