[ It is not often we can hear first hand from someone their thoughts on testing and owning two recent canoes designs. And usually when we do read such reviews, it is full of marketing jargon, from a company spokesman, or someone who is elite and doesn't have the same priorities the majority of us share. So when we had the chance to ask a very solid paddler, Brian Bender, his impressions and thoughts on the new Kai Wa'a Ares and Antares, and how they compared, we pounced. For Paddlers. By Paddlers. Enjoy! -CP ]
CP: Hi Brian, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us your impressions of the Kai Wa'a canoes that have come out in the past year or so. I know many folks are curious about why one canoe might be a better choice than the other, and how they perform and feel. Especially with other canoes out there like the venerable Pueo family from Kamanu Composites and popular Kahekai and Ehukai from Puakea Designs.
Tell us a little about your paddling background and where you mostly spend time paddling. As well as your height, weight and types of workouts/distances you do.
Current Weight 182lbs 5'10
Antares - Oct 16 to July 17
Ares - July 17 to Present
My novice season was in 2014 with Waikiki Yacht club in Honolulu where I paddled 6 man regatta and distance season. I joined SDOCC in the middle of the season in 2016 when I relocated from Honolulu to San Diego.
I purchased an Antares in October of 2016 and competed in 9 of the winter series races. Prior to my OC1 purchase I had zero experience on an OC1. I learned so much over winter series as I got my butt kicked each race. I weighed about 193 lbs when I first bought my Antares and slowly dropped the weight down to 182 into the summer of 2017.
Training: Most of my time is spent paddling in San Diego/Mission Bay and doing runs outside of the jetty either launching from Campland or Bahia.
Last season my training consisted of shorter distances between 5 and 8 miles with the longer pieces being the races which are typically 9 to 11 miles. This year my training involves a lot more A to B runs such as La Jolla to Mission Bay, or Mission Bay to San Diego Bay. These runs help me keep my mileage up and better prepare me for the winter series races.
CP: Tell us how you came to get experience in both these canoes? (ie did you buy one then the other?)
I originally purchased the Antares and the info I had advised that at 190 lbs, I could go either way between the Ares and Antares. I choose the Antares assuming that was the safer choice for me knowing that beer was the my adult beverage of choice factoring my weight fluctuation. Then I noticed that heavier paddlers were starting to win races with the Ares and I had the chance to paddle one this summer and loved it. While at the Gorge this summer, JD (Kai Wa'a rep) happened to have an all white Ares in stock, so I sold my Antares and bought the Ares. I also got to meet Kai Bartlett at the shop when I picked up the Ares.
CP: Why did you find these canoes to be the best choice for you versus all the other options out there?
I had no idea what to buy at the time since I had no experience with OC1s. I leaned heavily on my Coach James Gonzales for advice and it was a toss up between a 2nd Gen Pueo or the Antares and the decision for me came down to what was in stock. I knew the winter series was starting up and I wanted to get training quickly. Ocean Ohana had the Antares in stock so I drove up the next day to pick it up.
CP: It is pretty cool that you have owned and paddled in each, please share as extensively as possible how the canoes differed, and how those differences might benefit different paddlers.
Disclaimer before you read on: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Technically, I'm only a 2nd year paddler but I'll do my best to share my novice experiences. (CP note: We have chased Brian enough to know he can paddle pretty darn good, despite his humble attitude).
Both canoes are very comfortable. Both cockpits and seating position options are very comfortable in short and long distances
Antares: At 193 lbs and with my inexperience level, this boat felt perfect last October when I first started paddling OC1s. It was stable, had volume but was light enough in and out of the water. I felt it handled well on the flats and carried very well in the surf. In the surf I feel like this boat carries very easily into each wave with minimal effort. I'd compare it to paddling a long board. Once you are in, you are in and it was easy to settle in and stay on the swell with minimal effort.
Ares: At my current weight and experience level, this boat is a better match for me. The first thing I noticed is how much easier it is to maneuver out of the water. You can really feel the smaller volume when picking it up and carrying it around. In the water, it also feels lighter and I feel it's really easy to get to a higher speed with the smaller design. It's noticeably smaller in volume through the middle of the canoe and in the cockpit which gives me instant response in my hips when lifting the ama. It is also noticeably different in the surf. I don't feel like the Ares gets the carry (distance per stroke) that the Antares does, but the Ares is much easier to cut through the back of a wave to drop down into the next wave. I feel like connecting swells are easier for me in the Ares. I would compare it to surfing a short board (Ares) vs a long board (Antares).
I do think more time in the canoe and weight loss allowed me to get more performance from the Ares. I have paddled the Antares since switching to the Ares and it does feel noticeably bigger and reassured my decision to downsize.CP: Any other thoughts on the canoes, and what you would like to see in them? Any regrets or strong points that really stick in your mind?
Overall they are both great Canoes and I highly recommend them to anyone considering a Kai Wa'a. Definitely no regrets on owning either boat for me. What I would love to see is a hybrid weed/surf rudder for my Ares for our conditions in Mission Bay.
CP: Thanks so much Brian, we are stoked for your insight!