This past summer, Innova Recreational Products of Burlington, WA announced the latest addition to their inflatable kayak lineup – the Swing EX.
As mentioned in previous write-ups, the Innova line is unique in that the kayaks are handmade in Czechoslovakia rather than China or Korea. Additionally, the Swing series (now consisting of the Swing 1, the Swing 2 Double and the new Swing EX) – as well as the Twist series – utilize materials that are PVC-free, making them a greener option than most kayaks on the market.
This week we had the first opportunity to take out the Innova Swing EX, a 13′ 6″ solo inflatable touring kayak weighing a mere 28 lbs with a selling price of $999. Please note, some of this will be repeated from the previous Swing reviews, as there are obviously many similarities.
Getting Started with the Innova Swing EX Inflatable Kayak
The box as received weighs 31.2 lbs with dimensions of 28 x 18 x13 inches.
Inside is the Swing EX body – neatly folded with a cinch strap inside a lightweight drawsack – multiple instruction sheets, 3 metal insertion bars, tracking fin, seat, foot rest, coaming collar, repair kit, and valve adaptor. At 28 lbs for the combined package and a folded size of 23 x 17 x 11 inches, the Swing EX is small enough to fit in plane overhead cargo bins.
Swing EX Kayak Setup/Inflatation
As with all the Innova manuals to date, the Swing EX instructions are quite detailed – there is one instruction sheet for fin installation, one for utilizing the valves, another on the kayak in general and added instructions detailing the “insertion bars.” As the kayaks are made in Europe, many of the details are based around European specs and regulations.
First step, unpack and unfold the kayak body. What is immediately noticeable is how FLAT the kayak is when deflated.
Install the tracking fin before inflating the kayak. The Swing EX utilizes a 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 slot. While the first time can be a struggle to get the back side into position, after a couple of rounds it becomes quite easy. Do make sure it is solidly in position.
Attach the foot brace (this comes attached from the factory) by weaving the webbing through the floor connector and back. The foot brace uses a twistlok valve for inflation. There are no adaptors that couple with the valve, so you must either hold the adaptor onto the valve while pumping with one hand, have someone else hold the adaptor in position, or – easiest method – just blow it up with your mouth. It’s only a few puffs.
While the next step is to “attach” the seat, we found this is best done later, as it can get in the way. So this is where we will veer a little from the instructions.
Take out the three aluminum reinforcement bars that give the kayak its upper shape; there are two the same size, and another slightly smaller. While the bars on the other Swings are numbered and marked L (Left) and (R) side – corresponding to numbered slots inside the kayak – this is not the case with the Swing EX. The instructions say to lay out the bars, with the smallest one at the very front, and “place the longer parts of the flat ends toward each other.” As this was somewhat vague, we laid out the three bars and found they were angled to the shape of the kayak when in the correct position. Each of these bars had an “F” on one side, which faced to the “Front.”
Open the front (bow) zipper and slide the smallest one in first. Slide the “F” side into the forward slot, and then angle the back side into the back slot. While this may take a bit of gyration the first couple of times, its actually pretty easy. Do this for both sides, then move to the second set of slots, just forward of the cockpit.
Finally install the third bar just behind the cockpit (which is why it is helpful to not have the seat in the way). To reach the rear section, you may need to open the back zipper. Zip up all the decks.
Next, install the coaming pipe – this is a long piece of coiled plastic tubing that will slip inside the coaming casing around the cockpit. Once installed, it will help prevent water from pouring back in while paddling, and will also allow you to utilize an optional standard spray skirt, if desired.
This was probably the hardest part in setting up the kayak. Pull the plastic tube apart, and located the velcro flap at the back of the cockpit. Slide in the tube. This is very easy until you hit the front curve, where it hangs up. By finagling, pushing on the tubing and grasping, keep at it and you can get it all the way inserted until it comes back out the other side. Re”cork” the tube and fasten the flap.
Now you’re ready to inflate the kayak.
The Innova Swing EX 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 Swing EX 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.) 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. Please note: the military valve push pins can sometimes deceptively look as if they are UP while in the deflate mode. When this happens, as soon as you remove the pump adaptor all the air with swoosh out. So, make sure they are truly popped up. On the positive side, this is so easy to pump up, it’s not a big issue.
Unlike the Sunny and Twists, the Swing EX main chambers are pumped up first. If using a pressure gauge, please note that the pressure may only read while you are pumping, since most gauges work on back pressure. At 3 PSI, switch over to the other side chamber – this took about 35 strokes each with a standard double action hand pump. Finally, pump up the floor chamber.
Screw on the valve caps to protect the plungers from sand and salt, or from accidentally being pressed.
Last, the seat. This also uses a Twistlok valve, so same notes as mentioned above with the foot brace. Once inflated, attach the adjustable seat side straps to the kayak.
You’re done! The Swing EX is remarkably easy and fast to set up – less than 10 minutes.
Deflation is just as easy. Simply turn the valves to the open position and push out the air. Remove the tracking fin. For the smallest package, remove the metal bars, deflate the seat and foot brace, and detach enough seat connections to make it flat – you can leave the bars in place, but it won’t fold up as small. Fold in the kayak sides so you can only see the green upper. Fold over each end, and then fold up the kayak again, meeting in the middle – a diagram in the instruction manual is quite helpful. Tie it up with the cinch strap and you’re done. 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 on the Innova Swing EX
The Innova Swing EX hull is constructed from LitePack, a polyester ripstop fabric that is single coated with rubber on the inside to increase air retension. The material is treated with a Teflon water repellant to aid in drying and prevent staining. LitePack is PVC-free, making it more environmentally-friendly than standard inflatables using PVC bladders – there is no out-gassing. The deck (upper) is constructed from a urethane-coated ripstop nylon to ensure water repellency, with seams glued to the hull.
There are three 3 PSI inflation chambers utilizing military valves (both sides and floor). Next to the floor valve is a pressure release valve. The initial Swings were designed with a light gray hull. The US-distributed Swings have a black hull, which can absorb heat in hot sun, causing the chamber to expand. The pressure release valves are designed to release air pressure at about 3 PSI, ensuring that the floors do not become over-inflated. An additional two twistlok valves are on the brace and seat.
Two low-profile, molded rubber handles are located in the bow and stern, but you can also carry it by hooking over your shoulder.
Two bungee decking systems with 6 d-rings each, are located on the bow and stern, allowing one to attach deck bags and gear. The front deck lacing measures 16.5 inches tapering to 8 inches, by 15.5 inches and is located about 27 inches from the front coaming. The rear deck lacing measures 19.5 inches tapering to 11 inches, by 20 inches and is located 7 inches from the seat back.
A 41 inch front zipper allows one to access the foot brace and any gear that one might want to store in the snout, beginning 4 inches from the front coaming tube. An additional zipper is located in the rear, beginning about 5 inches from the seat back and extending 32 inches.
There is an additional mesh cargo net located 10 inches from the front coaming, measuring 9.5 x 20 inches with 4 d-rings; a bungee cord is attached for tensioning.
The brace is adjustable and measures 16 x 7 inches, with a thickness of 4 inches inflated.
Three aluminum bars/deck lifts sculpt the kayak body, supporting the coaming area and allowing water to run off. The bars also provide added rigidity to the hull, raise the seating well to about 10-11 inches in depth, fix the side-to-side dimensions and provide longitudinal stability, making the kayak stiffer.
The inflatable seat features adjustable side straps, allowing the seat to be moved about 5 inches. The seat base measures 15 x 16 inches, while the seat back is 14 x 15 inches. Inflated, the seat is about 2 inches thick.
The cockpit opening is approximately 32.5 x 19 inches, with a perimeter of 83-84 inches and a height of 2 inches – this can be used to attach a spray skirt when the plastic coaming tubing is installed.
There is approximately 78 interior inches from the seat back to the bow (usable space), with the inflatable foot brace able to be positioned about 30 to 43 inches from the seat back; the seat can be moved up another 4.5 inches. The top of the kayak measures 70″ from front coaming to tip. There is roughly 46 interior inches behind the seat about 16 inches wide and tapering to a point. This under-deck area can be used for storage, and is accessed via the top zipper, or putting down the seat back. There is 60 inches from the back coaming to the stern tip, on top of the kayak.
The hull has sculpted i-beams and a removable tracking fin measuring 4.5 inches tall and 7 inches wide.
We took overall measurements. The kayak is 13 ft 9″ long from “very-end-to-very end”, so probably 13.5 for the kayak body. There is an exterior width of approximately 29 inches and interior width of 17 to 18 inches. The dual-stacked side tubes are approximately 4 and 6 inches in diameter, while the interior height ranges from 9 to 11 inches. Payload is 396 lbs. person and gear.
Innova Swing EX Inflatable Kayak On the Water
We tested out the Innova Swing EX for short jaunts over a couple of days.
I first took it out on a fairly calm day. First thing to note – at 29 inches in width, this is a relatively narrow inflatable kayak (many are 32 to 36 inches) with a long waterline, and thus will feel less stable than – say – the standard Swing, and thus a little trickier to get into without rocking.
At 5’4″ I had no issues getting into the kayak seating-well opening, and was able to reach the foot brace. Due to the front tension bars, the kayak had more wiggle room than many – from side-to-side as well as deck height. In fact, the Swing EX felt luxuriously roomy. On the water, the kayak tracked and paddled well, and is pretty zippy, though I worked at initially finding my “balance.”
I spoke with Tim Rosenhan, President of Innova Kayaks, who gave me good insights. According to Tim, the Swing EX was not designed for beginners, as it will feel tippy to those with no paddling experience. The longer length is great for larger paddlers, or those wishing to carry a good amount of gear. Compared to the standard Swing, the hull is more rounded, reducing the wetted surface in the water, and creating a significantly faster paddling experience; in fact, Tim said he easily sustained 3.5 knots.
The Swing EX is constructed with stacked, double layer tubes; this increases the rigidity, enhancing paddling performance. It also makes the floor a bit deeper so, unlike the standard Swing, the Swing EX includes an inflatable seat, allowing one to sit a little higher. Tim recommends that the foot brace (also inflatable) be adjusted close enough to the seat, that the paddlers knees are well bent and locked – almost like thigh straps. This decreases the side movement as opposed to having one’s legs straight.
I decided to try adding weight to the kayak to see how it felt, by stuffing 15 lbs into a drysack which I placed between the first two bars inside the snout. This balanced my size in the Swing EX to the point that I felt pretty stable and was able to appreciate the glide. Larger people may not need to do this.
Both the rear and bow storage wells can fit a fair amount of gear inside, as well as on top of the hull. As the kayak is particularly long, the mesh deck lacing located close to the seating well is a bonus.
On the beach, much of the water ran off; just 5 minutes upside down in the sun did the trick (AirKayaks note: if you put this in the sun to dry off, be sure and release some of the pressure first.)
A small drain plug in the back can be opened to let that rear “hard to access” water drip out.
As a last note, the kayak comes with a drawstring bag, not a carrying case, but an inexpensive backpack would do the trick. Innova has also released an optional PVC-free backpack for the Swing series.
Bottom Line on the Innova Swing EX Inflatable Kayak:
The Innova Swing EX is a great choice for seasoned paddlers needing an enclosed cockpit for colder-weather kayaking. It’s rugged, yet lightweight – at 28 lbs it weighs 5 to 10 lbs less than most other single inflatables, and can be easily backpacked into remote areas, or stored in the trunk of a car.
The kayak is roomier than many “sit insides.” Due to the bar “deck lifts” the interior seating well has more headroom than other inflatables. The nifty plastic coaming ring allows one to attach an optional, standard spray skirt, protecting one from splash-over, wind and rain thus allowing a wider range of paddling opportunities in inclement weather.
Multiple storage options – interior front snout, behind the rear seat, two decktop bungee lacing systems and the cargo netting – make this a great choice for camping trips and explorations.
The kayak folds down small enough to classify as “carry-on” luggage, so it’s a great choice for far-off vacations – and it easily fits in the trunk of a small car. As the metal bars might be considered weapons, plan on staying safe and putting those in your checked-in luggage, which brings down the kayak package size even smaller.
Rated through Class II waters, the kayak is perfect for slow moving rivers, lakes, bays, inlets and coastal ocean.
Those paddlers that want a 1) lightweight, 2) portable kayak offering 3) quick setup and breakdown, 4) lots of storage space and legroom with a more 5) enclosed design will find the Swing EX quite appealing. Environmentally-conscious eco-travelers will find the PVC and China-free construction equally as attractive.