We are fortunate at Unsponsored to try some of the best kayaking and canoeing equipment available, but sometimes the weather can be too dry. Thankfully the Gods of rain smiled on the UK once again this summer, so testing and reviews have continued at a pace. The following review looks at the Ace of Spades kayak from Spade Kayaks. The boat has been tested over the last few months across the UK on various pieces of water from stone filled ditches, low volume/high volume burns in Scotland, some of the best whitewater in the glorious county of Yorkshire, whitewater parks and even out at sea.
Spade kayaks is a new kayak company formed in Europe by whitewater legends Hans Mayer, Oli Grau, Matze Brutzman, Jens Klatt, and Jan Haluszka.
The Ace of Spades is a blown molded displacement hull kayak. It has the features that you would expect to see in any whitewater boat – adjustable outfitting, full plate footrest, multiple grab handles, drain bung etc… but many have been executed in a creative/different way.
The Ace is designed as a river runner/creeker and is available in just the one size.
Length: 265 cm
Width: 67.5 cm
Volume: 320 litres
Weight: 22.9 kg
Color: burnt orange
Recommended retail price: 1390,- €
The footrest is a full plate with a contoured plastic foot plate on a metal frame that is bolted to the hull left and right. The width of the footrest can be adjusted by loosening two bolts on each side of the foot plate. The shape of the footplate is unusual and after using flat footrest systems for so long it did feel very strange. However after a few different days of paddling the boat I am convinced that the system works really well. The footrest runs within a skeletal plastic pillar where you would normally find a lump of high density foam.
The pillar is bolted to the hull at the top and seat rail/hull at the bottom using stainless steel Allen bolts. There is a fixing that is welded into the boat. Tightening this bolt too tight can pull and move the bottom of the boat. This makes for a super stiff setup.
You will see in the images the cockpit incorporates a grey plastic ring. This creates a stiff setup and allows the outfitting to be bolted to the boat. Although there is a join and a whole load of fixings all will be protected from water ingress by the spray skirt. However, I must say it isn’t the prettiest of systems but it does its job
well. If you do pull on the cockpit rim there is some flex, but it does feel solid whilst paddling.
Cockpit – Hip Pads:
On first look the hip pads don’t appear to be anything special. But on closer inspection and use they are very good.
Each pad is held in place by a combination of QR buckles and Velcro. The buckles are riveted to the seat via a short length of strap. Therefore when released from the hip pad the straps and buckle stay in position. There is no risk of the strap falling behind the seat post as happens with systems from other manufacturers.
The hip pad is perfectly shaped with more padding at the rear of the pad. This is a simple idea that works well. If the padding were consistent across the width of the pad there is always a risk of placing too much pressure on your leg at the front edge, which can result in numbness. Take this padding away but keep it where it’s need at the rear. Superb!
Additional shims are provided and fix between the seat and the main pad. Plenty of shims are provided in the outfitting kit.
Cockpit – Backrest:
The backrest is super comfy, it provides plenty of support, sitting at the right height and little to go wrong.
Just behind the backrest there is a high density blue foam pillar and gear clip in point. The clip in point is one long single loop and there is plenty of room for storing clipped in gear without having to deflate air bags.
The Ace of Spades has no ratchets for backrest adjustments, but relies on a rope and cleat system. One of the best hardware manufacturers out there has provided the cleats. The cleats do run the opposite way to those on Jackson kayaks. The rope in this instance is pulled towards you to adjust and then locked into place. It’s simple and it works. I can’t get the backrest cranked up as tight as with a ratchet system but nonetheless the system does work. Some will hate, some will love.
Underneath the cleat is the thigh brace that also incorporates some additional foam blocks/padding that is fixed to the side of the hull using a strip of Velcro. There is some adjustment to the thigh braces via two bolts. As yet I am still tweaking this setup to get hit the sweet spot, and although comfortable the system is quite different from those that I have been used to.
Grab handles come in two flavours. Grey handles at the bow, stern and mid bow and tape based handles to the rear of the cockpit. Both are quite unconventional in a world of annodised metal broach bars but they feel robust and are well secured to the hull. Information from the guys at Spade suggest that both types of grab handles are more than up to the job.
The Ace of Spades came with an outfitting pack that included shims for the hip pads and a whole pile of spare parts. What I find very interesting is that all of key fixings that keep the boat together are pretty easy to get hold of from car part stores or chandlers. I have used the same fittings used on the seat pad to fix mud-flaps to my car. There is nothing special that would require an order from a kayak dealer. I suspect this has been a very deliberate move.
I used the Ace of Spades with the seat in the factory position and only needed to tweak the thigh braces and hip pad shims, and move the footrest into the correct position. The rear of the boat was filled with two 30L Palm Infinity air bags and the front (forward of the footrest) was filled with two 15L versions.
On the water:
I have been using the Ace of Spades for some time now in a wide variety of conditions ranging from high volume flood levels to tight and steep creeks in both England and Scotland. I’ve even been out in some Atlantic surf in it.
The boat has taken quite a few big knocks in relatively short space of time so I have no hesitation is saying that the Ace of Spades is pretty tough and the blow molded plastic technique has created a boat that is as tough as my Prijon T Canyon was some twenty plus years ago. That boat could not be killed off. In fact we still have one at Unsponsored HQ that must be close to thirty years old and is still going strong.
The displacement hull on the Ace of Spades feels super stable. There are no nasty surprises. The boat felt balanced and composed from the get go. Even when held in a hard lean the stability level still felt good. The Ace of Spades also has a good balance of rocker, you don’t feel as though you are having to force the boat through the water yet at the same time it still feels planted and doesn’t drift easily off line.
The boat rides quite dry with water being displaced very quickly. Two sharp edges run along the majority of the boats length, this aids with stability and allows for a pretty good level of agility, as it is still possible to drive the boat into corners/eddies, but not to the same extent as some of the other boats out there such as the Pyranha Burn.
I found the speed that could be achieved on the flat and whitewater to be more than enough and puts the Ace of Spades firmly into the short list of fast and controllable river running kayaks currently in production.
I would imagine that the Ace of Spades being one size fits all will have quite different characteristics for those paddlers at the very extremes of the 65-100kg weight range. However as someone sitting very close to the suggested upper weight range I don’t have any concerns in using the boat in both low and high water levels, and would almost go as far as suggesting that the upper range is a little conservative. As always it is always best to demo if you can.
If you are in the market for a tough and stiff kayak with a range of well-executed features and were thinking about a Burn, Raptor or Mamba, then the Ace of Spades is worth a look. Granted the company Spade Kayaks is quite new and this is their first production boat but blow molded plastic technology is well proven and the guys behind the product have a good pedigree within the sport. I love it and as a result the Ace of Spades will be my main river boat for certainly the rest of this year.