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Oh, the Romany!

The Romany Family of NDK/SKUK Boats:

26 Years of Solid Performance.


“The year was 1993... and one of the most enduring kayaks ever made paddled onto the sea. The Romany was produced by Nigel Dennis Kayaks - now Sea Kayaking UK - in Anglesey, Wales. It was designed to be easy to handle in rough conditions, neutral in wind, fun in the surf, have enough speed and gear storage for several days, and be strong enough to withstand a good whack on the rocks. The Romany introduced keyhole cockpits, day hatches, and skegs to North American seas.” (Neil Schulman, Adventure Kayak Magazine)


And so it started… the Romany is iconic. It continues to be the choice of kayak instructors worldwide, as well as discerning paddlers across the US. It also makes up about 20% of my total sales here at Capital City Kayak. To put a number on that percentage: 4 or 5 sales sales a year.


Before I dive into the description of this family of boats, let me talk about the name of the boat, which is pronounced ROW-MAN-EE; as though one stuck a long e on the end of Roman. It is the name of Nigel’s daughter, who was named for the Roma, sometimes called Gypsies, the bands of families travelling eternally. When someone says RAW-MAN-EE, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.


You’ll see some things mentioned in my articles like “volume,” “paddler weight,” and “rocker.” Please read up on the elements of design. You’ll do yourself a huge favor with a little research. I will not be including standard stats in my article. Those things are easily acquired on the Sea Kayaking UK (SKUK) website, or elsewhere. Instead, I will cover my experience with the boats and give an unbiased opinion. Well, as unbiased as an NDK dealer/fanboi could give!


The Romany Classic


Let’s start with that banner boat the Romany, now known as the Romany Classic. This boat has changed little since its introduction in 1993. Maybe one or two small design tweaks, but mostly just the same. The Classic is the boat I pull from my quiver when I want to look like a rock star. It is the boat I use for Instructor Certification Exams, and teaching. It is so predictable, and well-known to me, that it feels like an old friend.


Pros: The boat’s performance is fairly neutral, it tends to weather cock less than many boats, and it doesn’t squat down in waves. It surfs well, paddles straight, and edges solidly. It is an all-around do-gooder.


Cons: I find the low knee position burdensome on my lower back. With a bit of lower back pain comes some hip pain. It does not behave as well when overloaded. Paddlers over 185 pounds are not going to enjoy premium performance from this boat. Because it can carry a max load around 300 pounds it won’t sink, but it won’t be as stable, turn as nicely, or generally be the rock star it would be with a 150 to 180-pound paddler. It is also slower than many boats. Although it is listed as capable of multi-day trips, it would not be the boat I would load to head out on an expedition.


Paddlers who use this boat often include Dawn “Sandy Bottom” Stewart, Paula Hubbard, and yours truly.


Dawn Stewart, and two Classics at Southport NC. Photo: R Kruger


The Romany LV


Next up is the Romany LV, Low Volume. “It has been a very long time, years, since I ordered one,” says the US importer Dale Williams. This boat no longer has an advocate at NDK. It was originally envisioned as a smaller person’s main ride, but the truth of the matter is a smaller, lighter paddler needs a narrower boat, not just a lower deck. I have paddled one in the past. It was outfitted with no seat at all, but a foam seat is what Nigel recommends.


Pros: it has a one-inch lowered deck, and a smaller coaming than the Classic. It rolls like a Greenlander’s dream.


Cons: the lowered deck created the “banana squish” problem, making the boat’s handling sluggish, removing one of the things that makes the Classic shine. Its deck is so low it is hard to paddle comfortably for most people. And it is as wide and long as a Classic. Just not a good combination.


Who paddles this boat? I saw a post on Facebook that had a photo of someone in one, but to date I’ve not met anyone who paddles one.


Stock photo: SKUK website


The Romany Surf


Next, near and dear to my heart, the Romany Surf. This is the first NDK I purchased. I was on the lower end of its weight range (180 to 230 pounds) but it made me comfortable. Its knee bumps were easy on my lower back, and the boat is stable as a gentle trail horse. Its higher max load, around 375 pounds, meant I could use it for almost everything. I paddled Surfs exclusively for 3.5 years. I learned to surf and roll in a Surf. I expeditioned out of a Surf, using it for many trips that were five or six days long. We have a demo carbon?Kevlar Surf here in the shop now. Wow, had I missed this boat.


Pros: it is Nigel’s most neutral boat, neither weather nor lee cocking much at all. It needs a skeg less than all the other boats in his line. It is stable, edges predictably, and swallows gear for a lighter paddler like me. The knee bumps mean more comfort. It is both day trip and expedition worthy. It pearls less than any other boat I surf, due to its increased volume.


Cons: the cockpit opening is wider than I prefer. I’ve been sucked out of this boat by waves more than any other boat I’ve ever owned. (Part of this is probably my size) The boat is a half-inch wider than the Classic and so I find that some technical maneuvers are beyond my reach. (Again, my size may be to blame) It isn’t the fastest boat around.


It is the best all-around boat a medium- to large-size paddler could ask for. Rock solid performance. This boat allowed me to get where I am today, so fast. I’d put every paddler that weighs 180-230 pounds in this boat, hands down. Paddlers you may know who often use this boat are James Kesterson, Robert SanLuis, and Nigel Dennis himself. What better endorsement than that?


Romany Surf next to a Classic. Photo: R Kruger


The Romany Excel


The Romany Excel is the big brother of the Surf. It too has knee bumps, a wider cockpit opening, and roomy fit. It’s rated for the 220 pound plus paddler. It is the definition of “high volume.” It makes easy work of 400 pounds of paddler and gear, plus some.


Pros: Great do-everything boat for the larger paddler. It has the most foot room of any boat in the NDK/SKUK line. Most six-footers will be able to get their feet in this boat. It works like a champ for surfing, day trips, or light expeditions. Stable, solid performance, in the spirit of the Romany design.


Cons: It is a big boat and can be a handful. It’s heavy, and I’ve been told it may weather cock some when carrying a lighter load. Therefore, careful attention should be paid to its skeg, making sure it is clean and unkinked.


All in all, this boat is often the best option for paddlers who weigh more than 220 lbs, have size 12 or larger feet, or are taller than six feet, and not dainty. I have sold more Excels than I would have guessed. It clearly fills a niche, and fills it well.


Red and black Excel against an NDK backdrop. Photo: R Kruger


Romany Excel Expedition


The last boat in the Romany family, and the only one I haven’t personally paddled, is the Romany Excel Expedition. One might consider it the limo version of the Excel. To date I have never had one in my shop, not seen one in the others NDK retailers I frequent. So that brings me to Jeff Atkins. In 2017 he started saying that he was working on Nigel Dennis, trying to get him to make an Expedition-version of the Excel. And Jeff can use it! He has plenty of reasons to need an even larger version of the Excel. He also needed an Expedition lay-up, which is thicker and heavier than the standard layup. Well, 2018 rolls around and there it is, the big Papa boat, bigger even than the Explorer HV.


I’d like to give you pros and cons, but as you can infer from my story, I don’t have direct experience with it. I’d call upon Jeff but he’s...you guessed it...on expedition. I believe, however, that we can infer that the boat is a solid performer that fills a small (or is that LARGE?) niche.


Jeff Atkins in his custom Romany Excel Expedition. Photo: T. Bishop


~Randi Kruger

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