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Sit-on-top Surf Kayaks

 Reviews by Surf Kayaker Steve Eisenhauer

For about 3 years now I’ve surf kayaked year-round an average of two days a week in either a Wilderness Systems Kaos (now made by Dagger) or a Cobra Revision. The double overhead waves are the most fun but there aren’t many days with this size around Sea Isle City, New Jersey. On good wave days I might be in the water 5 hours, but my average surf-riding day is just over 2 hours, and my favorite surf times are sunrise and sunset when the wind is likely to be the calmest.

Revision - Kaos

Of my two 10”2” Kaos kayaks, one cost $200, acquired from a farmer who had a “For Sale” sign on it on the roadside. Since this one is now about 15 years old, and had taken a beating from previous owners (fins worn to nubs, fin boxes and hatch damaged), I jumped at the chance to recently buy a newer (10-year-old) version for $240.

Cobra's Revision:


Wilderness Systems aka "Dagger" Kaos:


knee strapsAt Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:

Knee Straps
Like these contoured ergonomic design, padded knee straps, with quick release side-squeeze buckles.

Paddle Leash
Use a paddle leash in surf & wind (NOT in whitewater) to maintain control of your kayak. Cobra Fin

Surf Kayak Fins/Skegs
The addition of skegs/fins add performance, increases the ability of the Kaos Finkayak to hold position while trimming along the wave face and aids in tracking.

We carry fins for both the Cobra Revision & W.S. / Dagger KaosSurf Helmet

These water sport helmets can be used for all paddling disciplines that can involve risk, such as white water rafting, river boogie, rock gardens and sea caves.

The 13’6” Cobra Revision was bought new (without a hatch) after paddling the Kaos regularly for a year: I wanted more speed, flotation and space for my 6’1”, 220 lb. body. It is a faster boat that grips the wave face well without a fin thanks to the lips along its rails and, compared to the Kaos, floats me high (feels like a throne). As expected with the longer length, cutbacks and turns require more work and aren’t as crisp. And whenever a quick exit in big surf is required on the wave crest, with the boat on frontside of the wave and me on the backside, there’s a danger of snapping the 8’ long, 5/16” diameter coil-type paddle leash (the standard black rope supplied for both connected ends of the leash soon frays and breaks and must be replaced with 500 lb. test Dacron kiteing).

The Kaos is tougher than the linear polyethylene Revision. All Kaos eyelets are brass and well anchored; the Revision comes with plastic eyelets that snap and must be replaced with stainless steel. I only need 3 eyelets for the Kaos (one for the front leash connection to the paddle, and two for a carrying handle) and one for the Revision’s leash connection (I carry this boat on my head with a foam block cemented to the inside floor). And, whereas the Kaos hull seems indestructible, the 2-year-old Revision hull already has a small buckle and a leaking 1”-long flex crack that has been difficult to repair properly. Additional observations about both boats are as follows:

  1. The soft foam block cemented between my legs to the Revision floor makes it carriable on my head but fairly strong neck muscles are needed. As soon as I can find an epoxy that will keep a foam block on the Kaos floor I’ll carry this boat this way too (it’s ripped off twice in big surf with the epoxies I’ve tried).

  2. Except for a single stainless steel eyelet on the Revision’s nose for the paddle leash, all of the other eyelets have been replaced with flat-faced plastic plugs. Unlike the Kaos eyelets – which are recessed into the hull – the Revision eyelets stick up enough to rip a wetsuit or bruise a body part when one is banged around in rough surf.

  3. Owning both boats is the surfer equivalent of owning a long surfboard and a short one. The Revision’s longer length – and the lack of the need for a fin – makes it easier to accelerate to catch waves, and this is appreciated on clean, big-surf, long period, outside (or inlet) break days. The Kaos is more maneuverable, grips a wave face better with three of the larger (2.5” high) fins installed, and is safer after wipe-outs in big surf and whenever there’s a need to quickly steer around other surfers or rock/pier/piling structures (although the fins can be a moderate hazard).

  4. The Revision is a faster flatwater boat, if you want to paddle on a low or no surf day. It tracks better, even without a fin, and you sit higher and drier.

  5. I don’t use thigh straps or a seat back for either boat because of the need to slide forward or back to trim the boats (occasionally leaning completely backwards) and since thigh straps can be uncomfortable during long sessions or can cause the kayak nose to pull up. I prefer being essentially a free-floating body on the boat which means falling out more often than if strapped in, but this works for me.

  6. In my opinion hatches are a problem with surf kayaks: they can leak, crack and they add unnecessary ounces. The Revision you can order without any; the Kaos (now sold by Dagger) comes with one, which I seal closed.

At Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:

Strap Eyes & Wellnuts

rivetsThese strap eyes (pad eyes) are black nylon or stanless steel. Strong enough for all but the cruelest punishment. strap eyesThe industry standard for kayak assembly, most commonly used for backrest and knee strap attachments, leash, shock cord, deck lines.

I love both boats, perhaps the Kaos a little more than the Revision. At 56 years old I also appreciate the primary advantages of SOT kayaks over sit-in kayaks: it’s easy to get in and out of them, and they don’t fill up with water and have to be baled out. The older I get the creakier my body gets, and falling out (sometimes purposely), swimming and/or wading a bit, and getting back in keeps me from feeling cramped, and exercises my entire body.

Sometimes waves break in water only a couple feet deep, especially at river inlet sandbars which are my favorite surf locations; and rock jetties are common along New Jersey beaches. So progressing to wave skis or composite/plastic sit-in kayaks – which require deeper water for rolls – isn’t a goal for me.

12-11-12 update: For the past few years the only kayak I've used in the surf is the Kaos. The Cobra Revision still comes in handy, but only as a flatwater kayak in quiet rivers and a calm ocean, where everyone (even some novices) love it. After a year or so trial in the surf I found the Revision to be less fun and more dangerous. My Kaos now is the Dagger version purchased 6 months ago. It's virtually identical to the Wilderness Systems versions. So far, the nicest characteristic of my new Dagger Kaos, other than the reasonable cost of $550, is it doesn't have to be drained of water after every outing (like my 10-year-old Kaos). It's so tight, draining once a month is all that's needed. Also, the bottom doesn't oil can, which means the bottom becomes somewhat concave after an hour or so of use (reported by many Kaos users and certainly a problem with my previous Kaos kayaks). I now use only one fin, which makes the Kaos easier to turn and allows for some fun side-slipping on wave faces (your paddle is your extra fin whenever you need it).

Resources at TopKayaker.net:

Any wave ski or surf kayak can be outfitted for comfort and performance with the addition of a backrest, knee straps, and seat pads. Learn how from more articles right here at TopKayaker.net:

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