OEX Review on the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 130X
by Kerry Peeler
It has been a long wait for the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 130X to make it through our doors. The wait is over and we get to take the newest Tarpon model out for some testing here in Southern California. At first glance you can see that Wilderness has incorporated features from several current models to come up with this design. The most obvious is the color. Our test model is in the new Sonar color, very nice.
The Tarpon 130X will also be available in Desert Camo, Dusk, Flint, Mango, and Midnight. The hull is true to Tarpon form with a slight increase, 2 inches, in width to make it a little more stable for a wider range of paddlers. This is a new width for the Tarpon line as well as the length, 13 feet, a good combination to handle maneurverability, speed, storage , and stability . The 130X is coming in at 72 pounds which seems to be more the norm for the 12 to 14 foot range paddling kayaks now a days.
On the top deck of the 130X, Wilderness is utilizing a bungee style paddle park just before the large oval Orbix hatch that will hold the oval hatch bin. A nice feature to keep small needed items handy inside the kayak. Underneath the bin you will have ample inside the hull storage similar to previous Tarpon models. Towards the seat here again utilizing the Orbix hatch but in an 8" size. Both hatches on our test model worked well and sealed fairly well. Bookending the center hatch are the open storage wells from the original Tarpon with the mesh covers. The 130X has been fitted with a Flex Pod opening to accomodate the Flex Pod for your fishfinder set up or for the new Helix Motor Drive unit. The Flex Pod opening on the 2016 models is a slightly different size than previous years so the Helix Motor Drive unit will not interchange between model years. Just behind the Flex Pod location there is an additional mounting location for your transducer if you choose to run the optional Helix Motor Drive unit. This is a nice feature for those who want to run the Helix and a fishfinder at the same time. Fishfinder will need to be mounted on the Slide Trax or a close by location. All of these features are within quick access from the new to the Tarpon series, AirPro LITE seat. The AirPro LITE seat is similar to the AirPro MAX with a different mounting for this hull design. The mounting is on a sliding track system to afford you the ability to trim the kayak forward and aft, very nice feature especially in rough conditions or when carrying extra gear. The AirPro LITE seat will also come with a height adjustment, about 1", for a low and high position.
This hull received the same adjustable foot pegs/tracks as the other Tarpon models. It is also rudder ready, extremely useful when using the Helix Motor Drive Unit to keep you hands free while on the move. Just behind the seat is a large tankwell with the same heavy duty gear attachment points as the Threshers including Slide Trax on either side. This gives you plenty of rigging options for rod holders, light poles, camera poles, and even a flag pole. The Tarpon 130X will come with handles like those on the Threshers bow and stern. These handles are solid and get the job done. At the time of testing, there were no side handles mounted but it will receive ones similar to the original Tarpon line. Overall this is a good looking kayak and on paper should fill a nice spot in the Wilderness line up of kayaks.
Now it's time to get it out on the water to see how the Tarpon 130X performs. What did Wilderness come up with to add to the Tarpon line up. Pushing off from shore for the first time on this newest Tarpon inspired kayak was definitely exciting. Right away I could feel that this kayak was more stable than any of the other Tarpon models with its slightly wider hull. This did not take away from the overall feel of the Tarpon that I am familiar with after paddling one for 11 years. A little more primary stability and the secondary stability felt about the same as previous models to me. Paddling this kayak was easy. The Tarpon 130X has good tracking with a decent glide. Speed is a little down from the slimmer Tarpons but not by much. On our test model we do have a rudder installed which made tracking very good. The Adjustable AirPro LITE Seat and adjustable foot pegs made this cockpit very user friendly. You can "trim" the kayak depending on weight and conditions very easily. The AirPro LITE Seat is very comfortable and roomy. I was able to sit normal and even sat up on my knees in the seat and it still worked well. Access to the rear tankwell from the seated position was easy and felt pretty stable when moving forward from the seat to the front hatch. Did not need to side straddle to get to either area and felt pretty comfortable with moving around the cockpit. I did side straddle from the seat and the cockpit floor, kayak was stable in both of these postions. With the wider design I did take that step, and stood up. Kayak was stable to me but the cockpit floor doesn't give you much room for your feet. I stood with my feet in between the center Orbix hatch and the side mesh covered pockects. I'm 5'10" 180lbs and wear size 10.5 shoes and it was a tight fit. Everyone is differnet but I would say that the feel of this kayak would put it in the conversation as an option for a stand up and fish/paddle kayak. I did catch some fish while standing and the whole process from cast to landing was smooth.
The test model also came with the new Wilderness Systems Helix MD Motor Drive unit from Torqeedo that will mount in the Flex Pod scupper. The Helix MD weighs 15 pounds and comes with a separate speed control unit that can be mounted anywhere within reach of the seat, preferablly on the Slide Trax. We tested the motor for a few things; efficiency, longevity, and speed. We were able to get the test model to do a sustained 5.1mph in slightly windy conditions for about 1 hour until the battery was drained. We were also able to fish with the motor unit used intermittently for short sprints and a constant sustained low power/speed for just over 2 hours and only used 15% of the battery. This system does seem like it will be able to have enough juice to last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on the conditions, paddler size, and your ability to lay off the throttle! This will be a great tool for hands free fishing when combined with the rudder system. The Helix MD is 28 inches long and will require you to have at least 18-20 inches of water depth to deploy. When you need to come in at the end of the day there is a lever that will center the prop to allow for you to pull the Helix Motor Drive unit up and out of the way. There will be an aftermarket solar panel available with the appropriate plug in to help charge the battery when you are away from a power source. We have been told that the solar option is not designed to be a quick charging system. Just to make you aware we have been told that the Flex Pod opening on the 2016 model is a slightly different size than previous years so the Helix Motor Drive unit will not interchange between model years on the A.T.A.K. and Thresher series kayaks.
The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 130X did eveything the literature claimed it would and a little more. The 130X retains the Tarpon name but has taken on a few more characteristics that put it into a slightly different class of kayak. Added stability affording some the ability to stand while providing a option to add the Helix MD Motor Drive unit to give you hours of hands free fishing. The Tarpon 130X looks and feels like a great kayak and is sure to be an excellent addition to your quiver or a good choice for your first kayak.