Ready for departure: Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible on Vancouver Island's North Coast
a few more words about these kayaks. Advanced Elements Convertible
can be used either in two-person or one-person configuration. This is
done by swapping zip-on decks. Unlike Advanced Elements Convertible,
Innova Swing II comes in a two-seat configuration only: there are no
zip-on decks to swap. Both boats have almost no storage space left
inside when paddled by two persons and have to be used as singles on
Elements Convertible has a removable inflatable floor, two
donut-shaped inflatable tubes that are inserted into a zipped
compartment attached with Velcro to the kayak's skin, providing
rigidity, flotation and redundancy, as if one tube deflates, the
other one still offers some flotation and can be pumped up to return
the kayak back to the normal shape. There are also several smaller
inflatable elements, and a couple of aluminum pieces that shape the
wave-cutting bow and the stern. Spray skirts are fastened around
inflatable coamings, providing a somewhat water-tight seal.
II has a one-piece inflatable body with three air chambers, three
aluminum arches for
keeping the shape, and a removable skeg. Two spray skirts fasten with
Velcro to “collars” sewn into the deck. Before the trip,
I had done a fair amount of research on paddling solo in a double
kayak. The primary concern was the off-centre positioning of a
paddler, with the main challenge that the bow could be blown off
course by winds and waves. I have also talked to Tim, one
of Innova Kayak owners, who was very helpful with feedback and
Overall, paddling Swing II solo did not look like a serious issue.
Although the paddler would be positioned off-centre, the kayak itself
was relatively short, around 4.5 metres. Weighting the bow down with
something heavy seemed to be an answer. Testing at home had proven
that this kayak only needed around five minutes to assemble and
inflate with a foot pump. So far, only one little part was giving me
worries: a slide-in skeg that supposed to stay inside its pocket
without any positive lock. Indeed, based on the attachment design, it
should not be able to fall out when paddling forward. However, if
reversing it would be kept in just by friction, assisted by the
pressure from the inflated bottom. According to various reports, the
skeg was important for tracking, so removing it was not really an
option. Well, one more reason to test this kayak in rough conditions!
few weeks forward, and we were staying on shore in Tofino with all
the bags piled up and a sunset only a few hours away. Several hours
later, we were arriving to our first campsite: I was paddling
Advanced Elements and my brother Swing II, and we were moving at
about equal speed. By the time our kayaks were unloaded and the tent
up, it was already almost dark.
morning had brought an unpleasant surprise: the skeg was missing! It
was hard to say if it fell off in Tofino while we were loading the
kayaks or at the campsite, while we were unloading and Swing II
was shifting back and forth in shallow waters, with the skeg possibly
in contact with bay's sandy bottom or seaweed. The fact was that there
was no skeg, and testing this kayak without one would not have been
fair. I had spent at least half an hour searching for it along the
shore, unsuccessfully. Black in colour, it would have looked like a
yet another rock or piece of dark seaweed blending into the
environment. At the end, I had given up and attended to preparing our
breakfast. My brother, who had likely felt responsible for losing the
skeg since he paddled the kayak, took over and started combing the
shore. Several times I had asked him to stop, but he was persistent.
Finally, a success: he had located it entangled in seaweed and
deposited on shore by the overnight surf! This was indeed like
finding a needle in a haystack!
to say, the departure had been delayed until the skeg was secured,
and my brother had stepped in to do this job. First, he wrapped a
yellow electrician tape over one side of the skeg foot to make it
more visible if lost again and to increase the bulk and friction when
inserted into the holding slot, making falling out more difficult.
The rest of the trip has gone with no more losses. We stayed in inner passages avoiding large waves of the outer coast except on one occasion, when we tried to get into the open but the already sizable and building up swell had persuaded us to turn back. Overall, the trip has given us a chance I was looking for, to compare these two kayaks side by side in the intended environment: ocean kayaking in relatively calm waters with occasional winds and moderate waves.
general, these two kayaks are actually quite similar in many ways.
They have comparable speed when paddled alone. The storage space
inside is also similar. Tracking is not very different, if the Swing
II's skeg is attached. Advanced Elements has a built-in skeg, As
anticipated, paddling alone in Swing II sitting in the back seat had
not posed any problems as long as the front part was loaded with
are also some noticeable differences. On the positive side for Innova
Swing II, it is much faster to assemble and pump up: 5-10 minutes is
a reasonable estimate, while Advanced Elements takes about twice as
long; the additional time is needed primary to install the optional
Backbone and the removable inflatable floor. Swing II is also much
lighter, and so easier to carry.
Drying Swing II after the trip was not as prolonged and
complicated as Advanced Elements with its complex modular design
that trapped some moisture inside.
Among the challenges, besides the issues with the skeg, Swing's skirt
attachments are quite different and less functional. Advanced
Elements has an inflatable coaming, and a bungee on the skirt
fits over it reasonably tight. Not tight enough to withstand a
crushing wave, but tight enough to keep splashes and rain out. In
fact, the seal is so good that people perform Eskimo rolls in the smaller
single model of this kayak. Swing II has a skirt attached to a
collar-like coaming with several patches of Velcro. There is no seal;
moreover, numerous holes between Velcro patches tend to open and
expose kayak's interior to water. Another challenge is the front seat
opening in Swing II. While Advanced Elements, with the one-person
deck, has only one opening, Swing II comes with a built-in deck and
if only one person paddles, the second opening needs to be covered
from the elements. Our solution was to use the second skirt, tied up,
as a cover. However, this skirt could be torn away by a sizable wave
and, if this happened during a solo crossing, there would be no way
to reach the front seat and reattach the skirt. The only option would
be to keep paddling and pumping water out of the cockpit.
subjective observation, and this is purely subjective, as we
fortunately have not had a chance to test this yet, is that Swing
II's skin does not have the feeling of the same toughness and
durability as that of Advanced Elements. With my Advanced
Elements, I have been in some rough situations, including bruising by
barnacles and sharp rocks, with scars on the skin telling the tale. I
do not think that Swing II would have survived the same level of
unintentional abuse. Even if the Advanced Elements' skin were to get
cut/punctured all the way through, the air inside the air
chambers/inflatable bottom was still one-two fabric layers away. The
feeling of relative fragility of Swing II skin was so profound that
we were taking all possible precautions avoiding any abrasive action
against the bottom. Our typical surf landing looked like this. After
selecting the least active area, I would land first and, leaving my
Advanced Elements in the surf, to get pounded by waves and
eventually deposited on shore, run to assist my brother who would get
out of his Swing II before it touched the bottom. Then one of us would
hold the kayak in water, while the other person would quickly unload
dry bags. Afterwards, we would pick up the empty kayak and carry it on
shore. Then we would attend to the Advanced Elements already washed
ashore by the surf, sitting high and dry.
from the skeg and skirt attachments, which I consider design issues,
there is nothing wrong with Swing II. You get what you pay for, in
this case in weight. A lighter kayak inevitably means more
compromises, in this case manifested in a much thinner skin.
Primarily due to the “recreational” design of the spray skirt,
and secondary to the thin skin of Swing II, in my view the two kayaks
actually do not compete, but serve different needs. Going to a tough
area for some expedition kayaking, where moderate waves, winds and
rough grounds are expected? Advanced Elements is a good
choice. Going for some recreational kayaking on calm rivers, lakes
and in protected ocean bays? Need something much lighter and easier
to handle and assemble? Swing II is a good option. If the
manufacturer comes up with a better design for the spray skirt
attachment, providing a reliable water-tight seal, I would be happy
to recommend Swing II as an alternative to Advanced Elements
in expedition environment, subject to being very gentle with the
kayak skin and avoiding touching rough bottom, especially if loaded.
one may ask what I am going to do with my Swing II? Eventually, I
will likely improve the skirt attachment and then upgrade this kayak
to the “expedition-capable” category, with the above
reservation about the more fragile skin. For now, I will be using
it in calmer environments, whenever I would want to get away for a
week or two, staying in protected areas.
Have I given up on the thin skin models of Innova kayaks? Not at all! In fact, I have done exactly the opposite. Recently, I got Innova Twist: a one-person day-paddling open kayak that weights only 7kg making it perfectly hikable, so I can use it on remote lakes, in quiet bays, even possibly challenging to an ultra-light overnight camping trip. Stay tuned for the Innova Twist test and stories!
After using Innova Swing II for a few seasons, the skeg has finally fallen out. Kind of. Here is the story.
My brother and I were kayaking again. On this particular day we had been paddling for hours and he kept falling behind, having to make two strokes in Innova Swing II to my leisurely one in Advanced Elements Convertible just to keep up. It was like he was dragging a sea anchor. I could only imagine how exhausted he was, after almost a day of intense paddling, moving at half-speed despite all his efforts. After finally reaching our intended camp and unloading kayaks, we turned his over. The problem was immediately obvious.
The skeg was no longer in its front slot. It was pushed all way back into the back slot, hanging away from the bottom, tearing the fabric apart, creating the drag when underway. We removed the skeg: the rear slot was almost torn away. Fortunately, both slots were just cuts in a patch of fabric glued to the bottom: the hull integrity was still intact.
We decided against making any long-term repairs in the field and instead tied front and back slots together with a cord to keep the flap from opening while underway.
It lasted until the end of our trip, for at least a week, with no issues. Interestingly, my brother did not notice any significant difference between paddling with and without the skeg.
Instead of trying to repair the rear slot, it is likely that I will just cut the flap away: it is past salvaging. And keep using this kayak without the skeg.
It is hard to guess how the skeg got almost ripped away. The most likely scenarios are that it hit the button and got dislocated. Or got pulled out by vegetation.
While checking the torn skeg slot we made another unpleasant discovery: two deep scratches on the bottom, one of them quite long:
When we inflated the button fully, they opened up revealing the whitish coating of an inner air chamber.
After cleaning them up while keeping the bottom fully inflated, we squeezed inside the cuts most of the glue from the repair kit tube, pushing it as deep as we could and also spreading along the cuts. Then we deflated the bottom slightly to let the cuts close and waited for a few hours for the glue to settle. Just to be on the safe side we kept the floor a bit underinflated throughout the remaining few days of our trip; the glue was still holding.