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Sterling Grand Illusion

Updated: Jan 27

4 stars

Sterling Grand Illusion Kayak


I got a chance to try out the Sterling Grand Illusion at the Lumpy Waters Symposium in Oregon in 2019. Although it is a very capable boat that responds quickly to edging and holds a straight track for long touring paddles, it's a kayak that is best suited for very large paddlers. Even for an individual like me who is 6 feet tall and weighs 180 pounds, I felt like I was paddling a bathtub, and my strokes felt forceful and exaggerated to make the kayak do what I asked it to. A larger paddler, perhaps someone who is 6.5 feet or taller and weighs 200 pounds or more, would be well suited for this kayak.


The Grand Illusion has a lot of gear space for extended journeys. The front hatch is 10 inches wide and allows most drybags and gear to pass through with ease. The rear oval hatch is well suited to fit long objects such as tent poles. The day hatch behind the seat is 8 inches and suited for smaller items. The day hatch does share some space with the skegg box which can get in the way of things. One of the things I wish this kayak had is a front day catch in front of the cockpit to easily access items such as your phone, sunscreen a few snacks and other things you might want to grab on the go.


This is definitely not the fastest kayak in the market. With a 23.5 inch beam, it's very wide for a touring kayak, and you'll find that it takes a bit of effort to accelerate and maintain your speed above 4 miles per hour for an extended length of time. The kayak has a tendency to wabble in the forward stroke, and will weather cock on a crosswind, but the skegg will correct for almost all of that, except on very strong winds.


The Grand Illusion has considerable rocker both on the bow and the stern which make it very responsive to edging and bracing. If you are stationary waiting on a surf wave with the kayak broad side to shore, a lean and 3 strong paddles strokes should be all you need to get into position to catch the wave. The large amount of rocker also means that you can surf this boat backwards with ease.

The YouTube Videos below from Headwaters Kayak Express shows someone surfing a grand illusion on a set of river rapids and the kayak turning.


The kayak comes with a comfortable seat that can be molded and shaped to the paddler's preference. The thigh braces can also be fitted with extra padding for comfort, though I did not find that to be necessary.


If you are starting to learn how to roll, this boat may be a little difficult, due to the wide beam, which means there is more boat to roll. However, the rounded hull also means that the roll will be done in one continuous motion, without the extra effort to get the roll past the boat chines. I did not have any issues with rolling this boat on either side, and neither rolling into on coming waves or with the waves felt burdensome. Once you have your rolling technique learned, this will be an easy boat to roll.

The YouTube videos below from Barbara Barret and Jim Snider show how to roll a Grand Illusion


In addition to the previously mentioned that this boat is best suited for very large paddlers. I would have to note two issues that I have found with this boat.

  1. The skegg location immediately below the day hatch instead of the stern which is more typical, has a tendency to get clogged with sand and will very quickly get suck. You'll have to tie a string to your skegg blade so you reach and pull it down, and ask a fellow paddler to push it back in to retrack the blade when you're out on the water. In addition, if you go for a slide landing or get side swiped in the shallows by waves, there's a real chance you'll break the blade.

  2. This is a very delicate boat, especially the carbon Kevlar boat. although the boat is made to weigh in a just 41 pounds, I would be happy to trade some weight for durability. If at anytime you have to do a gorilla crawl launch from the beach where you drag yourself into the surf zone, you're going to put some cracks on the gel coat, and even flake some along the keel on the very first time you do it. Getting keel strips on this boat are a must.

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Very nice review. I agree that it's a big boat. I have been paddling a Sterling Illusion for fifteen years so I am very familiar with Sterling boats. For future extended touring on the BC and SE Alaska coasts I just purchased a Grand Illusion in the Carbon Infusion layup. I hope to pick it up next week or the next. I'm 70" tall and 170 pounds and I had the deck cutdown by 3/4". That will decrease the overall volume of the boat but should give me more capacity than the 75 pound TideRace Explore Classic it is replacing. Paddle on!

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