This past week we had the opportunity to take our first look at Innova inflatable kayaks after receiving an Innova Sunny for test purposes. While we have heard a number of good things about Innova kayaks,we had actually never seen one.
The Innova line is unique for a number of reasons. First, all the kayaks are handmade in the Czech Republic rather than China or Korea. The factory where Innova kayaks are made has been in operation since 1956, and has manufactured inflatable boats for well over 50 years. In Europe, a similar line is marketed under the name Gumotex.
Second, all Innova kayaks utilize materials that are PVC-free, making them a greener option. In fact, on Earth Day 2010, Innova rolled out the first inflatable kayak and canoe recycling program in the industry. While the Innova line is touted as having a 20-year life cycle, if you’ve reached “the end”, it can be sent to Innova where it will be turned into rubber mulch.
So here is our write-up on the the Innova Sunny, which weighs 33lbs, is 12′ 7″ inches in length and can be paddled by one or two people.
The box as received is surprisingly small for a two person kayak – only 25 x 16x 10 inches – and weighing in at 36.2 lbs.
Inside is a very nifty and compact backpack with adjustable shoulder straps, front pouch pocket and roll top closure, containing the kayak body, seats, foot rests, repair kit, instructions, tracking fin, valve adaptor and sponge. At only 34 lbs for the pack and contents, the Sunny is small enough to be considered carry-on luggage, and will fit in an airline overhead bin. Packed dimensions are 21 x 15 x 9 inches as received.
We read through the included instruction manuals. The Innova Sunny manual is surprisingly detailed – almost daunting. There is one instruction sheet for fin installation, one for utilizing the valves, and another on the kayak in general. We spent more time reading through the instructions than actually setting up the kayak. As the kayaks are made in Europe, many of the details are based around European specs and regulations and can sound more complicated than it actually is – there is even a section on disposing of your packing materials, recycle!
First step, unpack and unfold the kayak body. What is immediately noticeable is how FLAT the kayak is when deflated – of course, this makes it quite compact for travel.
Next, determine if you will be paddling this solo or tandem. Why is this important? Unlike most tandem kayaks – which feature three seating positions determined by d-rings – the Sunny as a tandem has the seats facing the bow of the kayak (valves in the rear) and fin at the stern, but this is reversed for solo paddling. Why is this? The Sunny’s silhouette is symmetrical at both ends. By reversing the front seat and placing it in the center d-ring position, and moving the tracking fin to the bow (now the stern), this positions the solo paddler correctly in the middle of the kayak, enhancing the paddling experience.
Install the tracking fin before inflating the kayak – for two paddlers, this will be the slot under the valves. For solo paddling, this will be the slot at the opposite end of the kayak. The Sunny utilizes a hefty single fin with double slots. Slip the end with the larger slot in first, making sure that the fin is pointing towards the “back” of the kayak. This enables it to slide in enough to fit in the second side. The first time we tried this, we struggled for a few minutes to get the second slot into position, but are assuming this gets easier with use. (AirKayaks note: The second time we moved the fin, the kayak was wet and it was much simpler. According to Tim at Innova, utilizing McNett UV Tech also helps initially, but after a few times the mounting gets much easier. After the third or fourth time, we found it slipped in/out easily.)
The Innova Sunny features three main inflation chambers utilizing military valves – one for the floor and one for each side. The military-style plunger valve is simple to use – with your finger, twist the plunger slightly to the “up” position to inflate (air goes in but doesn’t come back out) and “down” to deflate (air comes out).
Locate the military valve adaptor in the repair canister. The Innova Sunny does not come with a pump, but the adaptor allows one to use the Boston valve conical adaptor found on most pumps.(AirKayaks note: Before doing ANYTHING, attach the adaptor to your pump with the string – don’t put it in your pocket like I did. Luckily, my husband found it in the washing machine.) Lock the Innova adaptor onto the military valve with a slight twist, and push the conical adaptor in to friction fit the two. Since the Innova main chambers are inflated to 3 PSI, it is helpful to use a pump with pressure gauge to ensure the kayak is inflated appropriately. We did have a hard time preventing the Boston nozzle on our pump from popping off the adaptor – possibly some slight sandpaper might rough up the surface for a better friction fit.
Pump up the floor chamber first. If using a pressure gauge, please note that the pressure will only read while you are pumping, since most gauges work on back pressure. At 3 PSI, switch over to one side chamber. Pull up on the side to expose the military valve, and pump this up to 3PSI. Repeat this on the remaining side bladder. Screw on the valve caps to protect the plungers from sand and salt, or from accidentally being pressed.
If paddling tandem, install the foot brace by attaching it to the front floor d-ring, looping the webbing through the d-ring and back through the clip on the brace. The foot braces are inflatable and utilize a twistlock valve. The Boston valves will not friction fit over the twistlok so you will have to do one of three things – have the second paddler hold the valve over the twistlock; carefully negotiate holding the adaptor and twistlock together with one hand while pumping with the other; or give up and blow it up with your mouth. It’s a little tough to “stuff” the brace in place. I found by slightly pumping it up it was easier and then finishing with a top-off. AirKayaks note: Here is a nifty little home-made adaptor that works with these twistlocks.
The instructions also suggest it is easier to pump up the seats before installation, but we had the same problem, struggling to push them into position. Follow the same instructions for twistlocks as on the foot rest, and these too were best installed partially inflated with a top-off. For the front seat, attach the two top straps to the two forward top d-rings, weaving them through in the same method. Then finish by attaching the two bottom straps to the set of lower d-rings. The rear seat is set up the same way, utlizing the two back top d-rings and rear lower d-rings.
For solo paddling, take one seat and face it the opposite direction, towards the valves, attaching it to the center top d-rings. Lace the bottom webbing through the bottom d-rings. Then locate the “solo” foot brace, which looks like a flat rectangle. Inflate this using the same twist-lock method, and then decided which of the three d-ring positions would be best for your leg length/comfort level.
You’re done! While sounding complicated, it is actually very simple and remarkably fast – just over 5 minutes if you don’t include struggling with the fin, seats and brace.
Deflation is just as easy. Simply turn the valves to the open position and push out the air. Remove the tracking fin, but you can leave the seats and braces in place. Screw on the valve wing nuts for protection. Fold up the kayak and then roll up, to get it back into the backpack. As a side note, while you can press out most of the air and get the kayak back into the pack, to really minimize the size/footprint, it is best to pump out the final air, using the deflate mode on your pump. Turn the valves to the inflate position so air doesn’t creep back in, and replace the wing-nut caps.
Features and Specifications
The Innova Sunny is constructed from a 1200 denier rubber-coated laminate material called Nitrylon – this consists of a synthetic rubber coating over polyester on the inside and outside of the tube. Nitrylon is the same material used in high-end Zodiac-type yacht tenders, and is stronger, more abrasion and puncture resistant than PVC as well as being greener – there is no out-gassing.
There are three 3 PSI inflation chambers utilizing military valves (both sides and floor) and 4 Twistloks (2 seats and both foot braces.)
The hull has a removable tracking measuring 4.5 inches tall and 7 inches wide, with 5 sculpted i-beam tubes creating the hull shape.
The inflatable seats each feature two upper and two lower adjustable straps, creating a fairly rigid seating experience. Inflated seat measurements are 15″ tall x 17″ wide for the back (inflatable area 14 x 15″) and about 18″ wide by 19″ deep for the base – much of this fits under the sides.
D-rings for the seats (upper) are located at 48″, 72″ and 92″ from the actual bow, while one set of lower d-rings are positioned at 5 feet.
Three sets of lower d-rings for the solo foot brace (when seated in reverse position) are located at approximately 32″, 36″ and 40″ from the solo seat back – there is some leeway dependent on where you place the seat.
There are two low profile handles located each at the bow and stern.
A spray railing/coaming lip sits up approximately 1 inch around the cockpit perimenter.
We did measurement tests. The Innova Sunny inflated is 12 feet, 7 inches long (151 inches) and approximately 31 inches at the widest point. Inner dimensions are roughly 14.5 inches wide. A 16 inch “spray deck” is located in the bow and stern – each with a rubber carrying handle. Tube sides are approximately 8 inches deep, plus the lip.
When set up for tandem paddling, there is approximately 55 inches from the front seat back to the snout, approximately 42 inches to the rear paddler’s seat back, and an additional 50 inches behind the seat – lots of room for storage. There is leeway in the seating positions – about 2-3 inches in the front position by varying the straps and about 3 to 4 inches for the rear paddler due to the sets of “foot brace” d-rings.
The front foot brace when tandem paddling inflates to about 15 inches in length, with two “foot positions.” With judicious positioning, the brace can be about 28 to 44 inches from the seat back. The rear paddler can push against the front seat.
Paddling solo in reverse, there is about 82 inches from seat back to snout, and about 67 inches total behind the seat – but you do have a couple inches leeway either side. Lots of room!
Total payload weight is 396 lbs. persons and gear.
On the Water
We tested out the Innova Sunny over a few different days.
First, I took it out solo for a short jaunt in mild swells – the kayak is very easy to paddle, very smooth and tracks well. It’s also pretty zippy. I turned into an offshore wind, and the kayak rode over the swells easily. On the way back, riding in on the swells, the Sunny drifted very slightly but not bad – it handles great.
The second time was in calmer water for about half a mile. I clocked myself at 3.3 mph running average, with a 4.6 mph burst speed.
I also brought out my paddling buddy, Eddie – this kayak is roomy enough and tough enough for a canine companion. And stable enough that repeated attempts to gawk at grebes did not land us in the lake.
My husband and I took the kayak out as a tandem – it was roomy, speedy and paddled beautifully. While my husband is 6’2′ there was adequate leg room for him in the rear seat – and still had extra space behind for gear, a small child or dog.
Lastly, feeling lazy I decided to nix the backwards solo setup, and test the kayak in the center position. While it is quite paddle-able, the seats pull against the d-rings, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Packing up took just a few minutes. The “smooth skin” of the Nitrylon material allows one to just wipe down the kayak to dry it off, and then fold up into the pack. In fact, after paddling through thick algae sludge, I turned the Sunny upside down – within a couple of minutes, the algae wiped off and another couple minutes it was air-dried.
I did notice slight scuffing – Tim at Innova says the McNett UVTech is very helpful as a coating to keep the kayak lustrous and prevent scuffs.
One question asked all the time – what is the difference between the Innova Sunny and the Helios? Bottom line – if you plan on mostly paddling solo with the option of tandem paddling, the Sunny is the best choice due to seating placement, a slightly longer design and slightly more stability. If you plan on paddling mostly tandem with the option of paddling solo, take a hard look at the Helios with more spray decking for coverage.
The Innova Sunny is a truly great inflatable kayak offering the best of multiple worlds – quality, performance, ruggedness, simplicity and true portability – in either a solo or tandem setup.
As a tandem kayak, the Sunny performs beautifully, is comfortable and still has room for gear behind the rear seat – or a small child/dog. And at 33 lbs it’s pretty lightweight for a tandem.
Unlike some tandem kayaks, the Sunny really shines as a solo – tracks well, glides effortlessly and is incredibly roomy. It performs well in calm water as well as swells, and is a great choice for someone wanting lots of space for camping gear.
Set up is very simple and takes less than 10 minutes. Take down is equally simple – wipe down and fold/roll up.
Some parts of the kayak design are a little “funky” – such as a foot brace that could pass for a large ravioli noodle – but that is what makes it so highly portable – everything is crafted in such a way as to provide performance, yet pack up extremely flat and compact.
Environmentally-conscious paddlers will find the PVC and China-free construction appealing, as well as the Innova rubber mulch recycling program.
The included backpack is compact and rugged, perfect for a trek into remote areas or riding mass-transit. It can also be stashed in the trunk of a small car, and is small enough to qualify for carry-on during your next plane flight – it’s a great choice for travel.
All-in-all, we can highly recommend this kayak and suggest anyone wanting performance, portability and paddling choices, take a good look at the Innova Sunny.
For more information, watch our Innova Sunny Youtube video: