Personal data: 5' 9", 150 pounds, 33" waist, 32" inseam; age - mid 50s.
Skill level: Intermediate, I have paddled with many folks that have far better skills than I ever hope to possess.
Personal Kit: I went light - paddle, PFD, spraydeck, hydration bladder, tow belt. Demo length: approximately 2.5 hours
I recently had the opportunity to test paddle three TideRace kayaks with Randy Henriksen, owner of NY Kayak: the Xcite S, Xcite and Xplore S. Due to my tight schedule, Randy was kind enough to come in on his day-off to make this happen. Even though these were demo models (used), all three TideRace kayaks had: flawless gelcoat; comfortable seat and backband; Smart Track footpegs that can be easily adjusted while on the water; watertight Kajaksport hatches; well thought out deck rigging, including a foredeck spare paddle holder; effective and easy to deploy skeg system; and the cleanest layups I have personally seen in all the kayaks I have ever owned or paddled.
Many paddlers of British-style sea kayaks will consider P&H layups to be the standard from a quality standpoint. P&H does great work, but simply put the TideRace kayaks are a notch above all others, and this is reflected in the pricing of their Xcite, Xplore and Xtreme series. I should note that TideRace recently released a new 'intro' line of composite sea kayaks called the Xcape series. The Xcape boats are offered at a very attractive price point and come in three sizes. However, I was not able to demo one at this time.
I sat in the mid-sized Xcape, but the cockpit was to voluminous for me and NY Kayak did not have an Xcape S available for me to try. From what I could see the Xcape series offers the same quality of construction and attention to details found in TideRace's other models.
On the water: Review of the Xcite S
At 16' 6" long, 20" beam, and a volume of 82 gallons (11 cu. ft) the Xcite S was the smallest of the TideRace boats that I demoed. I did most of my paddling of the Xcite S in the large 'pool like' area bounded by a concrete sea wall to the East, Pier 40 to the North, the pier supporting the air duct for the Holland Tunnel to the South, and the Hudson River to the West. This is a large three-sided area, which is open to the Hudson, generated some very interesting clapotis. The Xcite S is just a fun kayak to paddle in this sort of venue. It was a blast to throw the boat around in the reflecting waves and navigate around the buoys that dotted the basin. The kayak's initial and secondary stability inspired confidence. I found that the Xcite S does have enough length (wetted waterline) to keep pace with it longer brothers if pushed, but it would work best as a 'park-and-play boat'.
FWIW: Aled Williams designed both the NDK Romany hull and all the TideRace kayaks. It has been sometime since I have paddled a Romany, but I never fit well the boat. The cockpit geometry is just wrong for my body. The Xcite S fit me like a glove. The seating was just right and I didn't even notice that the backband was there, as it should be. I would say than when moving from point A to B the Xcite S was more 'efficient' that paddling the Romany, yet the boat still maintains that playfulness. I was wearing size 10 water shoes and I estimate that that would be the upper limit for shoe size in this boat. The Xcite would easily fit a smaller paddler than myself. Due to its balance, poise, and maneuverability the Xcite S would make a great boat to instruct from.
If I could only have one kayak would it be the Xcite S? Probably not. I loved the boat's 'sportiness', but over the years I seem to have developed a preference for an kayak 'all-rounder' in-and-around 17' in length. The Xcite S is just a bit shorter and lower in volume than my normal preference. Although the Xcite S has that neat small hatch in the foredeck, Aled Williams designed this kayak without a day hatch behind the cockpit. I understand that Mr. Williams' thinking was a day hatch would really break-up aft storage volume. Some folks will probably prefer his design decision, however, I missed the day hatch.
Summary: Well done TideRace. I will give the Xcite S 9 out of 10.
Standard disclaimer: I have no interests in either NY Kayak Co. or TideRace kayaks.