Preview: Decathlon Itiwit Strenfit X500 D/S kayak

Updated summer 2019
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!” 

decathlogonanookFirst Gumotex and now Europe-wide, French sports retail giant Decathlon have turned to drop-stich (D/S) technology in a bid to improve rigidity and so, the performance of their inflatable kayaks.
Only Decathlon have not just decpumpadded a D/S floor to an existing model, but with the single-seater X500 Strenfit have designed an entire 10psi (0.7 bar) D/S 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 a reasonable £599 delivered with a two-year guarantee, although the proper SUP two-way pump is another 25 quid.

decax500

Itiwit‘ is a Decathlon water-sports brandword, contracted from inuit‘itinerary’ and ‘Inuit’, the latter being fur-clad denizens of the Arctic who invented sea kayaks all those centuries ago.
dechullWatch 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.

itwit-danube-x500Vital 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 like Sea Eagles and the like, but polyethylene (PE) over a polyester (PES) fabric core (hough 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 D/S IKs, you can be sure it’s made in Korea or China.
Because D/S hulls have less air volume than regular tubed IKs, they’re slimmer (thinner walled, giving more inner volume) and are quicker to pump up (3 mins, claimed on the X500). But that lower volume may explain 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.
decmanualBelow, watch Nanook film Serge as he effortlessly assembles, decopaddles 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, but 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 this makes it feel unstable until it’s moving, something that is far from the profile of most IK users, myself included. 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 is a revolutionary D/S IK.

itiwitX500Below 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 strapadjustable 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 connection 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 but why would you want a D/S seat? Still, it sure looks more kayak-like than the rest of the peapod Itiwit range – that sure isn’t a typical flat D/S floor which might explain the tippiness some report. The boat wasn’t at all saggy as you’d expect from an Intex 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 was quite slack but there must be some way of doing it short of trying to glue in thigh braces. As always, the good thing is others will see how Decathlon have taken a big step forward in D/S IKs, and try to improve.

There are more users reviews here as well as X500 stories from the Danube, Colorado and Dordogne on the Itiwit website.

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4 Responses to Preview: Decathlon Itiwit Strenfit X500 D/S kayak

  1. Guido Brasletti says:

    Thanks for your valuable advice Chris.

    I spent a month practicing and I have almost cracked the nut :)

    So I decided to not apply the skeg for now, to properly learn paddling. I discovered that tracking is not optimal because I push forward my left arm/wrist slightly more than my right one. When I pay attention to this the boat tracks better.

    I felt no difference changing legs position: I tend to paddle with my knees up, almost like K1 athletes do (blame my instructor for that :). If I brace my knees to the boat there is no noticeable difference for me (anyway I paddle on flat water) and the position is uncomfortable because the boat width is surprisingly too wide for me (I’m 183cm by 80kg). Perhaps I’ll try looking for those foam knee blocks you mentioned.
    Anyway I’m making good progress so I can confirm I’m happy with my boat!

    Last but not least, it would be very very interesting to read your impressions from a real test of the x500, given your vast experience with inflatables (and not only) of any sort.
    Why don’t you write to itiwit/decathlon asking for a temporary test boat, mentioning that you are the curator of this blog? They should be available to that.

    Ciao from Italy
    Guido

    • Chris S says:

      Great to hear you are getting on with the X500, Guido.
      Sometimes I think IKs make us lazy paddlers because they are so easy and safe (within their limits). There is no real technique required other than a good, full draw, and no clever hull profile changes when you
      ‘lean out to steer’, as with proper, long hardshell sea kayaks. By and large IKs are just lilos ;-)
      Since I first answered, I have seen an X500 in the shop (added photos) and agree, it is not as narrow as it sounds.
      I still think along with a solid tube footrest and a seat with a good backrest you can push on, bracing – if not knee blocks with a decked IK, then thigh straps with any IK – is critical for tippier IKs or any IK in rougher conditions. And it also makes a more effective stroke if you use the proper torso twist/arm push (not ‘arm pull’) technique. Knee bracing is how sea kayakers do eskimo rolls and WW boats do their stunts. It triangulates you to the boat (bum + feet + knees) which means the boat more connected to your body. Otherwise – bum + feet is like sitting on a log – two points resting but not fixed on the same plane. A third connection point off that plane – knees – locks you to the boat more. More control = more padding energy directly transmitted to propulsion, not body displacement.
      See what they are saying in Fr: http://www.forum-kayak.fr/index.php?topic=12352.0

      I did write to Decathlon marketing requesting a test boat. Not at all surprised by no reply. The problem is IKs are seen as a bit of a joke in the UK – unlike France for sure and Europe in general. And all around the world many more IKs and horrible PVC blobs are sold for splashing about on holidays, not travel adventures or touring. The other thing is the X500 is one of 19,468 products which Decathlon sell. I do know that they have a return policy (common in the US with REI etc, unknown in UK) if you simply don’t like something. So I could just buy one, try it and give it back.

  2. Guido Brasletti says:

    Hi, I’ve bought this kayak shortly after it was commercially available (more or less one Year ago) and I can confirm that is quite fast but rather tippy. I had an itiwit 2 before and as most inflatables it was just the opposite of the x500. Anyway I’m happy with it, I mostly do flat rivers and sometimes calm sea.

    By the way I’d like to add a skeg, to aid tracking: any suggestions?
    I mean where can I buy it, what size, what glue should I use, best position to apply it…

    Thanks and ciao from Italy
    Guido

    • Chris S says:

      Hi Guido, good to hear you are enjoying your boat – it is not like any of the other Itiwit blobs ;-)

      The X500 looks like it has unusually well pronounced bow, stern and keel line for an IK, which should mean it should track well, but it may not steer exactly where you want it due to small differences in paddle effort. I think it may just be a matter of getting the knack, because hardshells have similar hull shapes and don’t need a skeg to track well.
      Getting the knack takes technique and practice not needed with skeg IKs or packrafts. I remember the first time I tried a hardshell on a river it drove me nuts!
      Practice by focussing on a landmark far away, and paddle gently towards it, keeping the bow right on line and making small corrections as needed.
      I think constant small corrections are just part of proper kayaking.
      With skeg IKs you can hammer away like a coal miner!

      If you put ’skeg’ on ebay.it you will see a few. (More on ebay.uk).
      Most need a flat surface which the X500 does not have along the keel.
      This one looks like it has a flexible base:

      Stick it on with 2-part PVC glue more or less where the black line ends.
      Or maybe glue on a velcro patch to the boat and glue/sew the other part to the skeg base. Then it won’t need full curved contact and is easily removed.

      I bet the tippiness and maybe steering precision would be improved if you could brace your knees properly under the deck, as this is a very slim IK. It makes a better three-point connection with the boat – less like balancing on a wobbly log (the problem with narrow IKs). I know they sell hard foam knee blocks for sea kayaks. Thigh braces would be another way, but requires gluing in D-rings.

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