That summer of 2011 I stalked a lot of boats online and eventually picked up the phone and called Doug Bushnell at West Side Boat Shop. Doug seemed to have some really fast and cool boat designs and he was very gracious over the phone and we had a nice, long chat about his boats and how they might match-up with what I was looking for. A few weeks later I was able to swing by his place in Lockport, NY and he took me to his local water, the Erie Canal, and we paddled together. He was in his Marauder which looked impossibly skinny and he put me in an “EFT,” which stands for “Extra Fast Tourer.”
We paddled a few miles out and back together and Doug gave me pointers on how to improve my stroke with the wing paddle. We passed another couple of kayakers at one point and briefly chatted and one of them commented that he did not know how we could paddle such skinny kayaks.
Some more chatting with Doug at the boat ramp after the paddle and I knew I must own one of his boats. They were some of the most beautiful things I had ever seen and Doug personally hand-crafted each and every one of them. The only question I needed to answer to myself was, Which one?
Doug had commented to me at one point that he didn’t know what my current boat, the Cobra Viper, was but he could see that it taught me balance. He suggested the EFT was probably best for me based on my skills as the paddler he witnessed that day.
I called him up a week or two later and placed my order.
I wanted a Thunderbolt-X kayak in the Kevlar layup with overstern, pull-up rudder.
Once again I was buying a boat that was probably above my skill level without ever paddling one.
Based on my brief encounter with the EFT, however, I knew I could soon be able to master it and wanted to push myself to even the next level of paddling.
Over the next few weeks I also contacted Cliff Roach at Goodboy Kayaks to purchase a Vbar rack from him since my existing vehicle racks would not work well for such a long, skinny boat as the Thunderbolt-X.
Cliff was another great guy and exactly what you would expect from a member of the paddling community. I called him when I was passing through on business so I could pick up my set of Vbars, and Cliff suggested I meet him at his local reservoir to not only collect my rack but to paddle with him. He would provide an Epic surf ski for me to paddle.
I met Cliff and we paddled together and that Epic ski was the tippiest craft I had ever attempted to paddle. He had me simply sit in it for a while with my legs hung over the sides for stability until I got used to it, and within a short while I was ready to go (or so I thought.)
We paddled out and the boat was insanely fast and tippy but I was proud at one point from the fact that I got it going fast enough that I could hear the venturi drain making a sucking sound which meant I had hit the critical speed for physics to start draining any water from the cockpit. I said something to Cliff about it and he said, “Good! Sometimes it takes weeks for paddlers to hear that sound.” Heck I had even impressed myself at that point.
But then, a few seconds later, I was swimming in Cliff’s local reservoir.
I had no idea what happened or what went wrong but I lost my balance and had tipped over.
I tried to follow Cliff’s instructions on how to get back onto the ski but I couldn’t do it. I had to swim to shore with the boat and re-board it. At that point I just wanted to get back to the dock, get my vbars, and drive away with my tail between my legs. And that was pretty much exactly what I did.
A couple months later I was back in Doug Bushnell’s part of the country and picked up my brand, new Thunderbolt-X. I drove it home to Virginia and stopped to visit my parents in the Pittsburgh area for a day along the way. I had them pose with the boat and they probably thought I was just a little bit crazy asking them to pose with a crazy looking kayak.
Mom & dad with the Thunderbolt-X kayak on my way home with it
I was not able to get the boat in the water as soon as I got it home, but a day or two later my family was able to join me after work to watch me paddle it for the first time. My wife was kind enough to record some video from the dock and I had a camera on the boat so I’m now able to show you that first paddle in the Thunderbolt-X.
I was very respectful of the tippy craft at first, but as you can see, it did not take me long to start getting comfortable in the boat.