This is actually the second crack we’ve had at putting Perception Kayaks Europe 5-0 through its paces – the first time we took it for a spin was back in 2013 (see first review here – Back then, however, we were only equipped with the basic hull and paddle. This time round we properly tricked out the 5-0 with performance Perception G-10 surf fin, thigh straps – for even greater responsiveness, control and manoeuvrability – and Adventure Technology’s Hercules surf paddle.

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First look

Upon inspection the Perception 5-0 does buck the sit on kayak trend somewhat. It’s a very surf inspired shape with a ton of nose rocker, a pulled in front section and very flat bottom displaying only minimal chines cut into the underside. Most sit on tops have very defined grooves carved into the plastic – to help with tracking and stability mainly – whereas the 5-0 doesn’t sport these.

The adjustable foot plate is another slightly different feature. Most other boats offer moulded sections to rest tootsies, or the odd few boast side sliders. A little bit of faffing to nail down the correct settings is needed but it’s certainly up to the job and robust to boot. The incremental adjustment system means ‘best fit’ can always be found, no matter how long limbed the paddler.

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Another unusual feature – for sit ons at least – is the absence of seat fixture points. The idea with the 5-0 is that you’re going to be proactively paddling and constantly on the move. Therefore a seat isn’t necessary. For those looking to cover a bit of distance, and stow belongings aboard, you’ll be a little disappointed as storage is minimal. But, after all, this is a wave specific sled and designed as such.

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Flip the hull over and the Perception surf fin looks the business – more surfboard esque skeg. Paddlers will need to be a little careful with the protruding fin. Chucking the 5-0 about on hard surfaces, with fin still in its box, will end up with broken equipment. While replacing the fin shouldn’t be an issue, you don’t want to be going through them like hot cakes.

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The observant among you will also notice the absence of carry handles. It’s actually recommended to you use the 5-0 with thigh straps – even if just for the sake of carrying. Simply attach the straps, hoik over your shoulder and away to the put in you go. (We’ll actually be covering thigh straps and the uses in a subsequent article).

Fortunately Perception have incorporated fore and aft carry handles than can be used to guide the 5-0 in and out of the surf during launching. These handles also help when transporting as well – especially when wrestling on and off roof bars.

Into the surf

Having tested a few surf orientated kayak shapes of late the Perception 5-0 feel the same but different – if that makes sense? Many surf sit ons are almost stubby in shape and feel rotund, a bit like floating eggs, when sat in the water. This isn’t a negative thing but the 5-0 feels a bit more directional. One trait it does share with its surf riding brethren is the low riding nature. It takes on a bit of water at rest and paddling through the line-up is an extremely damp affair – a wetsuit is therefore a must.

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If you’ve purchased a Perception 5-0, or are considering getting hold of one, then you’ll be thinking: ‘waves’. It’s important to drive this fact home as there are no two ways about it, the 5-0 is a pure surfing thoroughbred.

The ample nose rocker helps when climbing white water and getting out beyond breaking waves. Paddlers will need to be aware the front section’s rails are pulled in and therefore don’t offer quite as much stability as other more stubby orientated hulls. Tripping is therefore likely, especially if you’re caught side on to swell and/or learning the ropes. With the thigh straps attached, however, and a bit of technique, you can heel the 5-0 right onto its edge – skulling the paddle as you do so – and not tip over.

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Paddlers with experience, however, won’t find piloting the 5-0 too much trouble. A number of fundamental paddle skills will need to have been nailed down, if you’re going to get the most out of the 5-0, but by and large it’s an easy enough boat to propel forwards. Much easier than hardcore surfskis – the high performance cousin of the 5-0.

Up and riding

Even though tracking isn’t bad, the 5-0’s speed is pretty limited – that high kick nose not being the most efficient shape to slice through the brine. There is method in the madness, however, and all is revealed once you drop into a wave.

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The 5-0 is efficient at picking up swells and accelerates rapidly down the face once you’ve boosted yourself onto a moving wall – the flat bottom hull helping to reduce drag, improve acceleration and the boat’s nose rocker halting any pearling (nose diving).

As soon as paddlers reach terminal velocity it’s time to bank the boat onto an edge and power off down the line. Engaging the rail is easy and you can feel the fin bite, providing further projection out of the trough. Speed is easily maintained and where other boats tend to meander off the back of waves the 5-0 keeps locked in and just begs you to throw it at a lip.

At this point it’s all about confidence: those with it will have no trouble heading for a breaking section while slightly more anxious paddlers may choose to straighten out and ride the white water. If you belong in the former camp then it’s a great tutor for anyone learning to throw an ‘off the top’ – the 5-0 goes some way helping paddlers learn more advanced surf kayaking moves.

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Re-directs down the line are super efficient and easy to achieve – simply shift your bodyweight and hey presto! Carving up and down liquid walls is a joy and partnered with thigh straps the 5-0 feels incredibly secure and the paddler connected to the boat. We appreciate not everyone wants to feel like they’re attached to their sled and we get the hesitancy to attach thigh straps – after all, if you do capsize (a likelihood in surf) then you’ll need to be confident enough to slip out of the straps without panicking. It’s therefore comforting to know you can ride the 5-0 without using thigh straps. The sensation won’t be as efficient, feedback from the boat won’t be as much and performance won’t be quite as high but you’ll get the feeling and enjoyment of riding waves none the less.

Additional info

Having your whole kit tuned to the job in hand is key to getting maximum fun (and performance if you’re looking for it) out of each kayaking session – whether on the flat or when tackling bumps. As the 5-0 is a wave specific machine we partnered our sled with Adventure Technology’s Hercules straight shaft surf paddle. Cut very short to maximise stroke cadence it copes with sudden bursts of power and is robust enough to take knocks in wave environments. We’ve already mentioned the thigh straps but your paddle needs to be on point as well. If you really want to make the most of your sit on to kayak surfing then it’s best to use a set of blades designed for such activities. Your trusted carbon touring paddle will certainly do the job but something more specific will yield better results and ultimately more fun. Stay tuned for Hercules review coming soon…

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As we mentioned at the start our first pass at the Perception was fun enough but not quite there in terms of out and out wave performance. Tricked out with thigh straps, surf fin and wave specific paddle the 5-0’s personality really shines through. Quick to accelerate as you drop in, drivey out of the bottom turn and manoeuvrable once on a wall it really is half way house between accessible sit on top surf kayak performance and full on waveski rippability.

Price: £499