TopKayaker.Net: Kayak Instruction Articles

Sall on Classic
Here's Sally on the Coral Gables Waterway on her Ocean Kayak Scupper Classic SOT. Talk about stability! Here Sally looks to be relaxing but she's actually rubbing out a toe cramp. Emphasizes how stable these now out-of-production Scupper Classics (& still in-production Scupper Pros) truly are, and why we continue to heartily recommend them for beginners over both tandems & other wider/shorter/slower singles.
Frank and Pro
Here I am in 2004, after returning from Largo Sound, skunked, once again... Something, most probably a small shark or a feisty cuda, jerked my rod and me and the Pro! around pretty vigorously for about 5 seconds, then slipped the hook and was gone. Here, you can see how I typically set the Old Pro up when I go fishing: cut-off PVC plastic plumbing pipes strapped into the basket become rocket launcher rod holders, the basket holds my 'stuff', and I take along a small tackle box I keep between the basket & leading side of the TW. Hey, maybe I don't catch, but I sure DO have fun...!
Frank in Isthmus
Here I am on the day we decided to get the "I", our lightweight, super fast, glass, South African Knysna Isthmus. After paddling 4 outings over maybe 3 hours, including a 2-mile loop that friend Foghorn set up near his place in Key Largo to train for the B&B. I hadn't fallen off & swum, but it WAS touch & go at times! Here, note my EZ, relaxed, laid-back, almost loafing form as I approach the beach at Rick's place... NOT!, LOL! Because I was so impressed and because I hadn't tipped off. We bought it from Foghorn that afternoon & drove back up to Coconut Grove with it that nite The rest, as they say, is comedy, er, history...!
Sally on Isthmus
Here's Sally calmly - blithely? - riding our sleek, South African fibreglass "Isthmus" speedster on somewhat choppy water in windy conditions off Hobie Beach on Virginia Key. Note how relaxed she is! Greyak & I both swam that afternoon, while Sally stayed up just fine - going into, with, & most impressively, going across the chop in a beam sea! Here, she paddles along without even the stabilizing influence of the rudder. That's part of the southern part of the Miami skyline beyond, across Biscayne Bay.
Understanding Kayak Performance
Based On Design Features
by Frank Ladd
from the Best Of The Forum

To answer the question of Brand vs Performance - Frank explains:

Boats perform according to their shapes, their length, beam (width), and, for want of a set of better terms, their longitudinal and cross-sectional conformation.

ALL these attributes will affect the boat's performance, and, in turn, how your performance - how well (or not), how easily (or how hard you work at it), and how effortlessly (or strenuously) you paddle, and indeed, how you feel on the kayak.

The short answer is: Long boats are faster than short ones, and short ones are more maneuverable than long ones. Skinny boats are more effortlessly paddled, fat boats take a lot of work.

The hydrodynamics of long hulls intrinsically account for better top ends. And it's almost self-evident that turning a 9-foot boat will be a lot easier than horsing a 17- or 18-footer around (sans rudder).

Skinny boats - those with a low "aspect ratio" - the relative length to width fraction - will tend to feel (and usually be) tippy in the hands (and butts) of novices, even when paddled by some experienced but balance-challenged paddlers as well.

My Isthmus is a low aspect ratio SOT - it's 17' long, and 21" wide - about a 9.7 aspect ratio. These boats will usually be easily tipped on their sides, and most can easily be flipped. That's the "I", fer sure! On the other hand, many (but not all) can be held there because their "secondary stability" is good, and experienced paddlers can "hold an edge" and use "edging" & "bracing" such boats to advantage to turn the boat quicker, or to counter the action of a wave that wants to tip them over.

Fat boats - those with high aspect ratios (that is, for example, a Malibu II - the SOT Sally & I started out on), which is around 12 feet long and a tad under 3 feet wide (so a ratio of 4.2 results) will tend to feel as stable as a table, and be tough to turn over. It cannot be edged, because once it starts going over, like all such boats, it's a goner. If you're sideways on a wave face, you'll be heeling (leaning) at the same angle as the wave because you won't be able to rotate along & around your bow-to-stern axis (like you can with most skinny boats).

Basically, these boats stay flat to the surface of the water unless really perturbed - and if that water is angled, as it is if you are sideways to a moderately-sized wave, then the boat will flat to the water surface, and equally angled, too! Fat boats have a bigger cross section to push thru the water, so they'll be harder to paddle to either maintain the same speed as a skinnier boat, or to go the same distance expending the same amount of padddling energy.

Cross Sections

Ah... cross-sections... Here's where a lot of why a boat feels tippy or not, whether it's a fast boat or not, or if it's easier or harder to turn, come in, as well as whether the boat reacts well to winds and waves or currents.

Surf skis are the stilettos of the kayaking world, and are basically rather round SOTs in cross-section, usually in the neighborhood of 17- 21" wide, and run from about 17' to around 20 or 21' long. They have VERY efficient hulls, and slip thru the water with minimal resistance. Like my Isthmus (even though it's not really a round cross-beam cross section), they're fast and squirrelly.

Boats like the Malibu II are at the other end of the spectrum. They are wide, shallowly flat-topped boats with an almost flattened box cross section and a keel. They make terrific platforms for kids, dogs, and fishing gear, but they are slow, and take a lot of hard work to paddle. 10 or 12 years ago I took ours on a circumnavigation of a small, maybe 3/4 mile-long island here in Biscayne Bay in a bit of a chop and breeze. I was in good shape. What amounted to a mere net 2-mile paddle tuckered me out first class! In contrast, in the same waters, in even worse conditions, I went even farther far easier in my 17'- 2" X 22 - 3/8" Perception Eclipse SINK a few years later.

Hull Shapes

Then there's longitudinal conformation - how the hull is shaped bow-to-stern when viewed from the top, and when viewed from the side. Let's look at boats when viewed from above.

Boats with a fatter bow section and a skinnier tail are said to be "fish-form". These tend to be good boats in bad conditions.

Boats that have narrow noses and wider aft sections are called Swede-form, and tend to slip through the water quicker and more easily.

Boats that have the same shape fore & aft of the seat area - the cockpit - are, and are called, symmetric boats, and combine some of the advantages (and disadvantages) of both the former shapes.

Now, when we view boats from the side, there are other characteristics to consider... If the boat sits flat on a concrete floor, it's not got any "rocker". If, on the other hand, it rocks back and forth along the keel like it's a rocking chair - it's got a LOT of rocker. Most boats have a small to moderate amount of rocker. The more rocker a boat has, the easier it is to maneuver (turn); the less it has, the more difficult it is to turn, and may require a rudder.

Demo Days

The Malibu II is a fairly rockered boat, while the Isthmus had just about zero rocker (and has a rudder). Different boats, different hulls, different results... Most novices want stability to start. I know we did. But after a while, someone stole our Malibu II, and we started thinking about maybe getting singles - thinner, longer singles. We went to several kayak demo days, and tried out a number of boats, and were astounded at two things - well, astounded at the second thing, happily surprised at the first:

1) Those boats were a LOT easier to paddle - less tiring, and a whole lot faster. A lot more FUN!

2) We adapted rather quickly to being in what we initially conceived as "skinny, tippy boats"!

After the first half-hour at the first demo, we felt confident enough that we could paddle these that we began looking at them as replacements for the untimely demise of the old Malibu II...! (That old yellow barge being stolen was the best thing that could've happened to us, paddling-wise!) That's how we came to buy Sally's OK Scupper Classic (14'1" X 26") and my OK Scupper Pro TW (tankwell), 14'9" X 26". Even though these boats are a relative whopping 8" narrower than the Malibu II, they're still exceptionally stable platforms.

Scupper Classic
Ocean Kayak Scupper Classic
Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro
Malibu II
Ocean Kaya Malibu II

Scupper Pro's have long been one of the better yakfishing boats around, and combined many decent attributes of speed, stability, and maneuverability. They have only recently been discontinued as Ocean Kayak transitioned from local Pacific NW manufacturer to national and then international distribution world-renown builder to corporate conglomerate member.

The Prowlers are now the OK boats of choice for many of the more serious kayakers, especially outdoorspeople and anglers. But the real point is, don't sell yourself short so soon... OK, Wilderness Systems, Hurricane, Emotion, and a number of other, smaller makers all offer excellent SOTs that, with a little practice, will work well for you.

Prowler 15
Ocean Kayak Prowler 15
Tarpon 140
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160
Hurricane Phoenix

You should begin to think about not only where you will be paddling, but why you will be paddling. If it's to pursue an activity like photography or fishing, certain features will be helpful, like flat areas to attach rod holders, tankwells to easily access gear and carry coolers and/or baitwells, and at least some better, more efficient, hull shapes so you can paddle to where you want to fish - and then back as well! - without fatiguing yourself beyond reason.

If you want to take your dog along, or an additional child, then a tad wider boat might be better. If you want another adult along then the best bet is a 2nd boat, but maybe a tandem would work for you. I'm 6-0, 207 (ugh...! I WAS 200 before the holiday trips to the relatives for Thanksgiving, and nother up to the Carolinas - and we have a third starting this week as well...) and I fit well in our Scuppers, and fish from them. They are stable and decent boats. Similar built paddlers might want to look at the OK Prowlers, the WS Tarpon 140 and 160, and the longer Hurricane SOTs, among others. I suggest you look for a boat in the 14' range; shorter ones may not be quite as good for floating a guy at 225 as easily.

Don't forget the "rest" of the 'boat': a decent to good paddle (do NOT get sold a 2, 3, or 4-piece flat-bladed aluminum & plastic cheap one. Look for a moderate dihedral ("floppy" shaped blade) of good plastic on a mildly oval shaft, shaped wide enough for your hand. Aquabound makes good, relatively inexpensive paddles in the $100 range (the SeaClude & SeaQuel, for example) AND a decent to good PFD ($40-100). See Paddles & Life Jackets (PFDs) in Tom's TopKayaker Shop - and don't miss the articles: How To Choose A Paddle as well as Getting The Proper Fit On Your PFD

And think about transportation - GOOD foam blocks, or best, a roof rack system.

Hope this helps - don't be intimidated by tech talk - it's good stuff to know - and don't shy from a non-fat boat, y'all'll most likely be happier in the end in quicker, easier-to-paddle, sleeker boats. And when all's said & done, they become so much more fun - and THAT'S the real secret.

Have fun, and you'll be sure to...Paddle On! - Scupper Pro Frank

Frank has been a valued and regular contributor to Topkayaker.net's Forum since its beginnings.

Related articles:

Kayak Design Terminology Defined by Tom Holtey - Terms used to describe the various hull shapes and other kayak design characteristics.

How To Choose A Sit-on-top Kayak with info on How To Decide On Gear

How To Choose A Kayak Paddle Quite often we think we are unhappy with our kayak when it is the paddle that is all wrong.

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