I felt a little like a secret agent, pulling up to a non-descript warehouse outside Greenville, South Carolina. Inside the building, the brand new Bonafide SS127 kayak. I was the first person outside the design team to get a glimpse at the highly-anticipated new boat from the Bonafide crew. The garage door lifted open, my eyes adjusted to the dark; lying on the floor, a kayak like no other.
Last summer, Luther Cifers announced that he was putting his creative energies into a new kayak company. Immediately, kayak anglers blew up social media with speculation and anticipation. But Cifers released few details about the new boat. Each leak resulted in a deluge of likes and shares. For the past eight months, Cifers and his crew have poured themselves into designing and building a completely new and unique boat. The rest of the world has waited, very impatiently. So I was a little nervous when the garage door opened and I got to see the big secret.
With complete disclosure still a few days away, I can share a few details about the new SS127. Inside the warehouse, I met designer Hans Nutz and Product Manager Jake Fuller. One boat was sitting upright and the other upside down. Scattered around the floor and work benches were tools and materials for building kayaks.
Fuller explained, “SS stands for ‘Sit/Stand’ because that’s what it is designed for,” as I ran my hands over the sharp angles and flat planes that make the boat’s Stealth Bomber design. When I got excited about the tunnel hull and flared bow, Nutz beamed with pride. While full details of the innovative hull shape are still hush, hush, I can tell you that the boat features a unique bow that combines a tunnel hull and flared entry. Cifers pointed to a half-dozen prototypes stacked in a corner. ”The first rotomolded prototype had most of what we were looking for. But we also learned some things not to do,” he smiled, “That pile of prototypes got us to where we are today.”
The topside is equally impressive. A large bow hatch is indented to hold a horizontal rodstand, the hatch is secured with a first-of-its-kind latching system that brings some cool new functionality. The boat has a watertight electronics pod that fits in a large scupper in the deck. Unlatch one end of the pod and it lifts and leans forward to open the scupper. Cifers laughed, “It’s a pee hole.” Just hope your aim is good. The pod is sealed for truly dry storage.
The high-low seat has a high back and broad base covered with breathable mesh. The team designed unique latches that allow the seat to be moved fore and aft to balance the boat. Going between high and low positions is easy and quiet.
The stern well is huge with bungees and clips that accommodate any crate or livewell, but is specifically designed to host the YakAttack BlackPak. The broad flat stern has room for a rudder or electric motor and PowerPole. Cifers kicked off his shoes and stood up in the kayak. “Our focus has been on stability,” he said, demonstrating the broad, flat deck. Then, he pushed the seatback forward, and stood on small pads on the gunnels. “We call them perch pads,” he explained, they give the angler a few more inches of elevation and a very stable platform for poling or paddling.
On a nearby desk, I noticed design sketches. On the floor, a 3D printer spewed out parts. In the corner a foam mockup of the hull. Cifers explained that they were able to test the boats design parameters before modeling the hull. “Some things weren’t evident until we got the boats on the water,” he admits. That required reworking, remolding and retesting.
Since then, the team has tweaked the design to balance speed, stability and maneuverability without significantly compromising one for another. During my visit, we would test the most recent prototypes and continue to tweak the shape and layout.
Before we hit the water, Luther took me to another, bigger warehouse. Inside, a monstrous oven where they will cook kayaks. The kayak mold attaches to a huge arm. They fill the mold with powdered plastic and the massive arm swings it into a room-sized oven where it spins and rotates to heat and spread the plastic. “We worked with the plastics supplier to get a high-quality plastic that will last for years in the sun and water,” he explained. Currently, they are working on three colors: bright blue, brighter orange and a serene tan. They expect the final boat to weigh around 70 pounds.
When we finally got on the water, the SS127 delivered a great ride and solid stability. Average paddling pushed me at 2.5 to 3 miles-per-hour. The rockered hull made for easy turning while the pontoons improved tracking. The challenge is meeting performance with stability. The SS127 is one of the most stable boats I’ve ever paddled. The primary stability was designed to be a touch loose to improve paddling performance. The secondary stability kicks in quickly and the boat will not tip. One of the early photos of the SS127 released on the internet shows Kayak Bassin’ TV’s big man, Chad Hoover standing with both feet on one side of center. The boat barely leans. I was able to stand on the bow hatch and paddle with confidence. The more I played with the boat’s stability, the more I was impressed with the performance.
Most important, this boat is fun to fish. Every inch is intentionally designed to make fishing and paddling easier and more enjoyable. Many features are completely new and totally unique. With so much excitement proceeding the release of Cifers’ latest invention, the heat is on. “Do you think the boat will meet everyone’s expectations,” Cifer’s asked me after the test drive. “If it meets your expectations,” I told him, “then it will exceed anyone else’s.”