My first reaction when I sat into the boat was that the outfitting was very strange. I don't know if this has been addressed at all in the newer boats, but I struggled with this the entire time that I paddled this boat. The seat was nice, however it rubbed the lower part of my back. Nothing that a little foam wouldn't fix, though. The part that I didn't like was the foot brace/steering system. This boat was set up with a surfski like pedal system instead of a tiller, and I much prefer this, but in this boat, the idea wasn't executed very well. The boat has a footbrace with rudder pedals mounted on the top of them with hinges. I found that the pedals were way too high to reach them with my feet on the bottom of the boat. I had to wear my sandals just to be able to get to the pedals with the tops of my toes. I have 11.5 size feet, btw. The foot brace its self I found to be at too much of an angle and would have been much better if it was more upright. All of these things could have been fixed if it was my boat, but it would require lots of customizing by cutting out what was there and changing things around a lot.
As I pushed myself away from the dock, I found the boat to be more stable than I thought that it would be. Although it has similar dimensions to my Huki S1-R, the hull shape is notably more round without much of a flat spot to aid in stability. I would say that initial stability is only slightly less than the S1-R and secondary is very similar. This is quite a bit more stable than an S1-X and much more stable than any ICF sprint boat. This boat glides through the water much better than the S1-R, but not as well as the S1-X. I assume that most of this is because of the faster hull shape along with having less rocker than the S1-R. (You will notice that most of my comments are in relating this boat to the S1-R, because I feel that these boats are very close in use, speed, and stability. At least more so than the S1-X.)
In flat water, I don’t think that this boat is too unstable for most people to be able to get used to if they are willing to put in the time, and if they had a good background in a sea kayak. I took the Vampire out in some fairly good sized waves, perhaps 2-3' windchop, and had a fun time. The one thing that was most difficult for me to get used to was the difference between a kayak and a surfski. I am used to paddling surfskis where there is more contact with the boat in the seat area as well as the legs and feet. In the Vampire, contact is limited to only the smaller seat, and your feet. This means that the boat moves under you instead of moving you with the boat. (While you could tuck your knees under the cockpit like a standard sea kayak, this would completely kill your forward stroke, and if you want to paddle like that, you don’t want a racing kayak that requires a wing paddle and a good forward stroke to take advantage of the design.) I can’t say that it is good or bad, just different, and something that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I would think that more time in the boat, along with better outfitting, would make this a non-issue for me. The boat did do some things that I didn’t like a lot in the waves. Paddling upwind, the boat was very nice, but paddling downwind, or with a quartering tailwind, the boat wanted to wander and wanted to weathervane more than I expected. The rudder is great for flatwater, but was too far back and not large enough for downwind paddling, and I suspect that had a lot to do with my troubles surfing and paddling downwind (along with lack of rocker).
In the end, this boat was faster than my S1-R in the flats, not as fast as an S1-X. Upwind, the Vampire would take the cake against the R, but the S1-R can’t be beat downwind by a Vampire. With confusing or reflecting water, it would come down to the paddler and how they feel stability wise in the boat. I would bet the S1-R would be faster for the vast majority of paddlers, but someone who can handle the Vampire well, has outfitting worked out, and is used to the boat moving under them instead of with them could get the Vampire to go faster in that situation.
To close it up, this would be a great boat for someone who paddles a sea kayak and wants a faster boat for flat water. If someone wants a good rough water boat, there are better boats out there. It would be a good idea to paddle one of these to see how much trouble it will be to make the outfitting work for you. It is possible that the boat that I paddled had an older setup for foot pedals, but it was a big enough issue that I would really look into it before I spend a bunch of money. In the end, I would rather have a surfski, but for cold weather in flat conditions, this boat could be what some people are looking for.
My previous boat was an Epic Endurance, and at first, I found the Vampire very tippy in comparison. I am still holding back due to the stability, but I find that as my balance improves I getting more comfortable paddling the Vampire. One very noticeable advantage of the Vampire is the ease of maintaining speed. It seems to take much less effort to maintain a 7.0+ speed in the vampire as compared to anything I have paddled. The construction quality is top notch. The kevlar carbon marathon construction has some flexibility to the hull. I have not noticed the flex in my paddling, but the flex would seem to make the hull more forgiving when encountering rocks or logs. I plan to race locally this spring. I will update my review with any relevant results.
I would recommend this kayak to any experienced paddler looking to do some unlimited marathon racing.
I'm still learning to paddle mine, and I'm finding it a challenge. I currently spend as much time bracing as forward paddling, even in flat water, so despite the "potential speed" of the Vampire I'm still much faster in a slow 16' sea kayak over any distance. I have yet to succeed in rolling it, despite having a solid combat roll in other kayaks (sea and whitewater). The K1-style seat and open cockpit are great for good forward paddling but there is very little purchase for the legs for rolling, and nothing to keep your hips in the boat. I have seen a friend roll it, so I know its possible, but its far from easy to roll. I have also not succeeded in doing a solo rescue in it yet, despite several attempts in the pool, so I would not contemplate taking it into open water at this stage.
My friend who has done some K1 sprint racing is comfortable in the Vampire and enjoys paddling it a lot. It is certainly a beautiful looking boat with excellent construction and finish.
Construction/design impressions: Extremely well made with the construction being exemplary – even the inside carbon/Kevlar surfaces being finished. The footrest, pull-bar and seat were quickly moved to fit my needs. The under-stern rudder appears to be carbon and is adjusted by two nylon adjusting barrels that were easy to use.
The design is striking with a relatively thin and high bow sleekly tapering to the stern – it looks fast. The cockpit is large with more volume toward the bow, apparently to shed waves and water. The bow has a keel that is discernable up to approximately 2 feet in front to the cockpit.
Initial paddling impressions: Upon getting the Vampire to fit me, I took it out for several paddles over two weeks. During this time, I experimented with shallow, deep, “suck-water”, up/down wind/current, etc. just to see where its strengths and weakness lay. First of all, I was very surprised at how stable it was. Side wind/waves were no problem. After a few strokes the Vampire was moving well. At that point I happened to look at my GPS – 6.9 mph! While warming up it was easy to maintain 6.3 – 6.8 mph for 5 min. or more. Most noticeable was the glide between strokes. There was little power lost between strokes. I did some 1min. pacing where it was very easy, even in very early season, to maintain over 7 mph.
Overall: The Kayakpro Vampire is very fast, stable and comfortable. I know at this point in the season I have not even come close to being able to evaluate the potential of this kayak. After more time in the boat I will file a follow-up, in-depth report.