REVIEW: Bonafide SS127 Kayak
It’s not a secret that the Bonafide SS127 has been on the review wish list for me for almost a year now. Watching videos of people paddling the prototype made me even more curious because all of the ideas and dreams of Luther Cifers and his team were molded into a plastic prototype that received some pretty glowing feedback. I needed to paddle this kayak and quick. The curiosity was killing me.
One of the things I didn’t see a lot of in the videos I watched were people paddling in straight lines over distance so I wanted to make that a priority. I also didn’t want to test it in glassy calm conditions and luckily the weather agreed. We took the SS127 out on Stillhouse Hollow. The skies were partly cloudy, winds from the south at 15 to 20 mph. We fished and paddled the two hours before sunset.
Bobby Clark, Bonafide’s Promotional Team Manager, happened to be heading through my area of Texas last week and asked if I wanted to meet up. I jumped at the chance. This would give me a couple of hours in the kayak, I could paddle it on a big lake, fish from it, and see what was what.
One final note before we get into the nuts and bolts here. The kayak I paddled was a prototype. There will be differences, as with all kayaks, from the prototype version I paddled and the production models out later this fall. Please keep that in mind.
Length: 12’ 7”
Weight: 75 lbs.
Capacity: 475 lbs.
The first thing I noticed on the kayak in person was the self-retracting stern handle. It’s a nice touch, had a wide, solid form, and was designed in a way to not bust your knuckles. I suppose it stuck out to me because it didn’t stick out and was a new twist on something pretty standard in the kayak market.
Once the Bonafide SS127 was on the shore, Bobby walked me through different seat positions (high and low) and how to move the seat between the two. When it comes to seats that have multiple positions, this is by far the most secured seat in a kayak I have seen (short of bolting it down). The locking mechanisms and multi-position channels give you adjustment and security. I didn’t flip the kayak but the design appears to be able to retain the seat should a turtle occur. As a person who fishes in sometimes iffy conditions, I appreciate one less thing to add to the yard sale.
Locking down the seat, whether high or low position is not a problem, but moving from one to the other while on the water with a little chop is going to take some practice. I was able to do it without assistance but the first couple of times took some focus.
The high position on the Bonafide is high. Really high. It is a little strange sitting up that high and still feeling secure. Normally I’d expect a little side to side rock and instability sitting that high but it just wasn’t true. This was one of many times I asked Bobby if I was interpreting the kayaks design correctly. It shouldn’t be that stable, at that height, in that kind of chop, but it was. Beyond being able to see better from the high position, the angle of my knees was such that I didn’t get the normal foot fatigue, tingling, asleep sensation that different angled seats of varying heights can cause. It’s a lot more like sitting in a desk chair than a lawn chair if that makes sense.
Stability is absolutely as advertised. The Bonafide SS127 is a kayak I would estimate 75% of the population will be able to stand and fish or stand and paddle. It has secondary stability built into the design which may catch newer paddlers off guard. If you lean to one side with all your weight, it feels like the kayak is going to dip into the water or flip but as you get to the secondary stability it catches and doesn’t progress any further into the water. Can this kayak be flipped? Sure, any kayak can be flipped but this platform is made to keep you dry whether standing or sitting.
This is a dry kayak. I have been in several kayaks advertising 450lb+ weight capacities and at just under 200lbs I can have water gurgling up through the scuppers. That isn’t a worry with the Bonafide. It is as advertised and really dry which could make it a great winter kayak for folks who venture out in the colder months and want as little water as possible on the deck. (In wetter boats you could always go scupper plugs but then you lose the ability to drain water quickly).
The deck layout is fairly open. I like that it comes with an electronics pod and padded decking standard. The paddle park is a nice touch as well. The junk drawer under the seat came in handy during my time out for storing my pliers and terminal tackle. I appreciated that it slid out on a GearTrac and could be secured with the twist of a knob. And while we are on it, the Bonafide SS127 is covered in YakAttack GearTrac. Mounting accessories will not be a problem in this kayak.
Paddling the Bonafide SS127
The Bonafide SS127 paddles differently than almost every kayak on the market. It doesn’t perform how I expected it would based on the design features. I kept having to ask Bobby if it was doing what I thought it was doing.
The kayak was sluggish in the high position while sitting in the seat. I expected it to move faster than it did and I had to expend more effort to move it from Point A to Point B in the wind. On a calm day you might not notice it but paddling against a head wind was work.
With the seat in the low position the SS127 paddles like a completely different kayak. Pushing directly into the wind it is a little sluggish but moved better than expected for a kayak with a stability hull. The nose walked a little side to side but not annoyingly. The most surprising thing in the wind however was the ability to lean and cut. We used to call it carving a wave.
I could lean to one side of the kayak, hit a 45 degree angle and the kayak would carve the wave and utilize its momentum to carry to boat forward with less effort. I started laughing I was having so much fun cross cutting waves and barely having to use the paddle. Is that important to most folks? Not at all. Is it nice to have features designed into a stability hull that perform more like a touring adventure kayak? You bet it is! And it also made it much easier paddling back to the ramp.
Curious because of all the video I had seen from Florida, I wanted to see about calm water situations while we were out so Bobby and I tucked back into a creek so I could paddle it there and also test it in some skinny water. The glide on the Bonafide SS127 is pretty great. If you were used to fishing heavier, wider kayaks, there would be an adjustment for you. When the wind isn’t blowing, the 127 will glide and continue to use momentum for a good while. I past the first spot I was trying to hit because I stopped paddling too late.
The turning radius on the Bonafide is comparable to most other 12 foot kayaks on the market. I would rather have the performance in the hull that is designed in than a flat bottom kayak that spins in the wind. It took three paddle strokes to turn the kayak 180 degrees. At 60 degrees per stroke, that’s pretty comparable to most performance, high end kayaks, made with stability in mind.
Points of Improvement
Side handles are a must. The Bonafide SS127 as a prototype does not have side carry/load handles. It needs them. They don’t have to be fancy but with the surface area and weight of this kayak, car topping anglers will want an extra handle or two, especially midship.
Rod holders aren’t a thing on this kayak. The rod stagers up front will guide the rods horizontally along the front of the kayak but they aren’t going to work for folks who want to troll or utilize flush mount rod holders to hold a net, gaff , or other device like a YakAttack Dog Bone. There is GearTrac so if you wanted to add rocket launchers or Zookas you could but they won’t be on the kayak when you buy it. My guess is most folks are using a milk crate or BlackPak solution now so rod holders weren’t a necessary design element. I wish it had two flush mounts behind the seat but I’m old school in that thinking.
The seat is good in many ways but the bar that is at the back of the seat pan (where your tailbone sits) is in a weird place. It needs to bow out more or be moved a couple of inches. It hits right on a nerve that can be uncomfortable.
The “Perch Pads” I don’t get. I have never seen anyone fish like that, standing on the gunwales. It’s a cool look but I felt much more comfortable a couple of inches lower in the deck of the kayak standing up. Maybe those areas could be turned into box storage for a 3700 series box? I get the cool factor, I just can’t wrap my mind around the usability of the space for most consumers. I would think standing in the seat in the low position would offer a better vantage point and more stability.
Drainage on the kayak is pretty good but I think another pair of scuppers in the cockpit area could be helpful. Maybe move the mid-deck scuppers forward and add a set under the seat. The center channel for the junk drawer tends to gather water from paddle drips and fish and it stays there.
I was worried the excitement over the Bonafide SS127 would stain my impressions of the kayak before paddling it but after a couple of hours in the seat, a few fish on the deck, and some real world paddling conditions, I’m impressed. Are there things I’d like to see worked out for production? Sure. If none of things were adjusted however, I’d still buy this kayak at $1600.