Nelo 520XL Hood River

520 Surfski Review

Maggie Hogan

United States Olympian, business owner, dog mom.

During the month of March, 2020, Nelo USA West Coast is offering a 10% discount on our inventory 520 boats!

Disclaimer: Nelo's rate of innovation is hard to keep up with. The company prides itself on continuous improvement, so by the time you read this there may be changes to the 520 models...this article was written in February, 2020. 

Over the last few years Michele and I have used both the 520S and 520XL, extensively. Here are a few things we really enjoy about the model - but don't take my word for it! Contact us to try one for yourself.

The 520 surfski model is designed for intermediate to expert level paddlers who want added stability (see our chart below). The model comes in three sizes; the 520S, 520 (standard size) and the 520XL. There are lots of commonalities in the three sizes which we really enjoy. Firstly, the 520's all have a true 5.2 meter waterline. That means the entire boat, from tip to tail, touches water as opposed to boats with excessive rocker. What this translates to is great boat acceleration from the first stroke and eliminates the feeling of being blown around by a cross wind.

Secondly, we enjoy how it handles a variety of conditions. Even though the boat has less rocker than many of it's competitors in the same class, the 5.2 meter boat gives up nothing in big downwind conditions. Because it's so short, Nelo eliminated the need for lots of rocker, creating a boat that surfs really well and is very maneuverable. Less rocker also means it preforms surprising well in the flats. Paddlers can feel the boat accelerate from the first stroke. The 520 is very comfortable in variable ocean conditions including side chop. It’s my boat of choice while teaching downwind; I’ve done a U-turn in Hood River’s Swell City, on a big day, with no problem.

For a stable ski, the 520 is remarkably slick looking, not carrying too much bulk in it's sleek design. This translates to a very maneuverable, responsive craft in both the flats and the bumps.    

 The biggest differences between the 520 models are volume and bucket size. The S caters to paddlers with a smaller inseam who weigh less than 156 lbs. The specific brilliance of the 520S is that it is an expert’s surfski for smaller people. For example, at 130 lbs (on a good day 😊) I would never race a K1 XXL, made for a man at 200 lbs. Often women are forced to paddle men’s boats or even worse, boats designed for a child - without performance in mind. The 520S is an excellent choice for smaller paddlers who want a performance downwind boat with great stability. 

The 520XL is our best selling boat, period. It has a lower seat bucket compared to the standard size which makes it more stable than the standard size. With it's added volume, the 520XL gives you "pop" in the biggest downwinds. It is versatile for any paddler as long as you can reach the foot brace (see quick stats below). For example, if a couple wanted to share a boat, the 520XL would be a great choice!


Stability: 8/10
Length: 5.2 meters or 17 ft, 0.7 in 
Boat Weight: 
      Carbon/Kelvar: 12.5 kg max (27.5 lbs) 
      Full Carbon: 11 kg max (24.2 lbs) 

Seat to footrest 520S: 30 in – 39 in 
Athlete Weight Recommendation 520S: under 155 lbs 

Seat to footrest 520XL: 35 in – 41 in  
Athlete Weight Recommendation 520XL: over 155 lbs  

Recommended for expert paddlers who want to enjoy surf without worrying about balance. This boat allows paddlers of all abilities to enjoy variable ocean conditions from day one.  

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