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.
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.
Wilderness Systems aka "Dagger" Kaos:
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:
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:
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