As promised, we sent one of Advanced Element’s new preproduction AE1040 AirFusion kayaks down to the Salton Sea where our northern “never-say-die” kayaker friend, Lee Johnson, is spending the winter. Lee, his wife Bonnie, and accumulated interested parties have been running the AirFusion through its paces for the past week. Lee’s comments are below.
AirFusion: Review of a “Unique” Kayak, by Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson in the AirFusion kayak
This is an independent review of the new AirFusion kayak from Advanced Elements. Rarely is the word “unique” justified, but there is nothing else out there quite like this new kayak. My observations thus concern this kayak on its own terms more than in comparison with other kinds of watercraft because, simply, it is one of a kind. Of course, if you have a medium to long-length hard-shell and have grown tired of struggling to load and transport it, risking more damage to yourself or to your kayak, the high performance and the 32 lbs of the AirFusion, which is light enough to be carried into otherwise inaccessible areas, may be of interest to you. If you own a folding kayak and are frustrated by spending the better part of an hour or more assembling it, the 10 to 15 minutes of set-up time for the AirFusion may be of interest to you. Finally, if you have never owned a kayak before, the AirFusion may lead you to a lifelong addiction to the sport of kayaking, especially in view of its low price (under $800 USD) in relation to a level of performance usually found only in craft costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more.
1) Construction/Set-Up Time:
The AirFusion is 13’ long, has a 25” beam, weighs 32 lbs., and can accommodate a paddler up to 235 lbs. (at 220 lbs., I am, alas, approaching that limit). Its unusual and effective construction involves a few anodized, hollow aluminum poles working in conjunction with small-diameter, high-pressure top and bottom inflation chambers along the sides and with two inflatable thwarts near the bow (footrest) and stern whose main function is to give a final shape to the kayak. The bow and stern of the AirFusion have the signature rigid aluminum forms Advanced Elements uses in its Advanced Frame line. The most important anodized snap-together pole runs from the bottom of the aluminum forms along the entire length of the kayak, serving as an equivalent to the BackBone in the Advanced Frame line. When paddling, one can see the V-shape it makes in the hull. The end result, though, is a completely different kind of hybrid. The hull and decking are sturdy PVC tarpaulin, and they are tough enough to take a lot of action – and drying time is minimal. The instructions are lucid, and the illustrations are clear. It took me 25 minutes to set this kayak up the first time (after I had read through the manual twice) but only 15 minutes the second time. As I approach 10 minutes, I think 15 minutes is probably closer to an average time. Finally, I like its weight and portability. I can see myself, in the coming months, carrying it along wilderness paths to otherwise inaccessible mountain lakes in my home province of B.C. and in the American West. Rating: 10.
Arnie Mroz of California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park also assists with the kayaking sessions at the Salton Sea Headquarters State Park
The AirFusion is an attention-getter, a real head-turner, and, with its instant response to whatever the paddler wants, the equivalent of a sports car on the water. Paradoxically, however, it obeys my “Invisibility Rule: The Best Kayaks Disappear and Are Invisible to the Paddler.” That is to say, they do nothing to call attention to themselves by presenting problems with their tracking, turning, stability, and ease of paddling. They do not, in short, distract. The AirFusion melts into the water as it gives an experience of serious fun. Rating: 10.
3) Tracking/Hull Speed:
The AirFusion is light on its metaphorical feet – fast, nimble, accelerates quickly – and most people should, without much paddling effort, be able to maintain a cruising speed in the 4.5 – 5.5 m.p.h. range. With a large, stiff, powerful paddle that moves a lot of water, rather ridiculous top speeds are possible (6 -7 m.p.h. range). Unlike Advanced Frame kayaks, it has no skeg – only landing skids under the bow and stern. The stern back-plate has a hole running through it to accommodate a rudder, which some paddlers may be glad to have; but I personally sense no need of such a device for the AirFusion, which tracks very well without one. A rudder adds “drag” to any kayak, and, by calling attention to its operation, becomes a needless distraction. On the other hand, it is possible to put a sail on the AirFusion; and, in that case, a rudder could prove indispensable. Besides tracking well, the AirFusion glides well; and any “drift” one encounters at the end of a glide is easily addressed, almost unconsciously, by one’s paddling technique. The front 15% of the hull (approx.) rides just above the water, like a rocker. This helps break incoming waves but also leaves the craft a bit more vulnerable to weathercocking in transverse winds (the tendency to turn in the direction of the wind), although I have not found that to be objectionable in this kayak. Again, adjusting one’s paddling technique is all that is required. Rating: 9.
4) Stability/Carrying Capacity:
Kayaks are often unstable when at rest in the water during, say, bird-watching, photography, fishing – and especially when one enters and leaves them. The AirFusion is surprisingly stable in such conditions – one does not need to look at the horizon to keep one’s balance – and those small, high-pressure side inflation tubes seem to be the key to this stability. The slight tippiness some paddlers may encounter does not, in other words, compromise this craft’s basic stability. For fishing, however, one needs carrying space for one’s gear; and the AirFusion’s fore and aft zippers reveal only small spaces behind the inflatable thwarts. The deck bungees are thus the main places for carrying gear, but it should be kept light (shoes, sandwiches, and so on) because heavy items on the deck will raise the center of gravity, establish a “moment of inertia,” and create the potential for an undesired outcome. Of course, it makes no sense to ask a watercraft to do things it was not designed to do; but carrying space here is limited mainly to lightweight items – which is also why many of us own more than one kayak. Rating: 8.
We Canadians generally have short arms and low pockets and are loath to part with our money unless we can find an exceptional deal. At its price (under $800 USD) and given its performance, the AirFusion may prove irresistible. Over the next few years, I fully expect to see our coastal waters, inlets, lakes, and rivers sporting this new kayak. Rating: 10+.
The people at Advanced Elements challenge themselves with statements about “cutting-edge technology” and “the evolution of inflatable kayaks” – perhaps in an attempt to establish the company, in the world of inflatable and hybrid kayaks, as “the smartest kid in the class.” With the introduction of the AirFusion, Advanced Elements is, in my view, making its boldest statement yet in support of those ideals. Conclusion: for its price and performance, the AirFusion is a stunning achievement.
Overall Rating: 10.