I finally got a chance to test the Row on Air: Row Vista system and here are my first impressions and review. If I had to sum it down to one word, that word would be WOW.
Row Vista was designed and built in Austria by Row & Sail. It was first released as part of the XCAT multi function sailboat platform. It is a forward facing rowing system that allows you to rotate, articulate and feather the oars just like you do in a traditional rear facing high performance rowing scull. There are other forwards facing rowing systems on the market but they do not feature this blade feathering functionality. With those other designs you have to raise the oar much higher out of the water which results in more energy wasted and a less efficient stroke as well as the likelihood of catching the oar in your forward stroke.
XCAT also has the Row Motion system which is essentially a traditional rear facing rowing platform with sliding seat and foot rests for the purists out there. What makes forward rowing so compelling is that you can see where you are going which is without question a safer way to travel.
Rowing on the XCAT was superb as the platform was incredibly stable, smooth and fast. The wide base of the multi-hulled boat meant anyone could hop aboard and start rowing within seconds. The other advantage of course is that when the wind was blowing the XCAT was a really fun and capable sailboat! Unfortunately not everyone has room to store a sailboat, even one as portable as an XCAT! So Row & Sail had been working on developing a system that would work with rigid and inflatable SUPs and Kayaks.
Last year Row on Air product lines were officially launched and the response has been tremendous. We finally got our hands on one and wanted to share our thoughts on it.
I chose the Row Vista as this was the most innovative and intriguing unit. Row on Air offers 2 iSUPs and 1 inflatable Kayak model but the system ill work with a variety of other brands. We chose the Air Skiff 17' which is what you would call a displacement style SUP. These slice through the water as opposed to skitter on top of it like an all round SUP. They tend to track straighter and are faster in flat water but not as good at catching waves. Since I already have a regular SUP I wanted to compare the difference for myself.
Not including the SUP, the Row Vista system ships in 2 bags, 1 for the oars and gear mechanism and the other contained the base platform which consisted of the skid, seat and foot rests. The first thing i noticed was the package is much bigger than I anticipated, the longest bag being 80 inches. However each bag was much lighter than I expected and the heaviest one couldn't have weighed more than 30 lbs and the other felt like no more than 15 lbs. While easy to carry I do wish the bags had shoulder straps.
When I opened the bags and saw the stunning matte black finish of the carbon oars and anodized aluminum outrigger I was blown away. This was something out of an Apple store. The only thing better than looking at it was touching it. Each piece just exuded quality and engineering thought fullness.
The iSUP, the heaviest of the components, also came in a high quality bag with backpack shoulder straps and wheels which made it really easy to lug about. I first pumped up the iSUP. Normally I hate pumping things up and always recommend to customers that they get an electric pump, but my battery was drained from being used the past few days so I was forced to use the manual pump ... but much to my surprise it was really easy to inflate and the pressure gauge worked flawlessly. The pump had some sort of mechanism that made it much easier than other SUP pumps I've used.
Next I installed the Outrigger. In typical fashion I did not watch the instruction videos first so I made a couple of mistakes ... but within a couple of minutes i figured them out and resolved the issues. The system is incredibly intuitive and used friendly. Many people have commented how beautifully crafted the XCAT's are and how easily they come together and that same thoughtfulness is carried over to the Row on Air Product lines. They did however make a slight change to previous versions and I was testing the new SD-R mechanism. This system just clicked into place ... next time I will make a video of it because it works so elegantly.
With everything setup and my boater's safety kit (my trusty North Face backpack contains all my safety kit) strapped in, I waded into the lake. It was a windier day than I had hoped for my first session but but this would give me a good view of how the skiff would perform in adverse conditions.
I climbed aboard and immediately was disoriented by the forward facing system. I haven't done much rowing but the little I had done was enough to build some instinctual muscle memory that left me a little bewildered. But within a few minutes I was quickly starting to adapt.
The Air Skiff was little wobbly and it was clear that I probably should have chosen calmer waters or a less windy day for my first test session but I managed more than 2 hours on the water without a single capsize so that was quite reassuring. I started off on my knees straddling the center beam while i built my balance and comfort with the system. Within half an hour I had gotten onto the seat and into the foot rests. But I ended up changing positions seating styles many times to adapt to the challenging conditions. At one point i let my feet drag through the refreshing waters as i casually rowed up and down the bay.
By the end of an hour I was doing very well at feathering the oars and steering but I still had trouble with the overlapping handles. If you see rowers close up, one hand is above the other. As a novice I would have preferred non overlapping handles but I am sure there is a benefit to this design and would have to get used to it. An hour later I was much more comfortable with the overlap.
Once I got the hang of it I was really impressed with the power of each stroke and the speed I could generate. There were some SUPers in the water and I felt noticeably faster than them. I also liked that the system was not noisy. There was no loud creaking or gear sounds or any other extraneous noises of significance to detract from the sound of water gliding over the hull. During the calmer moments I also reveled in the sound of the sculls as they skimmed the surface using the patented feathering action. This was a really fun system.
I also felt that amazing workout burn that you get from a rowing machine with the added benefit of engaging your core through the act of balancing the SUP. I couldn't help but smile knowing that I was getting a great workout while having so much fun.
As the sun drifted lower in the sky and the shimmering sparkles across the water increased I started to analyze and wonder who is this product for? After all it's not exactly "cheap" in price. Clearly this was a high end toy for people who like high end gear and started to equate it with people who buy nice carbon fiber road bikes. I wish it was less expensive but the simple reality was anything that's hand made by artisans in Austria will always be more expensive than something made en masse in a sweat shop factory in China. Sometimes I wonder if the price for cheap is worth the cost to our humanity ... but that's another story.
I also wondered if I had to choose between rowing, SUP and Kayaking what would it be? Now that was a conundrum.
I once worked with a senior finance guy who would wake up at 4:00 AM to make sure he was on the water for 5 rowing to the rising sun. Rowers are a breed that seem obsessed with this amazing sport, but then again, aren't SUPers and Kayakers and Canoers? In the end I thought this would be perfect for people like me who had one of each ;) that way I could pick and choose. Also, each sport works out the body differently so by rotating it would be a good way to train the body. Also, this system overlaps with an iSUP or Kyaka so you could easily do more than one sport. If you are a die hard SUPer than stick with SUPing ... but if you want to throw something else into the mix and keep your water time from getting stale then why not mix it up?
In the end I decided each sport had it's primary user group. Clearly this would appeal to rowers but could serve as a secondary activity to paddlers. Or if you have a partner one could sup while the other paddles or rows, etc. But would this system appeal to high performance rowers?
Rowers in the past would have to join a rowing club and be limited to where and when they could row. Being a part of a club can be fun but it adds an expense. Sometimes you don't want the added expanse and other obligations and issues that comes with a club and you want the freedom to row whenever and wherever ... so yes i thought, this would definitely appeal to high end rowers. It certainly had the same features and performance of a high end rowing system. So what about traditional versus forward facing?
I definitely want to get a rear facing system just because I like having lots of choices for water activities and toys for friends to get out on the water with me. The rear facing is without a doubt the best for training if you are competing. But for novice or recreational users I cant help but think that the added safety and visibility of forward facing is the way to go. In the end I couldn't decide between the two and I leave that choice up to you.
But what I will say is if you are looking for a fun new activity to add to your water sports toolbox then look no further. This thing is incredible. I want to show it off as much as possible because i think it is such an amazing piece of tech. My hats off to the engineers and designers at Row on Air, they truly built something special that is as beautiful as it is functional.
Reach out to us if you want to start the conversation rolling on trying one out or getting one for yourself. We cant wait to show this off.
Thanks for reading everyone everyone and remember to be safe on the water and:
#seastheday #stepintoliquid #live #thelifeaquatic
with your trusted source for gear and info #MysticPointWaterSports
A couple more add-on points I wanted to make:
The Row Vista tracks incredibly straight. I don't know if it was a result of the Air Skiff or the RowVista itself (I'd imagine a bit of both) but wow this thing tracks straight. Where you look is where you go and even with one hand you can row straight as I was doing in the video above while holding the camera in the other.
The system comes in either a Flat "F" Outrigger which is ideal for SUPs and "Y" outrigger which is designed to go around the sidewalls of a kayak. The Y will work with a SUP but the F is cleaner and more out of the way of knees and legs and is therefore more comfortable and roomy.
The F-Outrigger has a further choice of UniHook or UniStrap, the Y Outrigger only comes in UniStrap. The UniHook is meant to work with the Row on Air branded SUP, Kayak and Skiffs which have been specially made to include cutouts for the feet and hooks for the UniHook fasteners. The UniStrap is meant to be used with a strap that goes around a SUP that does not have the hooks for securing. I used both to be extra sure I didn't lose my investment. I didn't try the UniHook alone but I'm confident the engineers did their job well and that the system will hold.
If you buy a unit I suggest getting the Unihook with 2 straps so you have the choice of both just like I did and therefore have the greatest flexibility for future use.
You can also add a couple of velcro straps to secure your feet into the foot rests but it's not necessary and I probably wouldn't recommend it until you are a more seasoned rower after a few sessions.
The SUP and Skiff can be wobbly but if you keep your weight low and are familiar with balance on a SUP you shouldn't have any problems. While I was out a SUPer fell of his SUP in the choppy conditions and others were paddling on their knees but I had no issues and didn't fall of once during the session.
And finally As always I say wear a life jacket, bring water and sunscreen and take every safety precaution you can while on the water. iSUPs are super safe and can be run over by a truck without damage but whenever I am on the water I take safety very seriously.
I hope I've answered any questions you may have with this blog post but if not feel free to reach out. ANd sory for any spelling mistakes or gramtical errors -- i hate proof reading. Thanks again for reading. Aloha fellow water lovers and water sport enthusiasts.