The Best Sea Kayak

by Eric Soares on September 26, 2011

A pod of paddlers stood next to their well-crafted carbon-fiber sea kayaks, disdaining the plastic sit-on-top fishing kayak taking off from the beach.  “Do you call that a sea kayak?” one tittered.  Another chimed in:  “Ha!  Looks more like a kiddie wading pool.”   Still another said, “I bet that cost under $500—brand new!”  They sniggered as the fisherman waded knee deep into the small surf, plopped his butt onto his seat, and began paddling slowly toward the breakers.  He timed the first breaker wrong and fell out of his boat to snorts and muted howls of laughter from the owners of the cool kayaks.  But the fisherman hung on to his craft, and when the turbulence subsided, he crawled back on and continued his journey through the surf.  Eventually he made it outside and disappeared around the bend.

Sit-on-top recreational kayaks are often used by newbie paddlers in calm waters. Here we see a lady without a PFD escorting her dog across the lake.

With dismay mingled with pride for the fisherman, I watched the little drama unfold as I stood next to my truck in the parking lot. I had planned to embark from this very beach.  “Too crowded,” I said to myself and drove to another put-in a mile away.  As I hauled my Tsunami X-15 off my rack and carried it to the sand, I wondered, “Would those guys laugh at me behind my back because I also paddle a sit-on-top, although mine’s made of Kevlar instead of rotomolded plastic?”  My X-15, designed by Glenn Gilchrist and Jim Kakuk, is an ocean rock garden kayak made tough to be played with rough, carry a bunch of gear, and still go pretty darn fast.  I love it. But I reminded myself, like all boats, it can’t do everything….

Tsunami Rangers with Tsunami X-15 and an X-2 tandem, ready for surf and rock action

This event occurred seven years ago, but I never forgot the air of arrogance emanating from the paddlers with the genuine kayaks.  In the past three years, I’ve attended three major sea kayaking symposia in different locales.  All three times I noticed a dearth of sit-on-top kayaks, though there were plenty of plastic, fiberglass and exotic layups of modern sea kayaks around.  There were a few gorgeous wooden kayaks and some useful folding kayaks about but not one sit-on-top.  “That is odd,” I mused, because sit-on-top recreational kayaks are everywhere.  I don’t have the stats, but would wager that there are more sit-on-top rec kayaks around than the traditional kind.   Yet, you never see traditional kayakers hanging with sit-on-toppers.  It seems to me that rec kayakers should be welcomed into the sea kayaking community.  Though regular sea kayakers have a lot of knowledge to share, sit-on-toppers can also contribute a lot.

a lightweight competition surf ski is very fast

Then you have the surf skiers.  These guys paddle sit-on-tops with a winning attitude.  The surf skis’ long, sleek hulls make them look like racing machines—and they are.  Most surf skiers I know are fantastic paddlers in excellent shape.  I’m proud to say I’m friends of John Dixon, who designs and races in surf skis, and Don Kiesling, who designs and builds surf ski rudders and also races.  For more information on surf skis check out http://tsunamirangers.com/2011/01/26/surfski-racing-part-one/.

An OC1, a very fast outrigged canoe that is at home in the harbor or open sea

Similar to surf skis are outrigger canoes whose paddlers are also in tip-top shape. You can see these guys in singles, doubles, and multiple paddling options out on the open ocean in Hawaii, but you won’t see anyone snickering at them as the canoeists zoom by.  They don’t hang out with regular sea kayakers, but it would be a boon for all if they did.  Though I’ve paddled canoes in rivers, I’ve yet to experience an outrigger canoe in the ocean.  Someday….

Two Tsunami X-15s accompany an SUP at sea

Now the latest craze is the SUP, the stand-up paddleboard, which looks like a fat surfboard with a guy standing up and propelling himself with a long paddle—sort of like traditional Hawaiian surfers did ages ago. Ranging in price from $400 for an entry-level SUP to $1800 for a pro model, the popular SUPs are turning the paddling world on its head.   A guy named Dave Cornthwaite just paddled an SUP 2,404 miles!  SUPs are here to stay.

Misha Dynnikov on a wave ski at Ross' Cove

Before SUPs were wave skis, a paddling craft which hit the market in in the 1970s with designs by venerated watermen such as Merv Larson and Dick Wold. Wave skis look like oversized boogie boards, but paddlers surfing them can really rip on the waves.  Wave skis are definitely fun.

Michael Powers, age 71, in his trusty old river kayak at Pillar Point

Surf kayaks, surf shoes, and good ole slalom river boats do the same job as a wave ski, but the rider gets to stay comfy inside, with a spray skirt keeping the water out.  In 1980 I first tried a fiberglass Dekadense river kayak in the surf (designed and built by Jim Kakuk), and then later branched out to Perception Mirages and Dancers, and various whitewater playboats over the years.  I greatly enjoyed trying out a Rhino surf shoe built by Doug Schwartz a few years ago.  Nowadays, I use a Tsunami X-O Crossover sit-on-top slalom kayak in surf.

Inflatable kayaks are so stable that they can also be used as SUPs!

And lest we forget, there is the ubiquitous inflatable kayak, which has got to be the slowest form of propulsion at sea, but holds a lot of gear, can be carried on a plane, and is stable as the Rock of Gibraltar.  If it’s good enough for Audrey Sutherland, one of the world’s best sea kayakers, it’s good enough for me.  I have enjoyed paddling inflatables in surf, on an overnight ocean expedition, and of course going down rivers.

Native American ocean-going canoes are still used today

Also here to stay, as they have for thousands of years, are traditional ocean paddling craft, ranging from sea-going Chinese dragon boats to giant waka canoes paddled by the Maori in New Zealand to big coastal native American canoes.  All are still paddled to this day.  A few years ago we Tsunami Rangers met some Chumash canoeists who paddled in a traditional canoe from the California mainland out to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands.  We were impressed with the paddlers and their sturdy boat.

On the left is a baidarka built by George Dyson and a British-designed kayak paddled by a young bloke named Derek Hutchinson

I’m very happy that modern craftsmen are making Aleut baidarkas and Inuit kayaks using modern fabrics (instead of seal skins), and other native sea boats made of reeds or dug out trees. It’s very interesting to watch such beautiful boats in action, and they are a real joy to paddle.  Baidarkas, for instance, are not only historically interesting, but are fast and sleek, can be used in surf and rocks (with care!), are perfect for expeditions, come in a variety of designs, and undulate with the water, which makes you feel united with the sea.

A Hurricane Rider plies white water at Skookumchuck in a sea kayak. A skilled mariner can paddle just about any boat in any condition

All in all, we can see that it’s a wide world of boats out there, and they are all good, and all have their place. Someday I’d like to go to a symposium and see ocean-going boaters of all stripes joyfully interacting with each other and enjoying the plethora of paddling craft.  There are so many new things happening in paddling designs.  New materials, new designs, new uses for kayaks and similar craft. Just the other day I saw a photo of a river kayak with a hydrofoil attached to the bottom of the hull.  I was intrigued, to say the least, and look forward to seeing and trying new stuff such as hydrofoils.  Why not?

Lest you think I’m a dreamer, I leave you with these immortal words written by Kenneth Grahame and spoken by Water Rat in The Wind in the Willows: “Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

What types of ocean boats do you paddle? What would you like to paddle?  Have you invented a new type of paddling boat or designed a boat?  Please share your “messing about in boats” stories and musings by commenting below this post. 

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryan Hansel September 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Great post.

What types of ocean boats do you paddle?
I usually paddle fiberglass sea kayaks. I own a Romany and an Explorer. I also own a semi-replica of the 1959 Ken Taylor Greenland boat. I built it out of cedar and fiberglass with a dash of carbon fiber here and there. My partner paddles it, and she claims that the low volume suits here better than any commercial kayak that she has paddled. It feel tippy to me, but I have 60 lbs. on her.

I remember years ago some company had plastic sit-on-tops that were long and sleek like sea kayaks. I worked in retail at the time and brought some into our store. They sold, but not nearly as fast as closed-cockpit kayaks. I thought they were really fun when I paddled them.

What would you like to paddle?

I’m dying to paddle an ocean canoe and use one on a long distance trip. They look like so much fun.

Have you invented a new type of paddling boat or designed a boat?

I’ve designed several boats. The first is my Siskiwit LV, which is a cedar strip British-style kayak. It’s playful, but toury at the same time. I just launched a cedar strip canoe I designed. It’s really fun taking an idea and turning it into a boat. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s still really fun doing it. Next up for me is a hard-chined, one-off fiberglass kayak using a technique that uses the frame of a skin-on-frame but ends up with a seamless closed-cockpit kayak. Probably won’t start building until next year, but now I have a winter to dream up how to do it.

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Eric Soares September 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm

I too am yearning to try an ocean canoe, Bryan. I’m sure we’ll both get the chance someday soon. Being the kind of guy you are, you will probably make one of cedar strips some day.

I checked out your Ursa Canoe at your website. She’s a beauty!

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Fat Paddler September 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I think it’s easy for people to get carried away on “what boat is best” according to their own peer preferences. I see it here too – the river kayakers laugh at slow inefficient sea kayaks, the sea kayakers laugh at the un-seaworthy river speedsters, the young creekers laugh at the old boring sea kayak brigade, everyone laughs at the fishing kayakers and the ski paddlers are concentrating too hard to care about any other paddlers!

I started out on an 18 foot sit on top kayak, and it was fast. Then I moved to an 18 foot composite sea kayak, which was awesome for long-haul paddling. Then I shifted to a 17 foot plastic sea kayak so I could bump it up over rocks. And now I find myself in a 10 foot plastic whitewater kayak surfing waves and cutting through rock gardens. And that doesn’t even start me on my various canoes!

A few months ago whilst testing my whitewater boat in some small surf (ie having a heap of fun catching around 100 odd small waves) I was passed by some sea kayakers who were taking their boats into the same surf as I as a training exercise. As I said hi to them in passing, one turned to my boat and sneered “Nice toy” before paddling away. As I continued to surf I watched as some of them tipped out, couldn’t roll, and generally struggled in the soup and I thought “who’s laughing now”? Since then I’ve taken that little boat rock gardening, I’ve paddled her a kilometre out to sea off Sydney’s cliffs, I’ve surfed her behind ferry wake, and I’ve taken her down some bumpy river whitewater – all up I’m pretty happy with my “nice toy”.

But then again, aren’t all boats toys?? 😉

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Eric Soares September 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm

You’re a guy who just loves boats, FP. Me too. I like all boats, really. I like river dories, military ships, all sail boats. It’s sad when people put down others who are just messin’ about in boats, but what can you do?

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gnarlydog September 26, 2011 at 10:45 pm

what about jet skis? does anybody show any love for them?
ducking now… 🙂

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Bryan Hansel September 27, 2011 at 7:27 am

I’d like to try a jet ski at some point. I’m lucky where I live; Lake Superior is so cold year round that nobody using jet skis around here.

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Fat Paddler September 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

Haha, touché GDawg! Can’t say I’m a massive fan of jetskis, but they have a place. Speaking of boats and coastal living (and jetskis), here’s a new video out from one of my favourite Aussie bands, Bliss n Eso, called “Coastal Kids”. The song is a celebration of Aussie coastal living, and the imagery of Australia’s coastline, surf, rocks and more brings a tear to my eye! You may not like hip hop, but it’s worth it just for the coastal footage. Plus if you look closely there’s a bbq sausage in there. 😉

Coastal Kids – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfLa32K74Zw&feature=colike

Cheers, FP

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Mark September 27, 2011 at 6:32 am

Does any one remember the bonsai bozones, the used sit on tops

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Kenny Howell September 27, 2011 at 9:31 am

Eric, once you become a TRUE PADDLER, it’s not about the boat anymore. It’s about paddling. True paddlers know and love all paths of the paddle. As a paddler, you can instantly recognize a good, fun boat design. Water contains magic and mysterious properties, so no one has designed the perfect boat yet, nor can they – yet we’re still trying, and that’s a beautiful thing! Paddlers should be very wary of anyone that would seek to limit kayak designs for any reason; it would stifle innovation, and dampen the spirit of experimentation humans naturally seek. There are limits to the tinkering though: when Ted Turner’s experimental square-bowed America’s Cup yacht failed miserably in sea trials, he told his team “Everyone knows that even a turd should be pointed at both ends.”

I have tried paddling almost everything that floats – from inflatable alligators, to 6-man outrigger canoes. Surfing canoes at Waikiki beach is such a blast! I would like to try surfing one at Mavericks – just one wave. I would like to someday build a wooden kayak, or a skin-on-frame boat. I admire people that build their own boats and paddle them. That is the ultimate. BTW, I can arrange for you to paddle a one-man outrigger canoe on the ocean. It is an ultra-light high-tech version of an ancient Polynesian canoe. We call them race boats with training wheels!

We are all tribal by nature, and so it’s inevitable that you will fall into a clique of like-minded arrogant elitists. We should all strive to be paddlers, not elitists. In recent years, I’ve found it very heartening to see more cross-over than ever among paddling disciplines for true paddlers. When I started out, sea kayaking was virtually unknown compared to its popularity now, but we still went whitewater kayaking and surf kayaking; most guys did not cross-over. I wanted to try it all. Now it is relatively common for a pro boater to be a hot dog on the river, AND at sea. I am ecstatic about the SUP phenomena, because this brings our surfing brothers into the paddling universe. They are reluctant to admit paddlers have anything to offer – they figure the Hawaiians invented paddling anyway – but it has allowed for greater interaction and mutual respect among the practitioners of the two sports. It’s an amazing turn of events. Now I’m torn on a typical day with this choice: what to do – go SUP surfing, or paddle the surfski. Good problem to have, eh?

An important concept to consider in the “best sea kayak” debate is “form follows function”. Your Tsunami X-15 is perfect for what you want to do with it; while you could paddle it down a whitewater river, that’s not it’s intended use. While I could paddle a whitewater boat on an ocean cruise, that’s not it’s intended use (we paddled 12′ Perception Mirage kayaks for 200 miles around Tiburon Island in the Sea of Cortez when I was in college because that’s all we had). My wife and I love canoes for camping on big lakes in the Sierra; a canoe is the best craft for loading up gear and gliding across a glassy mountain lake. There is a certain romance and tradition to the canoe, of course. I do think a well-designed sea kayak is probably the most versatile of all paddle craft, given all the things you can do with it. If you try to do too much with one design, you risk bastardizing it, and it become neither fish nor fowl. Some specialization is required to make it excel for its intended use.

I predict high-end SOT kayaks will become more popular in the coming years; witness the Epic V8 surfski, which is a thinly-disguised touring kayak with a surfski style open cockpit. It’s tremendous popularity surprised everyone, including the manufacturer. We can’t keep them in stock! But, they are building more…People were hungry and ready for a design like this. Fat Paddler has one I think, yes?

I have to admit that I was surprised you did not mention the Mariner Coaster kayak in your essay as a candidate for the best kayak ever. Never has there been a single design with so many devotees. It is a do-it-all little workhorse and rough water star bar none. It’s plumb-bow has a classic uber-efficient look, and whenever a Coaster fanatic looks at one a modern surfskis, he never fails to mutter wistfully “Reminds me of my Coaster”.

This is another super fun topic! You’re getting pretty good at these blog posts. Thanks for keeping it interesting for us.

-Kenny

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Fat Paddler September 27, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I hear you on the Epic V8. I don’t have one but one of my team mates does, and I’ve paddled them a few times. It’s an incredibly accessible surf ski, almost anyone can paddle them, they are fast and a heap of fun. My mate has even followed me into rock gardens in his, bouncing around in rebound, no easy feat on a ski. If they came in an armoured version I’d consider one for myself – great boat!

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John Lull September 27, 2011 at 9:41 am

Get ready for some cliche’s: Variety is the spice of life. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (with apologies to cat lovers; I’m a cat lover myself!). Each to their own. And so on. This all applies to boats. It’s all fun and you really have to find what works best for YOU. That’s the best sea kayak!

For an all-round sea kayak, my favorite is the Mariner Coaster, as all who know me know. And I’m very greatful that some years ago Eric & Jim and the rest of the Tsunami Rangers didn’t turn their noses up and say I couldn’t accompany them on some kayaking adventures just because I wasn’t in a Tsunami sit-on-top. I know for a fact they were skeptical of my boat. And of course I couldn’t get out of my boat as fast after a seal landing! But they put up with me and my ways, as I did theirs.

Speaking of seal landings, one quick tale: On one the first kayaking camping adventures I went on with the Tsunamit Rangers we had to land on a small wash rock in order to get onto an island. The waves were pretty vigorous washing over that rock and while I was timing my attempted landing, I overheard Eric say “I’ve got to see this!” Then got me wondering, just as I caught a surge and rode up onto the rock, and back down the other side, and back over the rock, upside down, and back yet again, to the sound of fiberglass scraping rock. Eventually I either bailed and climbed up or somehow got landed on the rock, then pulled my swamped boat up. Only a few scratches on the hull, no damage. And no one laughed at me, at least not out loud. After that my timing improved.

I still paddle the Coaster, my favorite sea kayak. Being a shorter, more maneuverable sea kayak, it really excells in rough conditions. The rougher the water, the better it performs. This is true for the Tsunami kayaks as well, and they do have the advantage of jumping off and on the boat at will. I feel the tiniest bit of extra control with my thighs locked in under the deck so I’ll take the trade-off, knowing that’s just what it is: a trade off.

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Paula Renouf September 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

LOVE your blog Eric…xx I can’t believe I was lucky enough to find a heavy lay up Mariner COASTER too… LOVE it! (as well as my P&H CETUS)

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Marty Perry September 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm

About that jet ski comment, it’s ok to envy the fastest toy on the water, despite them being so incredibly annoying. I wonder if people would laugh at me if I had a motorized kayak able to catch any waves. So tempting but yes! Cowardly lazy .

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Kenny Howell September 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Hey, jet skis (or PWCs as they are generically known) are banned from many waters, such as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Many of the Mavericks big wave surfers hate this, because they want jet skis out there for safety and for photography. Tow-in surfing is on the decline I’ve been informed because Real Men PADDLE! Big wave spots like Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, and Jaws in Hawaii are now back in the realm of paddle surfing – it’s pure, and you do it with your own two hands! Just thought everyone might want to know.

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Nancy Soares September 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm

When I started paddling 15 yrs ago Eric made me paddle a Tsunami X-0 – little boat, no rudder, spins around in circles a lot. He did it so I could learn all the strokes needed to maneuver a boat. Later, I borrowed Michael’s Tsunami X-15 to go on the retreat to Santa Rosa island. I loved it. OMG a rudder! Plus I could store all my gear AND paddle (relatively) long distances on expeditions! Now I have my own beautiful X-15, plus the X-0. So far, the only boats I’ve surfed have been the X-0, the X-15, and a Tsunami X-3 with a partner. (That last was really fun when it worked!) But I have claustrophobia and frankly I’m afraid to get into a kayak with a spray skirt. No will do. I’ve never learned to roll, but hey, I can fall out and get back in my boat very quickly. That has held me back, I suppose, and I can’t do a lot of more advanced kayaking maneuvers, but that’s not my goal. I can do the things I want to do: surf, go on short (distance-wise) expeditions with lots of good food and drink in my boat, and go into caves and rock gardens when the waves aren’t too big. And personally, I think that criticizing others for their boat choices (or pretty much anything else) is petty, childish, rude, and short-sighted. Karma happens, and pride goeth before a fall, or a swim in this case. Celebrate diversity!!!

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Moulton Avery September 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm

There’s a lot to be said for the boats you love to paddle Nancy, and I hope that Eric will do a compare and contrast on the subject some day. Manufacturers were quick to deduce that the possibility of being trapped upside down under water would be something of a “turn-off” to a lot of folks, so they enlarged the cockpits. That reassured a lot of folks, but didn’t really address the issue. Sit-on-tops made the whole issue moot, and I think that has had great appeal to a whole lot of folks who would rather just hop back on rather than having to roll up. I’m claustrophobic, too, and at times, underwater, after a couple of blown rolls, I’ve had to work very hard on not letting the panic gorilla out of the closet. If you can design around it, I say that’s a really good thing because it enables a lot more people to experience the same joy that you have out on the water. Begone paddle float, adios struggling to reattach the skirt, sayonara pumping out the cockpit. What’s not to like?

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Eric Soares September 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Wow! I go away for a couple of hours and look at all this. Well, a few comments on the comments.

1. Though personally not a jet ski enthusiast, I say live and let live–literally. Jet skis (PWCs) have saved a number of people (and ran over a few too). I have water skiied in the past and thought it was hella fun, but the smell of gas, the noise, and the expense were too much for me. Plus gas & oil in the water is not groovy.

2. I agree totally with Kenny that it is the paddler, not the boat.

3. Okay, I would have to agree that I know a shipload of people who LOVE their Mariner Coasters. Though I personally don’t care that much for them, I agree, based on their performance, that they are damned good all-around sea kayaks. There, I said it.

4. Sometimes I yearn for my old Odyssea surf ski (Queenie was her name). And I yearn for my Dekadense slalom kayak that I gave to a beginning river kayaker (it was also named Queenie). I miss our family canoe (which one of my brothers still has), and even my dad’s International 5-0-5 sailboat. I don’t know about you, but I develop a relationship with each of my kayaks. My current X-15 is called Antares, because she has red and orange flames, and Antares is red and orange. I’m going to give her a hug right now.

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Rainer Lang September 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Great topic!

I particularly like your statement: “A skilled mariner can paddle just about any boat in any condition”.
After I crashed my touring kayak down in Big Sur (a Current Designs Solstice ST), it was in my friend’s shop getting some fiberglass work done. I began paddling a my old s’cool river kayak, Dagger Animas everywhere. I found out that I could easily keep up with friends paddling touring kayaks and still knock off some serious mileage. The upside was it totally improved my boat handling skills and paddling efficiency. I took it out The Gate and everywhere for several weeks. If I had know about a river kayaks capabilities, I would have bought one earlier.
When I got my Solstice back, I couldn’t believe the feeling of speed and glide between paddle strokes, like a cruise missile. I also realized that I needed to aggressively outfit the cockpit, remove the hinged backrest and installed a back-band. It was then that I really felt at “one” with the boat; ironically the Solstice is my first boat and I’d paddled it for the longest time. My edging and carving the hull through the water seemed like a natural extension of my body. Now it takes a really short time to do an outfitting, I know where I want my contact/control surfaces; each of my craft is outfitted.
I now have four kayaks, the two others in my quiver are surf specific planing hulls: a Spike Gladwin designed Necky Groovy and a Mike Johnson Mako. I continue to learn from each of these craft.
I think the “messing about in boats” is also great. I’ve seen people surf a standard rec boat sit-on-top with the skill of a competition short boarder. I’ve rolled rec boats and sit-on-tops just to see if I could do it. It’s fun to play around in different craft, especially if involves taking Mr Toads Wild Ride!

I don’t think that there is a perfect boat, but the quest is a blast!

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René Seindal September 28, 2011 at 1:24 am

I’m probably a bit odd, because I would really really want a sandolo or a sanpierota 🙂 These are Venetian traditional boats t be rowed standing up.

It can be like this: http://rene.seindal.dk/upload-kayak/2009/10/181020091611.jpg

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Eric Soares September 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

I clicked on the photo of Rene’s Venetian SUB and really dug the beauty of it. That reminds me of people “poling” up and down rivers by standing in various types of canoes (traditional, dugout, reed). Thanks for the nice photo Rene! Anyone else have a picture of a unique (to me, anyway) paddle boat?

And referencing Nancy’s and Rainer’s statements about river kayaks, I believe that there is no better way to learn all paddling strokes, boat control, and rolling than in a slalom kayak. When I lived in Santa Barbara back in 1980, I paddled my river kayak miles out to sea and back. I especially liked to to do this during sunset, so I could bask in the golden rays that gilded the waves.

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John Lull September 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm

One thing to keep in mind about ‘river kayaks.’ The modern play boats are nothing like the older river-running kayaks. Even the earlier play boats (like my RPM) still had some hull speed. The hole-playing boats of recent years are very short, not much more than boxes. They work great for playing in holes, but that’s about it. If you want to get a ‘river kayak’ to manuever around in the ocean, surf, or rock gardens, look for one of the older models. No older than the Dancer (which is ancient), but not the really new ones either.

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Fat Paddler September 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Some current river boats are still suitable. I have a new Liquidlogic Remix XP10 hybrid – it’s 10′ long and has a rear hatch, and so far has been brilliant for surfing and rock gardening.

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Mark September 28, 2011 at 11:25 am

What about the X-1 Rocket I loved that boat bought one from Eric in 1990, The Huki S1-R did a down water race class 2+ rapids no rocks what a blast or the Wave hopper wild water boat ???

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Eric Soares September 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

John, you make a good point about medium-volume slalom kayaks (like that old Mirage I loved). Probably a modern kayak like FP’s Remix would be just the ticket.

As for the Tsunami X-1 Rocket. If you still have it, Mark, I’d keep it in good shape, as it could be worth some real money in the future–not to mention how beautiful it looks. The Huki S1-R I know is a good ski. I’ll have to check out the Wave Hopper, as it slipped me by (as did a lot of other good boats).

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Moulton Avery September 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Wow! Depending on how you count them, no less than fourteen personal favorites offered up for consideration as “best sea kayak”. I agree it’s the mariner, not the kayak, although some designs are clearly better than others in specific situations. I don’t think Deb Volturno would win any surf competitions in my Nordkapp HM.

The snickering and snide remarks by holier-than-thou paddlers really is unfortunate, but that particular reaction appears to be hard-wired into our little Smart-Monkey brains, and it’s ubiquitous, not just limited to boat design. One workaround, recommended by my late grandfather, is to promise yourself that you will always treat other people with dignity and respect, regardless of their station in life. Or their boat, their car, their clothes, whatever. If you find yourself slipping at times, and you probably will, give the old choke-chain a sharp tug and get back on track. That’s what I do, anyway: yank the chain a lot.

I’d like to paddle anything I haven’t paddled before, and that’s most boats. I got to try a Valley Pintail for about 10 minutes in the Spring and found it delightful. Tried paddling a Old Town canoe with a double-bladed paddle this Summer, and although it was fun, I wont be giving up my long-standing affair with the single blade (for canoeing) any time soon. Some day I’d like to try a canoe in the surf. Speaking of best boats, Eric, do you agree that the venerable canoe is the ultimate personal watercraft of courtship, love, and romance? Does it trump or tie the double kayak?

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Eric Soares September 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm

The canoe blows away the tandem kayak for courtship, love, and romance. However, if you are with your loved one in really choppy water, the tandem kayak will beat out the canoe! It sucks to get swamped and then capsize. I will post an essay on the joy of paddling in doubles, probably in late November.

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Doug Lloyd September 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Who needs a boat! For the first decade of my paddling life with my tippy Nordkapp I swam a lot!! I think folks respected that. At least whenever I showed up at a paddle club meeting, everyone was always eagerly asking me how much swimming I’d done on my latest weekend winter kayak outing. Maybe I’m missing something here. 😉

I don’t think one can beat a home- made plywood seakayak covered with glass. There are kits for less ambitious do-it-yourselfers, and while strip-builts are more curvy and refined, plywood is strong, durable, and ridged with the right layup. I have one built by Doug Alderson I got for a song and it is stiffer and stronger than anything out there. Duane Strosaker builds a variety of purpose-designed lengths as well.

http://www.rollordrown.com/kayak/index.html

I picked up an SOT a few years ago just to take my dog kayaking along with my daughters in their SOT’s but a canoe is still easier, and there are so many vary different models to choose from (or make).

This SOT rage is slowing down a bit around here but I love it, as long as these tender paddlers don’t exceed the design limits. Anything that gets city folks out onto the water, chill’n and grooving with nature is a good thing. I only look down on SOT’s if there’s just no flotation provision – that does annoy me and it ain’t no elitist thing.

I may make my own unique canoe one day that can be kayaked and sailed. It would be based on a Clipper canoe-kayak hybrid design:

http://www.clippercanoes.com/boat_specs.php?model_id=126

I’d rig it for intrepid sailing feats as well, doing it up in cedar and glass to get the weight low.

SOT’s are just too cold around here for winter wonderings amongst races and rips and rocks. The newish P&H Delphin can been seen rip’n it up in local waters and the new Sterling Reflections should be making their presence felt soon to in out boisterous waters and Skookumchuck playgrounds. I think the short playboat sea kayaks are really making inroads, though for touring, load capacity and comfort and maybe rudders will always be big here.

The best paddlecraft is the one that gets you out there and back safely and the one you enjoy paddling. I think the Rangers already know this, after all, if you try to convince them differently they will tell you to just go and sit on it!

Doug Lloyd, Victoria BC

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Eric Soares September 30, 2011 at 9:39 am

Wow, Doug! You have some really good contenders for “best” boat. I thought Duane’s kayak design a real beauty. The hybrid Clipper Canoe/Kayak looks very interesting. When I was a kid, my dad converted a Grumman-type square-stern canoe into a sailboat, complete with teak decks, a rudder, and a centerboard. We used a Flying Junior mainsail and jib, and equipped it with a trapeze. It was very fast.

It’s interesting that you bring up the P&H and Sterling boats. Recently I viewed a short video clip by Reg Lake of a Sterling Illusion (I think) paddled at Deception Pass by a very competent boater named Warren Williamson http://www.canoekayak.com/touring-kayak/deception-pass-reg-lakes-perspective/. I was very impressed with his paddling skill and the Sterling kayak. There are some great boats out there!

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John Lull September 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

That’s some great footage. And Warren does some very skillful paddling! What he really needs for that is a Coaster, though. It’s the perfect boat for those particular conditions. 🙂 🙂

But seriously, it just goes to show what a wide range of conditions a skilled paddler can handle in a sea kayak. I’d be willing to bet some of the better surf ski paddlers could ride those waves brilliantly. Kenny Howell or John Dixon or Don Keisling might be interested…

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Doug Lloyd October 1, 2011 at 12:37 am

The Sterling Reflection is a refinement of the Illusion series and Reg designed it to surf standing waves as well backwards as forwards. The beauty of these performance touring slash sea kayak slash playboats sans skeg and hatches is that one can go for a mulitday tour and then “park n’ play” at the fun spots or take the route less travelled along the coast constantly in the rock gardens. For day-play, one still has a fully capable, if a more rockered and manoeuvrable, sea kayak with conventional buoyancy and spray-skirt dependant seating.

I hear some passion coming out in some of the various comments, that’s okay, but really, all these various crafts have their advantages and disadvantages. How can one possibly compare the speed and efficiency of a full-blown surf ski to say, that of a Coaster? Or the extreme ease of getting off and back on a good old wash-deck X-1 compared to a vintage ocean-cockpited Nordkapp designed to keep you in? I know we all know this but we each rock to the chop of cognitive disequilibrium as we try to decide what the best sea kayak is if one wishes objective observation.

The first time I headed out into heavily textured waters in a white water kayak, I realized there wasn’t a better kayak in the world to be in if I wanted to sit there and be safe. But I wasn’t achieving much in the way of forward efficiency. Maybe the question should be which sea kayak works best for the type of sea kayaking you like to do. Maybe you meant that. But then that’s why many of us have more than one type of kayak…and want more.

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John Lull October 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

Everything you say here sounds right on to me, Doug. Please note those smiley faces I added to me tongue-in-cheek comment on the Coaster :).

I know nothing about the Sterling (if Reg designed it, no doubt it’s a great kayak). I do know enough to know not to draw conclusions on any craft just by looking at it. From your description it sounds like the Sterling is designed to do something very similar to the Coaster but with a slightly different design concept. As Kenny points out in a post below, the Coaster is short overall, but with a long waterline (the keel is in the water from bow to stern), so it tracks well as is much faster than the relatively short length would suggest. It’s maneuverable partly due to the short length, but also because ‘rocker’ can be introduced by leaning the boat on edge, allowing it to carve turns (this is true for longer boats also, of course). The low volume stern is what helps it surf well (for a sea kayak).

I’m sure I’d like the Sterling also. I do see Warren broaching a lot in that video, but he may be doing it on purpose to some extent. Also I think he’s mostly playing around and having fun, rather than going for the ‘perfect’ surf ride, which is the most important thing. It seems to me he’s rolling on purpose, at least most of the time.

I think Eric’s point about the ‘best sea kayak’ is that there is no best sea kayak! Just lots of fun boats with some different characteristics.

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Kenny Howell September 30, 2011 at 10:35 am

I have to comment on the Deception Pass video. That is a very impressive tide rip with some massive standing waves, but what does it really show? I don’t think the sea kayak shown is designed for those conditions. The paddler has a pretty good roll and is obviously very comfortable in the gnarly conditions. The boat doesn’t look like it’s performing very well – granted, it’s an extreme situation. To me, this illustrates someone using a kayak for something that it wasn’t intended for. Does he manage to surf it? Sort of. But it’s broaching like crazy. I’m not picking on the design itself, just the concept. He is playing around in gnarly water, and it looks fun. He is getting away with it. I would agree with John Lull that a boat like a Coaster would do better; it would have the speed to catch the wave, and it wouldn’t broach instantly.
Here is something completely different that illustrates my point: a downwind paddle off Capetown South Africa on a double surfski. This is what I live for. The boat used is made for these conditions. Check this out, they are hauling ass: http://vimeo.com/18363570

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Eric Soares September 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I’m sure the Coaster would do fine at Deception Pass (but certainly wouldn’t have more speed than the Sterling). Warren’s Sterling performed admirably, IMO. It seemed like Warren was trying to show the boat’s capabilities (it can broach, surf, roll easily, etc.) as well as his Greenland-style rolling ability with that Aleut paddle (I believe) or GP. I mean, he rolled and sculled several times in the rough water when he didn’t need to–he was demonstrating the boat–which is beautiful, BTW.

I loved your clip of Oscar Chalupsky in the tandem surfski. It planed on waves very well and was very fast–and beautiful. The seas off Capetown–isn’t that where the flying great white sharks hang out?

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Kenny Howell September 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Eric, since the essay was about “the best sea kayak”, I would like to point out that the hull speed of the Coaster, even at 13.5 feet in length (Coaster lovers can correct me if this is wrong) is probably equal to or nearly so of the Sterling kayak in the Deception Pass video. The Coaster -unlike the traditional, and dare I say it, romantic sea kayak designs with highly rockered upswept ends – has a full waterline and takes full advantage of its relatively short length. Its speed is equal to traditional kayaks several feet longer.

It’s funny how much beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I know you think the lines of the Coaster are butt ugly, but I find beauty in the power of Form Follows Function. It’s nice if a boat looks cool, but I don’t really care about that as long as it does what it’s supposed to. Our Tsunami Ranger brother John Dixon makes incredibly rough looking surfskis in his boat shed; when people see them, they cry “What happened?!”. But the beauty is in their performance – they dance like those lovely hippos in Fantasia.

About the Great Whites off Capetown: they are encouraged to jump out of the water it seems by the heavy use of chumming – it is out of control over there. The number of shark incidents with surfskis in South Africa is astounding; so much so that they build the boats to withstand catastrophic hits from sharks, not to mention the horrendous surf breaks they paddle in and out of routinely.

BTW, doesn’t the Big O (Oscar) remind you a little bit of the late great Steve Sinclair? Steve was a one-in-a-million awesome waterman, and so is Oscar.

Yours,
-Kenny

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Moulton Avery September 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

The Warren Williamson video just blew my socks off the first time I saw it, and continues to please after multiple viewings. I think it’s a beautiful illustration of Kenny’s point that for those who truly follow the path of the paddle, it’s not about the boat, it’s about paddling. One of the things I love about the video is that amazing contrast between the ship plowing through the same waves in which Warren appears so totally relaxed and at home. Talk about seaworthy!

He’s not pushing his personal envelope, he’s playing around. Solo. Deliberately capsizing over and over again in a pretty notorious whirlpool and rolling up effortlessly. To my eye, it’s a beautiful demonstration of everything that’s marvelous and wonderful about these amazing, tiny boats; in the hands of a skilled paddler, they just dance.

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Eric Soares October 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

Here are some comments on comments:

1. I never said the Coaster was “butt ugly!” I fully believe that function trumps form.

2. Oscar Chalupsky does look like Steve Sinclair–both great surf skiers! And remind me not to paddle off Chumtown!

3. John Lull is right: I firmly believe there is no “BEST SEA KAYAK”. I think all boats have their place, and that beauty and function are in the eyes of the user. I just used BEST SEA KAYAK as the title of the post to get everyone to read it 🙂

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Neil Hooper October 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The best boat at any given moment is is quite simply the one you’re in…Toad would agree.

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JohnA October 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm

I have three boats.

A flat bottomed open cockpit rec boat that I call the Kaynoe. Perfect for loafing around on flat water.

A 14.5 foot estuary boat, that like your Mariner is faster than it should be for it’s length. I think in this case it’s the flared profile which makes it much narrower at the water line than it’s overall beam suggests. It’s joy to paddle in shore and weave around the mangroves up creeks. It’s got so much secondary that it’s actually hard work to capsize but it stands on edge and would turn on a dime if we had them here.

Then there is the love of my boating life, my darling Clementine, a Nordkapp RM in “Lava”. Because she’s a little orange the name seemed fitting. I’m sure she wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I love her. At present she’s a high performance boat with a motor in need of a bit of a tune up though.

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Eric Soares October 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Ha ha! I say tune up that motor and get your darling Clementine out on the water. BTW, my X-15, named Antares (red/orange star), is also called “the lava boat,” because unfortunately, the after-market “flames” paint job I did on her looks just like lava.

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Theheathster April 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm

You can laugh at my plastic sot anytime you want even if I only paid 600 for it brand new. First, it’ll go down any log jammed east Texas river I can find. Second, if I tear it up in the next couple of years I’m not out 3k. Third, who cares if I’m laughed at. A day on the water is better than a day on the shore. Laugh if you want but you can bet I’ll be having a good time.

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Rob Casey November 4, 2014 at 3:49 pm

just came across this great article, though i’d add a few words. My paddling background started with sea kayaks then after discovering surfing this led to a ww boat, then wold surf kayak, korb surf kayak, wave ski, then sup. Still lots of sea kayak flat, bumpy water and surf mixed in there. Per your article, my roll was never that good and I wished I knew of the sot option early on. Here in Seattle everyone was teaching close deck surf, sea and river kayaking – so i didn’t know any better. Visiting the Santa Cruz fest opened my eyes watching Fletcher and the others ripping on wave skis. A student of Deb, I knew of the X-15, but had only seen one locally. Years later, as a SUP instructor I was focusing my time on standing up, not practicing rolls and all that. A lightbulb went off in my head – cut the cockpit deck off my $4k Sterlings Kayak Illusion, then I’d be more comfortable using it again. So in Aug of this year, my neighbor Todd cut the top off, created a wooden skeleton like stucture for strength in the hull, filled it with blow foam, carved that to my body shape, then glassed it. Good to go. Still tweaking the cockpit shape but I’ve been out testing it, and convinced two closed deck kayak students to follow the sot route. there’s hope that others will to. Rob see my blog post on the project: http://stokemagazine.blogspot.com/2014/06/retrofitting-sea-kayak-cutting-cockpit.html

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Nancy Soares November 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Thanks for your comment Rob! Really interesting to see another perspective on the journey to find the “best” sea kayak. It’s fascinating that with all the boats out there people are still tweaking and tweaking, carving up “perfectly good” kayaks to come up with their own solutions. It sounds like you have a broad base of water skills regardless of your ability to roll, and consequently a clear vision for the kind of kayaking you want to do and the kind of boat you need to do it. Thanks for the link! I’ll be sure to check it out and I hope others will too.

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Tommie White April 11, 2016 at 12:39 pm

This is really a helpful writing. I appreciate your soul try to make a clear comparison. It’s a gateway for the beginners to understand what to do and choose!

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Haley June 30, 2016 at 1:20 pm

“And lest we forget, there is the ubiquitous inflatable kayak, which has got to be the slowest form of propulsion at sea…” Hilarious!

Sort of true but try crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a stinkpot that only goes 9-10 knots! If you want to get nowhere fast, do that. Took us a month to get from Fort Lauderdale to San Remo, Italy door-to-door with a couple stops for refueling and weather.

Believe it or not, I got into SUPs before I did kayaks. Now that I’ve gotten into SUPs, it’s made me more curious to try other paddle sports, which is why I think that disdain from the “real” kayakers at the beginning is unwarranted. We all have to start somewhere and for many, it’s a cheap SOT. Nobody is going to spend $1k or more for gear on a new hobby they might not end up liking or having as much time for as they thought.

Once they do it often and learn they enjoy it, they too might trade up for a “real” kayak, but hopefully they know enough to leave the attitude behind.

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Jon kayaker August 1, 2016 at 4:29 am

Thank you for the detailed post. I mostly kayak for fishing purposes, but did some sea kayaking too. Will sure try next month 😀

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Timothy W. Pothier August 24, 2016 at 3:52 am

Thanks for share informative Article.I am using Touring types Kayak . I feel very comfortable by this Touring kayak. These boats are also long and more capacity.

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Fisher Rob December 2, 2016 at 6:51 am

I have also tried fishing from inflatable kayak. You need one with a puncture proof design.

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chino June 17, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Aloha paddling brethren: We are looking for TWO double Tsunamis
which i believe you guys marketed as a “rocket”.. At one point, i thought you guys might be in the land down under..
Micco and I send our Alohas to all of you. Why haven’t any of you come over and cut the razors edge here on Kauai.
A Hui Hoe/chino

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Nancy Soares June 22, 2017 at 10:42 am

Hey Chino, good to hear from you. I have a double Tsunami, actually a triple, the X-3. It has two seat wells and a forward area that can take camping gear or whatever. I haven’t used it in awhile and I’d love to think of it on Kauai. It would be a great boat to have there. I’d be willing to sell it to you but not sure how to get it there. If you want more info, let me know. I’ll see if I can find another double for you. Haven’t heard of any available recently but you never know. Aloha to you and Micco. I haven’t seen him since he took Eric and me down the Na Pali coast like 20 years ago. Thanks for getting hold of us. Nancy Soares

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