This is the year that we finally got to see some fresh products hit the marathon canoe market which included the launching of GRB Newman Designs CK2020 C2 3x27 "pro-boat". I have been lucky enough to get my hands on the first one and now get to share my initial thoughts with you and I am exited to do so. For those of you not interested in reading the whole article I will give you the spoiler right here. This boat may be the best combination of price, design, weight, and craftsmanship currently on the market. I know that might be a big statement, but let me elaborate on why this is my opinion.
When reviewing a boat we can look at it in 2 ways, either looking at certain aspects individually or taking an overall approach weighing all aspects together. For this article and my above statement I did the latter, but will break down these areas individually so if one aspect is particularly important to you over all others, you have the information needed to guide you.
Price is one place that the CK2020 is second to none. The price point of this canoe is meant to be aggressive, they really want to help grow the sport and one of the ways to do so is to lower the barrier of entry. By increasing the number of canoes that are available and at different price points, it allows more stock in the used market where most buy from when starting out in the sport. The price point on this boat is so aggressive you will find used boats from other manufacturers that are more expensive than a brand new CK2020. That does not mean however that quality was sacrificed with this boat, it just speaks to GRB's aggressive approach they are taking with this new design and want to see them out on the water! I am guessing by now you are asking, what is the cost!?! GRB has decided to go with a 2 tier system with pricing, to make the ease of comparing. Please see below.
CK 2020 - LOADED - $4695
Carbon/Carbon Outfitting w/ lightweight layup
- Sliding Stern Footbrace
- Stern Bailer
- Carbon bow lunch counter
- Carbon Stern lunch counter
- Carbon center and rear thwart
- bulkhead mounted seats
CK 2020 - BASIC - $3795
Carbon/Aluminum Outfitting w/ Standard layup and Stern Bailer
- Lightweight layup - $275
- Sliding Stern Footbrace - $150
- Carbon bow lunch counter - $100
- Carbon stern lunch counter - $90
- Carbon center thwart - $50
- Carbon rear thwart - $70
- Bulkhead mounted seats and carbon seat tubes - $250
Add ons for either Loaded or Basic:
- Colored Carbon - $250
- Carbon Bow deck - $75
When talking with Gene Newman about this boat, the one thing he would remind me is that you don't necessarily have to sacrifice speed for boat control or vice versa and it is possible to have both. This boat has not seen its first race (which will be at the end of October), but I can say that this boat does have enough speed to be competitive that is for sure. Once this boat has been put through some different race efforts we will be able to give a better idea of its true speed potential so I will leave that for a follow up article sometime next year. On the boat control side, I will say that when Ben and I have paddled this so far it has handled extremely well. Two of the main areas that stuck out for me was on buoy turns and riding wake waves. This is the first boat that I have felt very comfortable with a heavy lean that is required for a quick and efficient buoy turn. When we leaned this heavy going around the turn, at least in the bow it didn't feel like it was going to tip over if I pushed it too hard and was easy to keep steady in the lean. I used a cross bow rudder which would normally require a lot of effort to keep the lean steady in other boats but it felt very easy to do in this one. The other aspect that surprised me was how easy it was to control this boat on a wake wave. As there haven't been many opportunities to paddle in a group, when Ben and I got the chance to ride a pontoon boat on our first paddle with this boat we jumped on it. We were able to hop right on the first wave and cruise on this wave for over a mile with minimal effort. We had no issues keeping the boat under control and sitting on the wave so we could go faster with much less effort. Especially with the bigger waves that a pontoon boat puts out, you will find other boats want to start sliding to one side or the other and when you are not on top of it early, you can lose the wave pretty quickly. The CK2020 did not feel like it was going to slip off the wave and I didn't have to put in corrective strokes in the bow to keep us on wave like I normally have to in other boats.
Stability is another area in boat design that should always be considered when looking at a boat meeting your own needs. If you have to put extra effort into just keeping the boat upright, even if it is a faster design it might not be faster for you as you will be constantly working against the boat to keep it upright. Some people naturally have good balance and can hop in any boat and feel comfortable but that is not the case for most of us. The way I like to test the stability of a boat is to put new paddlers in it and see if tips. I have had multiple newbies in this boat from someone that only has experience with less than a handful of recreational kayak outings to an outrigger paddler looking to try out marathon. Both of these new marathon paddlers had no issues keeping the round side down and after only a couple of minutes being in the boat it seemed quite comfortable to both of them. With that testing I think we can give the stability of this boat a good rating. I will note that although it is stable, this is still a 3x27 pro-boat and is not designed to be a boat for total beginners in canoeing.
The next area we would test design capabilities is in shallow and intermediate waters. I still have not had the opportunity to get enough time in these water conditions to comment them in a confident fashion so will need to leave that for a follow up article.
Very similar to bike racing, weight is a pretty big factor when it comes to marathon canoe racing. We are always looking for ways to reduce weight where we can as a lighter overall weight creates less drag in the water and it is less weight we have to propel over the hours and hours of paddling. In contrast to paddles where the difference in weight is in ounces, boats can actually have pretty significant differences in up to tens of pounds. C1s for example, you could have have one that hovers just below 20lbs and another boat right next to it in the 40lb range. This difference in weight is a big deal especially when your looking to paddle 70 miles. C2's tend to be heavier than C1s due to having the additional hardware, seat, and outfitting for the second paddler. The CK2020 is weighing in right around 28lbs which is very light for a C2. Many other C2s will tend to be in the mid 30's for weight so with a roughly 5lb difference that is pretty much equivalent to carrying an 2 liter water bottle.
The overall build quality is another huge area to consider when evaluating a boat. In the current market, there are so few builders out there and most of them tend to be pretty strong in this area. The craftsmanship of the CK2020 is great and what you would expect from something that your spending in the $4k range for. Although the craftsmanship on the CK2020 is great, it doesn't jump out above the competition. The reason for that is not a knock on the CK2020 but rather a compliment to their competition that is making equally great products.
One area that the GRB Newman Designs CK2020 will struggle at least in the short term is brand recognition. If you are basing your purchasing decision based on what else is out there in the market you will probably shy away from this boat. The reason for this is you do not currently see many GRB pro-boats in the top races. It has been a long time since GRB has come out with a new 3x27 design and most that have paddled their previous designs have stepped away from the sport leaving a void and a serious problem when it comes to brand recognition. Because our sport is so small and there is so little information out there, most people get their main information from fellow paddler suggestions and when there are not many paddlers currently using a certain brand, it can make it harder for new immerging products to get a foothold in a referral heavy industry.
If you are looking for C2 that is currently high on the popularity charts and is a design that has been around for decades, this boat will not be for you. However, if you are looking for a fast, stable, well made and priced right option the GRB CK2020 is one that you should definitely consider. And just think, if you do decide to go with this new design what you are telling the industry, you are saying we are ready to look to the future of the sport and interested in new designs and innovation that this industry has been severely lacking over the past couple of decades.