Norse Kayaks began boat development back in 2013, and was formed from a long heritage born out of the well established Norwegian sea kayaking scene. With a design brief to provide well made, high quality kayaks to meet the high demands off the west coast of Norway. These boats are now available in the UK, and the Bylgja (pronounced bill-gee-ya) and Idun models in particular translate very well for British waters.
Both these boats are a near identical shape, with identical features, and could be considered High and Low volume versions to suit different paddler weights. At first glance the boats have a moderate rocker and hard chines, reminiscent of such classic boats as the Polar Buccaneer or Sea King (although not quite as extreme). They also have all the features expected on a modern sea kayak, but will look into these at greater depth further into the review.
Looking over the boats, they have 2x oval fore and aft hatch covers on sealed bulkheads and 2x smaller round day hatches. The hatch cover in front of the cockpit having a flexible bag on the underside that can accommodate various amounts of kit. The skeg-slider is nicely positioned to the front/right-hand side of the cockpit for quickly deploying or retracting the 10” skeg when needed. Front and rear decklines compliment the deck elastics for additional storage and lashing points. As expected there is also a compass recess to accommodate a Silva 70P compass if required.
Inside the seating area is a non-padded bucket seat that has some adjustability forward and backwards for fine tuning and trimming the boat for the size of paddler and amount of kit carried. The thigh-braces are fixed (non-adjustable), and the pedal footrests give plenty of adjustability for various leg lengths along the internal slide rails. The backrest was very easy to adjust on a simple cam strap system, with very little to go wrong. The styling on the boat is well considered with subtle graphics, and either Red/White or Black/White colour options. The other noticeable aesthetic is the printed seam tape featuring traditional Norse petroglyphs- a really nice touch. Spraydeck size, we’ve used both Bigdeck/R5 and Keyhole/R4 on both models and they will accept either size. It all depends upon how tight you like your spraydeck to be, as to which one would suit the individual best.
For the purposes of reviewing these kayaks we took them out on a variety of water types and in varying weather conditions. In-between named storms Ciara and Dennis we managed a few trips, but missed out on the intended Anglesey Stacks testing grounds (a trip for better conditions). The days we did manage included some flat water training sessions on the Rivers Dee and Weaver, the Menai Straits on a flood tide and an evening trip out to the Hilbre Island sandbanks at the mouth of the Dee Estuary. I’m 6ft 2” with size 11 feet, and fitted into the Bylgja well with plenty of room to spare and Evie at 5ft 6” and 75kg found the Idun to be a nice fit.
As expected with a V-shaped hull and the hard chines on an empty sea kayak, these boats have a lower primary stability but a huge secondary stability as soon as they are put on edge. When the boat is not moving it prefers to sit off the horizontal, and takes some core strength to keep it flat. Once the boat is moving, the boat paddles much better and it takes much less effort to stop it resting on a chine. The top-end cruising speed of the boats is good, and they respond well to outside edging when turning or making minor adjustments to the direction. Not in the same class as dedicated racing sea kayaks, these boats won’t be breaking any records, but for day trips and long crossings they are fast and we’ve entered a couple of local sea kayak races this summer to see just how fast they are. Although the primary stability on the hull isn’t a reassuring as a softer, rounded hulled sea kayaks (such as the Seabird Scott) we wouldn’t say this is an unstable racing/sea kayak. Even drifting along in the flow using my DSLR with a heavy lens to take images for this review didn’t concern me.
The moderate rocker and hard chines really come into their own on moving water and rougher conditions, allowing the boat to make precise, tighter turns and carve across eddylines and swell. They also assist with tracking capabilities and enable the boat to perform well when running downwind with a following sea. Ferrygliding between the Menai Bridge arches and surfing the fishtrap waves off Ynys Gorad Goch allowed us to assess the Idun and Bylgja in moving water. Predictable, fast, and the aramid reinforced chines combined with the stiffness of the vacuum-bagged honeycomb composite layup put these amongst the best performing sea kayaks we’ve paddled (and we have paddled lots!), and well suited for playing in tide races. In stronger winds and paddling out through surf the boats proved to be very well balanced and resurface well when punching larger waves.
What we didn’t have the chance to test yet was to load the boats up with multi-day kit and paddle them loaded. With some trips planned down to St. Davids and up to the Summer Isles later this year I’m sure they will be put through their paces. My prediction is with more weight onboard it will provide a greater primary stability as the boats will sit a little lower and further engage those chines.
The Cornwall Canoes boys also took both models out on the South Cornwall coast in a decent winter swell to put them through their paces on a 10mile+ trip. In the politest way possible, they pushed the upper limits of the paddler capacity of these kayaks yet found both models still performed admirably in some pretty big conditions, testing them out off Gribben Head in everything from powerful breaking swell around outcrops to general bumpy open sea conditions and calmer flat waters in the Fowey estuary. Versatility was a termed used frequently, with both models being a joy to paddle in the rough and on the smooth. They were very reluctant to hand the boats over to us for further review!
Andrew found the Bylgja easy to roll and held on edge well whilst sculling.
As with all boats there are downsides, things we don’t like, and possibly minor adjustments we would make to improve them. Firstly, having non-adjustable thighbraces built into the cockpit rim means the boats may not fit every sized paddler. My first impression in jumping into a Bylgja was that I wasn’t 100% enamoured with the thigh-brace fit. However as soon as I was on the water it did feel comfortable, and even after a couple of hours of non-stop paddling I had no complaints. Outfitting wise, we like the quality of the parts and design layout, but the bungee cord preventing the toggles from rattling was on the thin side, and was already beginning to show signs of stretching. If it were my boat I would replace this with a heavier duty 4mm or 5mm piece of bungee. At 90kg I found plenty of room in the Bylgja cockpit, and with a preference for a snugger fit I would definitely be fitting a set of hip pads especially in bigger conditions and on moving water. This would help with edging control and also when rolling. The other quick modification I’d do would be to drill a small diameter hole in the skeg, and add a small loop of thin cord. This would make releasing the skeg simple should it ever jam with sand or grit within the skegbox.
With little composite building experience, I was impressed by the overall build quality, but for this part of the review it would be better to let our master boat builder Colin to have a say. As with over 30 years of building composite boats he is far more qualified to comment on the Norse Kayaks construction: “At first glance these Norse Kayaks look stunning, the two-colour combination scheme is well balanced and where the two colours meet, they are sharp and even. The cockpit rim colour co-ordinates with the bow and stern colours and is set into the deck flush, with no sharp edges, the thigh braces are at a fixed position and again have no sharp edges so there would be no need to glue any padding to them. Looking inside the cockpit and you will see the laminate on both the deck and hull has a honeycomb pattern with the inside seam tape bringing the two halves together without you being able to feel the join. It has a really smooth look and feel inside with no sign of chop strand mat or flow coat. The honeycomb composite is vacuum-bagged when impregnated with resin and this provides a very uniform and even finish. The result is incredible strength for it's thickness and overall weight."
"Inside the hatches and you will see the same finish, although the honeycomb mat finishes about a foot from the ends. This does allow you see the aramid strengthening ribs which extend further. The hard chines, one of the boats strong features are also listed as being aramid reinforced, which leads to extra strength and stiffness along these lines. The outside seam appears to be a cloth tape which is slightly recessed, different to most composite kayaks which have an outside seam constructed of tape and gel coat. With it being recessed I would suggest it would be less prone to damage."
In summary, the kayak is finished very well with deck lines and recessed deck fittings. And utilising vacuum moulding techniques, Norse have ensured that the finish is flawless and the materials have an even distribution across the kayak adding to the superb construction quality. Having owned many composite boats from both British and Continental manufacturers I would suggest that the overall build quality of Norse kayaks is as good as any, and much better than some.
And finally what’s in a name? Norse have named all of their designs after characters from traditional Scandinavian legends. The Idun is named after the goddess of youth, well chosen as the boat is suited for smaller paddlers including juniors. The Bylgja was the Norse goddess of waves, particularly apt as the boat excels in our coastal waters.
Overall, we are 100% impressed with these sea kayaks and excited to paddle them some more. At an extremely competitive price point, they are due to be hugely popular across the UK and set to take the British sea kayaking community by storm.
Reviewed by Jim, Evie and Colin for:
The Canoe Shops (Group) Ltd.