A First Look at the AirFusion Inflatable Kayak:
We have been waiting nearly a year, since seeing the first AirFusion prototype in the Advanced Elements showroom. Finally, the package arrived on Christmas Eve, a double cardboard box measuring 36x24x10 inches and weighing in at 47 lbs.
The kayak comes with the standard, Advanced Elements, hefty carrying case – rugged enough to ship as aircraft baggage. Weight is approximately 39 lbs in the pack.
I unpacked the kayak and laid out the parts – for a cutting edge design, there are surprisingly few. Six aluminum tubes with a quick-snap shock-cord system (similar to most tent pole setups), a small floor cushion, the seat, two air bags and the kayak itself.
The manual is well-written, easy to follow, though initially a little daunting. After the first read-through it seemed simple enough – piece together the poles, position the floor cushion, insert bottom pole through the thwarts connecting both ribs, insert side poles, install deck lift, pump up side chambers partially, pump up thwarts, finish pumping up side chambers, attach seat, pump up coaming tube. Done!
I clocked my initial setup at approximately 50 minutes – this included photographs, writing notes and rereading the manual (in some areas three times to make sure I was doing everything correctly). Once completed, it is surprisingly simple to set up.
Built-in sleeves, printed alignment lines/arrows and the pole shock-cord system make assembly a breeze and ensure that everything is positioned correctly. Advanced Elements says the kayak can be assembled in less than 15 minutes, and I believe it.
Here are some overview hints I learned:
Identify the Kayak and Parts
- First locate the kayak bow (front) and stern (rear), sometimes not easy when it’s deflated. Tip: the bow-side of the kayak has the AirFusion and Advanced Elements lettering. It is also the side with the larger seat buckles.
- Identify bow and stern thwarts (airbags). Tips: The airbags are tapered. The front airbag is smaller than the rear airbag, the larger side of each airbag faces the cockpit/center. Front airbag works as a foot brace and has two sleeves. Rear airbag has one. Lay them out in correct orientation next to the kayak.
Installing the Pole Frame
The original AdvancedFrame series features two aluminum ribs – a vertically-positioned, foot-long Vee/U-shaped flat bar that is inserted in the bow and stern of the kayaks. The AirFusion has the same bow and stern aluminum ribs, except they are tubular, allowing the pole frame to be inserted/attached.
The six aluminum pieces (5 poles and one sleeve) snap together easily and quickly.
The foam floor is next put into position by setting the wider end in the cockpit, with the small rectangular cutout positioned over the velcro tabs. Make sure you pull the velcro tab through the cutout. Tip: the foam floor only covers the area where your feet rest.
Of the 6 numbered aluminum pieces making up the skeleton:
- Section 1 (fore) and 2 (aft) form the floor shaft, with a short Section 3 sleeve to cover the coupling – each of these slip through sleeves in the bottom of the thwarts/airbags and then into the bottom tubular ribs. This performs a similar function to the “backbone” used in the AdvancedFrame series.
- Sections 4 (fore) and 5 (aft) form the two side shafts. These are held in position by two sleeves per section.
- Section 6 is the fore decklift, and slips through a sleeve on the underside of the top deck, and into the bow tubular top rib.
In all cases, the “numbered” side of the pole faces the cockpit/center section: 1 – 2, covered by 3; 4 – 5, and 6.
To position or connect the bow and stern portion of the poles, open up both of the 9-inch top deck zippers. It is a little bit of a tight squeeze for larger hands, but it works.
Pumping up the AirFusion Kayak
There are seven inflation chambers: Four side chambers (top and bottom each side) and two airbags utilizing Boston valves on long “bronchial tubes.” The seventh is a twistlock valve on the coaming tube. (Note: Advanced Elements says the kayak was designed with shorter main inflation tubes, but this was overlooked by the factory in the initial run. All incoming production runs will have shorter tubes.)
Inflation of the side chambers – even to 4.5PSI – is surprisingly easy. They suggest 5 pumps each initially, then inflate the two thwarts to 2PSI, then top the kayak sides off to 4.5 PSI and inflate the coaming tube to 1PSI.
- The instructions suggest attaching the seat before pumping up the kayak, but it is simpler to install it after pumping up the rear thwart, pushing the seat base side down under the side tubes.
- Make sure the thwarts/airbags are even across the floor, and the side chambers even with the airbag. This ensures that the kayak will be balanced.
- The instructions suggest aligning the front thwart to a line on the floor – this is now covered with the floor cushion, so just line it up at the cutout opening initially. The front thwart is where you will modify for legroom, so this position will probably change. Pump it up and make sure it is lined up/even.
- It is important to keep the rear thwart at full inflation; its function is to spread the sides, and the full airbag is used in weight capacity calculations.
When pumped up, attach the seat and then look at modifying the front thwart for leg room. At 5’5″, I found that deflating the front thwart partially, then pushing the thwart back in about 5 inches from the cutout, reinflating to 2 PSI, put it in the perfect position for my inseam.
My 6′ 2″ husband found that moving the thwart back to the edge of the foam floor line (roughly maximum amount of 45 inches from back of seat to brace) was adequate. Going any further causes wrinkling in the sides and doesn’t allow the cover to fill out.
The AirFusion – A First Lookover:
The AirFusion is a beautiful kayak – sleek, elegant and beautifully shaped. A conversation starter. Nice touches like red-anodized poles look great against the gray and yellow kayak. Overall dimensions are 13 feet long and 24-25 inches wide with a payload of 235 lbs.
The kayak material is a semi-smooth PVC tarpaulin outer skin. The inner inflation bladders are PVC covered with a dense sailcloth; the high thread count is more impervious to water and less susceptible to stretching. Aluminum ribs – made by a company specializing in folding frames – are anodized making them resistant to salt spray.
The tapered cockpit opening of 33 x 10-15 inches will take a spray skirt. Interior seating dimensions are roughly 16 to 17 inches wide, and the side poles nestle into the two side air chambers, so are not noticeable (felt) when seated. There is roughly an area of 34 inches from the back of the seat to the “first” thwart alignment, which can be pushed back to 45 inches in legroom by removing air from the bag and placing the seat as far back as possible. The deck lift gives an interior vertical dimension of 13 inches.
There are two top bungee deck-lacing systems for attaching/stashing gear. The front deck lacing is roughly 15 x 16 inches, the rear roughly 13 x 19 inches with multiple D-rings. There is a slight amount of space available behind each airbag under the two deck zippers – about 6 x 12 x 5 inches in the stern, and possibly 18 x 6 tapering inches in the bow; this also depends on the amount you’ve pumped up the front thwart.
There are two rubber carrying handles on the bow and stern; this would be great if you were with someone else, but it is easy to carry solo over the shoulder.
The First Cruise
We took the AirFusion out for three short rides in relatively calm water. What can I say, this is a wonderful kayak – it feels great, paddles beautifully, tracks well and is surprisingly stable despite the narrow beam. Considering this is a high performance inflatable kayak with minimal drag, there is a tendency of drifting once paddling is stopped – a minor issue that one can adjust for quite readily. (Note: Advanced Elements is considering offering an aftermarket rudder system. )
Using a GPS I clocked myself at a top speed of 4.9 mph, running about 2.7-3.0 mph average over a short distance. Despite the effort put into getting up to speed, the kayak still tracked well.
The hull is rugged; we ran over a number of barely submerged rocks without a “bump.” My one glitch – the kayak felt so stable, I attempted to stand up for a “kayak comparison.” Just about standing, I managed to flip into the 8 foot deep (frigid) water. The up-side: After 30 seconds to catch my breath, I found the AirFusion is incredibly easy to right and climb into. It paddled beautifully in a kneeling position one-third filled with water, back to shore.
Deflating the AirFusion Kayak
To pack up your kayak, reverse your steps. Here are a few simple tips:
- Any lingering air can be pumped out using the “deflation” mode of your pump.
- There is a lot of pressure on the center floor beam (poles 1 and 2). You can simplify the breakdown by pushing in the center pin and twisting the tube to pull it apart.
- To prevent losing the small sleeve #3, put it back on pole #1 and lock in place.
Short on time? Simply deflate the main air tubes, unsnap the side tubes and floor tube, fold the kayak in half and put in the back of your pickup. You can the lay it out to dry and fold up when you get home.
The Bottom Line on the AirFusion Kayak
The AirFusion is a winner – looks good, feels good, and performs beautifully. Attention to small construction details – like positioning sleeves, line-up arrows, shock cords and snapping parts – make it simple to setup. Constant innovation and excellent customer service are what keep Advanced Elements in the forefront of the inflatables market, and the AirFusion is another outstanding design from this top-notch company.
Stay tuned, we’ll be giving an update on our set-up times, posting an AirFusion video, and getting an in-depth look at the kayak this winter on the Salton Sea from our Advanced Elements afficionado, Lee Johnson.
For more details, instruction manual and specs, see http://www.AirKayaks.com/ae1040.html