I've used a custom made 5-lamination cedar GP for 10 years. Though I originally bought it just for "historical accuracy" to use with a native Greenland replica skin on frame kayak, I found I simply loved the GP and have hardly ever used a standard blade paddle ever since, (though I have several Werner and Aquabounds I carry as spares and loan to friends). I bought a Northern Lights 3 piece carbon GP a few years ago but never really liked it that much -- not the fault of the paddle itself but more the style, which was shouldered and blunt tipped, unlike my accustomed cedar (a Seal model from Friday Harbor Paddles.)
So I sold the Northern Lights and ordered the Akiak this year. I am delighted to report that it feels and paddles very much like the cedar -- in fact I may even slightly prefer it (much to my surprise). The sharper edges to the blade enter the water quietly and easily -- the paddle is very well balanced and feel light as a feather. I weighed it and it is actually the same as the cedar but feels lighter in use. The finish is gorgeous and the spring loaded button on the loom connection is remarkably flush and not in the least noticeable when sliding your grip over it. It's delightful to use -- paddling feels effortless and I detect no flutter. Really love this paddle!
I've found them comfortable even over bare feet for warm water paddling -- in colder conditions I will add wet suit socks inside. My feet have not noticeably sweat inside them on 80 degree days. The only potential drawback is they are a little bit of a struggle to pull on, not having any zippers. Someone with thicker or low flexibility ankles or with very muscular or plump calves might have fit problems with them, so try them on before committing to them.
For the money the 15LV is the most versatile and fun kayak I have ever owned. Lighter than most its size at 46 lbs., it carries easily and is thoughtfully outfitted. They are made in the UK rather than China and I think it shows in the finish. Great seat with an adjustable back that converts to a backband type or taller cruising style, snug but easily entered keyhole cockpit (even with my longish legs I can enter butt first and scoot them in), sturdy foot braces, perfectly placed thigh hooks and roomy hatches. Rigged to take a rudder -- though I opted not to buy it with one it would be a cinch to add later. Pretty boat, too, in my case the snow-pea green fade.
Best of all, just a pleasure to paddle. It is fast and tracks well, but also turns nicely, Primary is a little wiggly at first (not for me but for friends used to rec boats who I've let try it) but not at all once you are moving and the secondary is excellent -- I can edge it til the coaming is underwater and it won't go over unless I really push and drop hard (like to practice rolls).
Despite being technically a touring kayak I have had a blast with it in shallow fast streams, even knuckle-dragging it across gravel bars and banging through chutes in class 1 rapids. With the thigh hooks and hull shape I can hip-steer it through a sinuous line with my paddle over my head. On flatwater I can keep up with good paddlers in longer boats. I've got fancier and costlier boats myself but since I picked this little beauty up on sale last summer I have been neglecting the rest of the fleet.
I highly recommend this as a second kayak for anyone looking to move up from a rec boat or a first kayak for anyone who wants something fun, versatile, sharp looking and reasonably priced. Comfortable for a newbie but has the talent to let you learn some skills.
It's tougher than it looks and bounced off some boulders we encountered on a Class I section of the Susquehanna were we took it on it's maiden voyage without any visible damage. At 39 pounds it was easy to load and haul. By all reports from folks I've talked to that own this boat, it is competent even in open ocean and having seen how it is built and how it performs I would not hesitate to take it out in such waters.
I expect we will have many great trips with this boat and would highly recommend it for anyone seeking an affordable, versatile and highly portable boat.
The fabric is supposedly some "special mineral based" polyester (whatever that means) but it does work at keeping you really dry on a hot damp day. Design is excellent: streamlined but not tight fit, long in the body, raglan sleeves with flat seams that don't chafe, front half zip has soft thin nylon zipper for venting with a neat little hood at the top so the slider doesn't scratch you under the chin. Collar is tall so you can zip it to keep rain and sun off your neck. Fabric is allegedly SPF50 -- I do have trouble with sun poisoning on the tops of my forearms with long exposure but this shirt seems to protect as well as sunscreen, I admit. Best part of the design is fine gauge mesh panels along the sides and all the way down the back, the places that suffer the most under a PFD -- my skin stays dry there when I wear these shirts (in fact, they are the only shirts I wear paddling anymore.) They machine or hand wash like a breeze and dry in the dryer in 10 minutes, or overnight thrown over a towel rack. They pack tiny for travel. A folded up one fits in a quart baggie.
Besides the half-zips I bought they have regular tees and pants in the line and even a sleek hoodie that might be handy for warm weather rolling practice to keep long hair out of your eyes, if you don't mind the flower child graphic on the lower back.
When I first used it the first thing I noticed was the freedom of movement and lack of awkward bulk. It does ride a bit high behind the shoulders but I think that is because of my short back -- that looks a little strange but is not at all uncomfortable, in fact it helps to ventilate. The second thing I noticed was that I didn't notice that I was wearing a PFD at all after paddling for a while! The mesh lining and perforated flotation foam actually work to enhance air circulation and I seemed to sweat no more under the vest than I did in places that were not beneath it. I have had it out 4 times now and have never felt that I wanted to take it off while paddling even in sweltering conditions (something I was often tempted to do with the Lola.)
My only complaint, and the reason for a 9 rather than 10, is that the pockets are kind of lame. There is one large mesh pocket with a single snap flap -- no zipper. I would not store anything in there without clipping it to the d-ring inside because the pouch is not at all secure. The second "pocket" is just a shallow mesh opening above the chest, within the lining, too tiny to hold much more than a chapstick and whistle (both tethered.) I've pretty much just used it to stash my thin gloves when I wasn't using them, but I suspect they could have popped out if I had rolled.
The materials and quality of Astral's construction are outstanding, as I would expect from folks who apparently were originally involved with Lotus Designs. Very nice-looking.
Overall I think this is a great vest for anyone who wants an amazingly cool and comfortable PFD that won't chafe your underarms or feel bulky while paddling. It's the only "unisex" vest that has fit my 36DD chest well. Price is upper mid-range at around $100USD, plus or minus a few bucks.
I chose the "Seal" model made of 5 horizontal laminations of cedar with curved tips, no shoulder and the oil/varnish blend finish. The paddle arrived, very nicely packaged, about two weeks later. It is an absolute work of art, displaying excellent craftsmanship with lovely contrasting tones in the wood, graceful lines and a finish I can only describe as soft and smooth as a baby's bottom.
I first used it this past weekend with my new Greenland-style boat on a trip to Lake Michigan. The paddle was delightful to use. The finish offers a firm grip, with or without gloves, yet slides easily when you release. The paddle is light and well-balanced and the eccentric cross section of the loom fit my hands perfectly and kept the blades aligned. The blades enter and follow the stroke through the water quietly with far less splash than my conventional Werner produces, developing an amount of forward thrust that is surprising for their slender profile. I also tried it with the Kahuna during that trip and found that the Greenland style did, indeed, seem to correct some of that boat's tendency to waffle (we were paddling in strong chop and reflected powerboat wakes in a busy harbor).
Needless to say, I am very pleased with this paddle. In fact, it is so lovely that I "store" it on the fireplace mantle in my living room and am often tempted to take it down and run my hands over its satiny surface!