I recently (during autumn 2008) started to paddle a kayak (a sea kayak). The start was probably quite ideal. My wife and me attended a two day course in kayaking (kayak course was held by Kajakevent). We have later joined a kayak club in Malmoe, and have done a number of excursions (Landskrona, Skanör, Hellerup to mention some).The course took up a number of kayaking basics (getting out of a capsized kayak, getting back into a capsized kayak, doing a rescue of a kayak, and not least paddling and controlling a kayak, for example kayak surfing). The course was 6 hours a day, two days in a row, and allowed us to try out a number of used kayaks (by choosing and changing kayak after every course moment). So I tried out 4 different Kayaks during these 2 days, sometimes choosing a kayak I had already used before.
However, after this time, I still did not know what kayak to buy. I had learned a number of things about what is essential when you choose kayak:
- One of them was pointed out by the teacher: Your size and the size of the chosen kayak must match (if you are big, you need to choose a bigger Kayak, and you need to consider kayak selection choices that are especially for tall people. The special needs for tall people was during the course basically translated to a longer and wider kayak, but I later learned there is other solutions to get a kayak in right size, and more factors to consider). I am 190 centimeter, wide over the shoulders, and weigh almost 100 kilo, so for me, many Kayaks are too small, especially for the feet and legs.
- I had also learned that it is hard to understand how other people who have a different situation would experience a Kayak. Thus if you compare kayaks by asking others, you should judge how well their opinion will help you choose a kayak that is right for you and not them (basically if their desire, skill and size will yield different choices of kayak). For example, my wife a long time considered size of no importance to choose kayak. Whatever kayak she tried, fitted her reasonably well. Then when I bought my kayak, a kayak specially designed for large people, she realised that it did not fit her, it was too big. First then did she realize the others could be too small for me.
- The first kayak I tested was a Sea Cruiser from Point. A plastic Kayak and I really liked it. Reasonably stable for me already then, and yet nice to paddle and turn, I could have bought that one, and for a couple of weeks, that was the one I returned to, at that time wanting to select a kayak in plastic.
- The second kayak I tested was a Point Sea Rover, a glas fiber Kayak, and very wide. Stable without doubt, and also this one big enough for larger people, but so much bigger than the sea cruiser that it felt too big and "too" stable.
- The third Kayak I tried, at the end of the first day, was a Kodiak from Prijon, and a true pain. Very indistinct point for tipping over (it was blowing about 10-12 meter per second, and the waves were about 1 meter high). This caused me a serious problem, because the Prijon Kodiak scared me (I flipped over involuntarily a couple of times, I got tired, and suddenly got scared for real). This made the rest of my paddling uneasy (if you get scared, you get stiff, and then you are not paddling well). However, the Kodiak kayak is large enough for large persons. If stability is not a need (like for experienced paddlers, or paddlers using it fully loaded on tours, then you can select it even if you are big).
- The fourth Kayak I tested was very stable, a Zoar sport. Extremely stable in all directions, almost impossible to turn without the rudder, but safe in high waves. Dull but safe. Never considered to buy that kayak.
My thought after these tests where that the Point Sea Cruiser kayak felt quite right for me. However, there was still something stopping me from selecting it. I had realised I knew too little to make the right choice. My wife had already found the Kayak she liked (a Tiderace X-Cite kayak, a fantastic kayak). But the Tiderace kayak was expensive, very expensive, so she wanted to find a cheaper kayak that felt good enough. And I wanted to find a kayak that "felt right".
So we started renting used Kayaks to paddle in. Mostly, we rented kayaks from Kajakevent who was extremely helpful. I should probably mention that we tested a lot of kayak paddles at the same time. I consider it harder to choose the right kayak paddle than choosing the right kayak, but at the same time, most paddles are liekly to be good enough if you have made the right base selections, so I see it as less important unless paddling speed is your top concern.
After a couple of weeks, we had tested more kayaks (paddling new kayak models every weekend), and my wife was now very hooked on the Tiderace X-Cite kayak (which she later on bought).
Her choice was simpler, she was selecting the best kayak of those she tested. She could do that since she was not too large for most of the kayaks.
Myself, I had tried on a number of new ones:
- A plastic kayak with no security departments, extremely boring, without a rudder, and a true pain to get anywhere in.
- A glas fiber kayak, Zegul 550. Quite fast, a little too low and narrow for me (hard to get the legs in), but most of all a little hard to turn in choppy high waves (with 50 centimeter height on the waves or so, with less than 2 meters in between them, then the Zegul 550 kayak did not feel suitable, it really wanted to get turned along the waves)
- The Tiderace X-Cite kayak. It is a fantastic Kayak, but very hard to enter and exit (if I have the chair furthest back and the footsupport furthest forward, it fits in length, but the thigh braces really presses deep dents into my thighs quite far below the knee). I am not able to paddle that kayak for long before it will become uncomfortable, and it can thus not become my kayak of choice.
Then suddenly it happened, I tested a Kayak on dry land, which gave a totally different feeling:
- It felt comfortable
This was a new thing. Until now, I had tried the kayaks based on how stable they felt, how they felt to manouever, and how quick they where. I was not that good at paddling, so probably I was not a really good judge on those things, even though I definitely could feel a lot of differences between kayak models.
But this new thing was the difference. The kayak was comfortable. I had room enough for my feet (size 11 plus wet shoes with a thick sole). My knees fit for the knee support, which were quite high up, making the legs comfortably bent instead of squeezed very straight into the hull as in the other kayaks. I could easily change the legs between straight and bent with a good grip on the knee supports, without changing the foot supports. The kayak truly fit well and was the first kayak I had sat in that really felt good.
Now I had a new lead, when you choose a kayak, it shall be comfortable, at least to a certain degree
With this in mind, I tried sitting in different sea Kayaks again, now looking for the feeling of sitting comfortably.
- The first comfortable kayak I found was the Scorpio from P&H. After a week of dry trying some other Kayaks (Tiderace X-plore, Zegul 523, Prijon something definetely not a Kodiak, ...) I returned to the Scorpio for a second try. It was still just as comfortable as the first time, so much better than the ones I had tried so far. Thus I tried it in water, and it was very very manouverable, and also quite stable (but with a indistinct point for when it tips over). This is a kayak I could have bought, and I planned to buy it.
- Then I borrowed my wifes Tiderace X-Cite again, and I could only come to the conclusion that that kayak was so many times better than the Scorpio (the X-Cite is soo much easier to lean and yet feel stable), that I decided I would like to find something better than the Scorpio (the X-Cite was not comfortable, it fits like a shoe, but a shoe that will give me ache after a couple of hours, so it was itself not an alternative).
- A plastic Kayak from Venture Kayak, Sky 17, I had it on a course for practicing eskimo rolls. A quite nice and big enough Kayak, with knee supports that were useful for me. I could have bought it, but it did feel a bit to "thin and plasty" compared to others I had tried.
- I found another Kayak that was also very comfortable, The NDK Romany Surf. This is the one I own now. Maybe not as good as the X-Cite but comfortable and very manouverable.
The interesting thing with the Romany and the Explorer from NDK is that they have decided to produce Kayaks for a little bigger people. Not all their Kayaks, but both Romany and Explorer are made in different sizes (Low volume, medium volume and high volume). The definition of high volume differs a bit from what I learned on the course on adjusting for size:
- High volume means wider and higher, not necessarily wider and longer. To me, this makes a lot of sence. A Kayak can carry more weight if it is wider. But a Kayak will not neccessarily fit a tall person better if it is only wider and longer, it also may need to be higher (allowing for the bigger size feet and the same bending angle of the knees as for a small person in another Kayak).
This ended my testing. The Romany Surf is the Kayak I bought, based on me sitting comfortably in it. Also, in my opinion, the Romany performs nicer than the Scorpio, being the final reason for the choice.
I very much believe in the concept from NDK, with different sizes for the same kind of Kayak. This is similar to clothes. You can select to buy different kinds of clothes, and for each type of clothing it is made available in different sizes (typical comparison would be a t-shirt, available for small, medium, large and extra large people).
Some stores sell Kayaks from many vendors, but I have not found one selling Kayaks from all vendors. Tiderace, P&H, Rockhopper and NDK in the same store for example would allow for a good selection between similar kinds of Kayaks, but developed with different physical forms of people in mind (they truly differ in what size persons they fit for, specially taken into account that for some of them, they do have size choices).
Thus, if you like me are a little large, you can not expect to find a suitable Kayak by trying only in one store. And if you have tried Kayaks, feeling them as small, my recommendation would be to search out the Scorpio just to see if you also feels it differs in how it accomodates size (I believe it is still the Kayak allowing for the biggest shoes I have tried without the Kayak itself being oversized in the neighbourhood of becoming a row boat).
If it does fit better, also search out for example the NDK high volume Kayaks and other kayaks which are specially built to accomodate larger sized persons also in height and width for the legs, not only by being made longer and wider in the hull. In fact, the Romany Surf is a quite short sea kayak, but still made to accomodate larger sized people than many other kayaks. In fact, the NDK Romany extra large is so high and wide that it is too large for me.
After discussiong choice of kayak with many people, I have realised that the difference when being large and choosing kayak, and being of more normal size and choosing kayak, is not big. The main difference lies in how many models you can select between that will fit you. I have thus condensed the general advices for choosing a kayak into a few sentences.