After paddling many of Stellar’s lineup from the S12 through the S18R and all of the other ski’s I was anxious to spend some time in the S18S.
Our shop recently added some to the rental fleet of Naples Kayak Company so I had the perfect excuse to take them out for a few extended paddles around the Naples and Marco Island coastlines of Southwest Florida.
Being used to the quality of the Stellar’s I expected a great build from bow to stern, including an extremely solid foot-brace system and dry hatches which is the big reason I wanted to spend some time in these in the first place.
Having owned an SEL previously I was curious to see how the speed would feel in comparison expecting a good deal more stability.
Our first paddle we left from Caxambas Pass boat ramp on the South side of Marco Island.
I went with a good friend of mine with much less time on a ski than I but a very capable paddler. Having the dry storage was really nice being able to bring a towel, small kit and some food/drink with us.
We paddled 6 miles on the Gulf of Mexico side of Kice Island to Cape Romano with a light 1-3′ swell with breakers only in the shallows.
After adjusting the quick release foot-brace system we were off and padding at a comfortable 5-6 knots in to the light swell with enough stability to put your legs up on the rails, sit back an relax when you wanted.
The seat was certainly wider than the SEL was but I did not feel lost at all with great contact allowing me to keep my knees up and off the sides at all times.
One of the things I really liked about the stability was just how hard you could drive in any condition from flat water to side chop to swells.
The hull seemed to catch nearly any wave that was not coming from the front and I can imagine this would be a blast to paddle in big surf.
We opted for the under the stern standard ski rudders but the ability to use the kickup style for the amount of flats around here allows you to use this just like you’d use any other sea kayak. This truly bridges the gap between Ski and Sea Kayak.
It took us just about and hour and 20 minutes to get finished with the 6 miles to Cape Romano and this included a bunch of breaks spent catching rides towards shore on the small but clean swells and taking pictures along the way.
It felt more like a sea kayak paddle at ski speeds as by no means were we pushing it. Sprinting I was able to hit 8.6 knots on flat water and 9.2 knots with a small swell, not bad for an 18′ ski. Spending more time I imagine higher speeds would be pretty easy.
For comparison I used to on flat water hit about 9.5 with my SEL and hit around 13.6 on a small swell but that was spending much more time with it, on a ski much narrower and 3.5′ longer.
In fact in some ways it was easier doing this paddle, exertion wise, with the S18S since you never worry about stability and can just relax if you are waiting for a partner or resting. We got back to Caxambas in an hour dodging storms along the way.
The next day I took it out again early in the morning before a monthly Paradise Coast Paddlers Club paddle and ventured a few miles through Mangrove tunnels and canals, something I never considered doing in my SEL.
I was using it as a Photography platform since in the flat water back there it felt like a floating dock inspiring loads of confidence to do whatever you want with it.
After doing our standard kayak tour route through the Mangroves I did a loop around Johnson Bay and Johnson Island near the Isles of Capri, where our company has a rental/tour location, averaging just over 6 knots at an exercise but not sprint pace for a little over 6.5 miles.
I joined up with the club paddle and headed back after that really impressed with just how versatile a kayak the S18S was.
I took the skis out again yesterday with my wife, who paddles a half dozen times per month, and although the foot-braces were just a hair too far (something that is easily adapted with an extra set of pre drilled screws for moving the tracks) we were able to keep a good pace from Naples Beach to Keewaydin Island to practice swimming since she cannot swim yet.
How many people who can’t swim paddle skis in the ocean out to islands to practice swimming?
Again we were able to bring the gear we needed with us, something we would have used sea kayaks for previously, and crossing channels with lots of confused seas she had no problems whatsoever.
Hardware wise everything is stellar, no pun intended. The front hatch is a Kayak Sport light weight click on style and was plenty big to insert a dry bag or two easily and plenty more.
The oval stern hatch is the standard Stellar basic but dry hatch and offered plenty of room to store gear for light overnights and possibly multi day trips.
I have a friend of mine who used his to complete the Everglades Challenge multi day race and did well. I love that, brand new, putting the rudder on there is nothing to adjust in the rudder lines at all and the fit and finish is great.
The two we put in our fleet were Advantage and great to carry but the Excel we have for sale in the store feels like it is filled with helium it is so light.
The handles on the bow and stern make the ski great for carrying but solo you are forced to heft onto your shoulder and, with the option to have some gear in the kayak, having some extra weight makes that more of a chore than it could be.
A handle on the side similar to the Epic V8 and V6 would make the kayak infinitely easier to carry and kind of complete the package. All in all I am a big fan of this skis and am looking forward to spending a lot more time in it.
Jay Rose ( Director of Operations )
- ACA LVL 3 Kayak Instructor
- BCU 3 Star Award
- P&H Sea Kayaks Team Paddler
Naples Kayak Company (Rentals and Tours)
Naples Outfitters (Retail Store for kayak and lots more)
- 183 10th Street South
- Naples, FL 34102