Sea Kayaking UK (NDK) Romany. In Review.

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway, yay
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasin’ after some finer day
– carly simon

I’ve had the old white Romany for some time, but as I said it was not “my” boat so I rarely paddled it.  In fact until recently the only time I paddled the Romany was when the local river was in flood. At those times I’d take the boat out to play in the currents and surf since I was not worried about banging it up.  Now that I’ve repaired the hull and have it seaworthy again, I’ve been paddling it quite a bit which offers a great opportunity to share some fresh thoughts about the Romany in general.  

The SKUK (NDK) Romany is a classic of course.  Back in the day it set a new standard for sea kayaks.  It can easily be argued that most sea kayaks available today took something off the Romany. (Some it could be said, pretty much took everything off the Romany!)

At 16ft in length and just 21.5 inches wide, the Romany is a smaller day or weekend kayak. It will fit mid-sized paddlers but will be too tight for some heavier or taller people. Still, don’t write yourself off without actually sitting in one. There are a lot of assumptions being made out there about what will or will not fit a certain size paddler.  Your body type is as relevant to boat fit as height and weight. In addition there are all sorts of high & low volume versions these days as well. The point is, try boats. Don’t just assume they will or will not fit you.

The “Classic” Romany was designed to be agile and to play well in surf and rough water.  You’d be hard pressed to find a sea kayak more at ease playing in big conditions.  (However, the longer SKUK Explorer would be the choice to cover distance in rough conditions.) My Romany does not have a skeg or rudder. I’ve not had it out in a harsh enough wind to miss the skeg, but I have a feeling it may need one.  I’ve had my Explorer out in crazy conditions and have never used a skeg.  In fact, it’s not even in the boat! One thing I found interesting about both the Romany and the Explorer is how they seem to ride at level up tall broaching waves.  They don’t naturally lean into or away from  wave coming at the side, they just ride up and over like the step of an escalator.  I’ve found this tendency to be a real comfort to new or nervous paddlers.  The Romany’s design tends to take care of you.

It’s as good as place as any to mention that the Romany’s sloping bulkhead behind the seat is a godsend when getting water out of a kayak.  I can’t fathom companies that have not bothered to steal this feature by now.  I mean, come on!? If you want to see new paddler’s eyes light up, show them that after they try to get water out of a kayak without a sloping bulkhead.  You can argue the true value of the sloping bulkhead if you like but it’s a simple feature that impresses anyone who’s shopping for a new kayak.

In flat water play the Romany is a dancer.  The shortness of the boat and the fair amount of rocker allow it to spin easily with just a slight amount of edge, while at the same time you can quite easily put an extreme edge on the boat without fear of going over.  Sitting still I can edge the Romany until the water is up over the combing and tickling my ribs without losing stability.  Running through all the basic skills from sweeps to draws, hanging draws, bow rudders and the rest, the Romany is happily compliant and takes little effort to maneuver.  Similar to other Aled Williams designs, the Romany is one of those perfect “coach” kayaks because it will perform even when you’re feeling tired, distracted or just plain rusty.  If you can’t make a skill look graceful in a Romany, it’s time to get back out to the practice pond!

The Romany is also an easy kayak to roll regardless of rolling style.  It’s not a Greenland style rolling boat, but it still offers a low enough profile to make laybacks, stick & hand rolls quite easy.  As I’ve said before, any boat I can jump in and hand roll without too much adjustment, sliding forward or other erroneous fiddling gets a rolling pass from me.  The Romany is a nice roller.

And that’s pretty much the gist of anyone’s review of the Romany as long as we talk about design and boat control. It’s just a great kayak. While there are plenty of also rans out there, you may as well just paddle a Romany and be done with it.  Of course that’s not the whole story… Where things go weird is in issues of weight and quality control.  These are issues that have been debated ad nauseum and will probably be debated for as long as SKUK exists.  I think however,  in the last few years we’ve realized something about QC in general that.. well, I’ll come back to that.

First let’s talk about weight. New SKUK kayaks are not nearly as heavy as my old mid-nineties versions.  On the other hand, my old ones are practically indestructible.  You simply keep laying on more gel coat year after year until you die, or the weight of the gelcoat sinks the kayak the second you put it in the water.  Otherwise, your old Romany will always be ready to play.  What does an old NKD Romany weigh? 55lbs? 60lbs? 70lbs? More? Everyone will have a different story there.  Back in the days of pouring gelcoat from old paint cans directly on the hull, there was no one answer.  Suffice to say, they were heavy. AND they were also tough as nails.   Today’s boats are designed for today’s market. SKUK kayaks are lighter than back in the day, but they are still not light.

  • Now let me sidetrack here a bit.  I read a review of an Explorer recently where the guy was complaining about spider cracking, flexing and oil canning.  At the same time he talked of finding an Elite layup to get rid of even more weight.  UM, no…  Gelcoat is not rubber, when it bends it cracks.  Yes, if you get the gelcoat layer thin enough it will flex a bit before it cracks, but it WILL crack. In the war on weight, spider cracking is the new “normal” on sea kayaks. Did old heavy sea kayaks get spider cracks? Yes.  But not nearly as easily.  They simply were not so flexible.  Until we come up with some new material that is tough as an old 70 pounder, but weighs 35 lbs.. I’ll vote for heavy. It will last longer.

So back to the issue of quality. We all know SKUK quality as gone up and down over the years.  It was easy to bash Nigel when newer companies like Current Designs or  Impex were all the rage.  Well, we learned didn’t we?  Quality control is everyone’s problem from time to time.  QC is dependent on a lot of people holding a lot of balls in the air at once.  Still, at the price of a sea kayak today I don’t accept bad QC from anyone. I think SKUK was unfairly bashed before we realized the “new” guys could suck too.  To quote Billy Joel, “Everyone goes south, every now and then”.  It’s what a company does to rectify a problem when it comes up that shows their real character. Are there SKUK horror stories.. Yup.  But today we can put it in some context. Funny thing about SKUK boats is that even with the bad QC wrap there are thousands of paddlers who would never buy anything else.  That speaks to either an amazing craft or group insanity.

Rockpool Alaw Back (left) NDK Romany (Right)

I’ve been paddling or test paddled kayaks designed by or with Aled Williams for some time from the Romany to Rockpool to Tiderace. They all share a heritage that is obvious from the moment you paddle them.  There are kayaks out there from many different designers and brands that are impressive and may do this thing or that thing better than Aled’s boats, but I’ve never found one that is truly a better all around kayak.  This last week of paying special attention to the original Romany has only reinforced that opinion for me.  As far as sea kayaks go, the Romany IS the ice cream.  Everything else, is just a different flavor.

Ok, let the battle begin!

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18 Responses

  1. Nice review, Derrik. I have both an old Romany and a new Explorer. The old boat is heavy, but it takes a beating, and it’s my favorite kayak (the Dagger Meridian/WS Zephyr is a close second). The Romany is truly the ice cream with fudge and sprinkles on top of it to boot. My new (one yr old) Explorer has a ton of issues and two other boats built in the same batch/same color share the same issues. But if you want an NDK, what are you going to do other than put up with the QC issues? My advice is buy SKUK/NDK boats used, so you know which issues you’ll have to deal with up-front instead of having a year of discovering those issues. And don’t buy the Elite layup!

  2. Hey Bryan, that’s a very good point regarding buying one used. Better the enemy you know… Besides, if you can get a thick old school layup all the better. :)

    1. Roger

      What issues are you having with your Explorer? I have a two year old boat and the only issue is a small crack in the seat where the foam underneath fatigued and allowed the seat to flex.

  3. Dale


    Well written, and I can’t disagree with the points you make in favor of the heavier boats, but I’m still a fan of the Elite layup. I’ve owned quite a few. Granted, it helps that I’m not too picky about cosmetics and that my close friend is a very good glass repair guy. I believe the Elites are proportionately lighter at the ends, giving them less swing weight (so long as you opt out of the skeg), making them a bit easier to roll, but also making them better boats for surfing.

  4. I bought an Elite layup Explorer this spring, a demo from last year so I guess you can say its slightly used. No issues so far, other than some gel coat flaking around the outside of the skeg housing. Bryan, what kind of stuff have you run into? (Off to GM, MI next week and hope to be back in GM, MN in August).

  5. David Carlsson

    Good review Derrick. I also own an older Romany that I bought used and an Explorer I bought new a couple years ago. My Romany is a tank and has taken a ton of abuse both before and while I’ve owned it. My Explorer has also taken it’s share of abuse, but it just feels a little more delicate. The only issue I had with the Explorer is a slight manufacturing defect / chip out of the seat. No big deal. I know what you’re saying about the skeg. I rarely use it in either boat, especially in the Romany as it’s a rope skeg and very difficult to adjust. It’s either full on or full off. In fact, I’d probably trade the skeg in the Explorer for the additional space for trips. However I do appreciate the skeg surfing wind waves in the Columbia River Gorge. It makes it a little easier to keep the boat going straight on the swell, though I could also just be lazy 😉 As far as the Romany, I’d be curious if you have any insight into the age. Here are a couple pictures…


    Off to the Lopez & Orcas Islands for a week tomorrow!!


  6. Lisa

    Really enjoyed reading your review Derrick! I’m certainly not an expert on kayaks but I love my Romany – I’ve had a few issues but nothing that would push me to buy something else. In fact, I’m looking at the SKUK (NDK) Pilgrim Expedition as my next boat because I’d like something with more space for longer trips.

  7. Dale

    Just a comment for David on the NDK rope skeg, which in my humble and probably warped opinion, is the best skeg Nigel ever made….This is what I have found works best: To drop the skeg, pull the rope forward and out of the cleat with some authority. You’ll hear/feel the blade bump the top of the skeg box. Release it the same way. You’ll hear the blade bump the front of the box. If you didn’t already have hull speed, get some. You’ll feel the blade begin to flutter. This is due to the blade stalling in an un-swept position. Pull slight tension on the rope until the flutter goes away. Viola! You have all the weather cocking prevention you’ll ever need. You won’t get the fine tune control of a wire skeg, but it will work every time and it’s field maintainable with cheap parts like the bungee off your deck.

  8. I third the rope skeg. I’ve been looking for a kevlar or no-stretch cord to make it better, but haven’t found anything yet. Ideas?

  9. derrick

    David I believe you can date your boat with the serial number scratched into the tail. The year is in 2 places, but I think you can just look at the last two numbers. Someone can tell me if that’s wrong..

  10. John Browning

    I’m still paddling my 1997 Romany, in fact have it along for the symposiums as the repairs I was doing to the Explorer (purchased 2nd hand) didn’t work out in time to leave town. Both have rope skegs and I love them! I have moved the skeg control on the Explorer back to the hip area rather than in front of the cockpit–never could get it to function properly from the forward position. The Romany is still my boat of choice for teaching, it’s as agile as a gymnast, but does need some cosmetic surgery when I return.

  11. Kellie

    As usual, coming into the discussion late. I have a Pilgrim with elite layup and had a keel strip put on it. I find the rope skeg hard to retract, almost need to pull the string with both hands which isn’t feasible when I’m paddling. A guy friend who tried the retracting the skeg feels it has a lot of resistance. It’s my first boat with a skeg, and I really haven’t needed the skeg so far. Will the rope skeg loosen up with time?

    Been enjoying the boat, still working out some rolls with it. whitewater boat is so easy to roll (too easy?).

    1. Dale

      It should not be that hard to retract. I haven’t had a chance to examine the newest rope skeg which is what would be on the Pilgrim, but I’ve heard that the blade is held stable on the axle by little foam spacers, the same ones used to pad the foot peg holes. If so, it may just be too tight. Foam spacers will loosen up over time, and with use. Whatever the cause, your dealer should be able to find the problem pretty quickly to adjust that for you. If you’re ever at Tybee Island, GA, stop by the Outdoor Inn. I’ll be happy to have a look at it for you. (theoutdoorinn@gmail.com).


    2. Hey Kellie, Sorry to hear that. As Dale said, it should deploy with very little effort. You got the boat from Ryan in Chicago right? Heck of a drive to fix a skeg.. I wonder if he offers home service? LOL! Maybe zip an email off to Seakayaking UK as well and just see if they have a suggestion we’ve not heard.

  12. Len Carlson

    I have a relatively new Explorer that I love – best boat I’ve ever had. It’s great in any condition and surprisingly easy to roll. I have been working on various Greenland rolls but am shaky on the Norsaq roll and can’t get the hand roll with the Explorer. Yesterday I tried a friend’s standard Romany and was shocked as the Norsaq was a breeze and I did a bunch of hand rolls with no problem. I see various versions of the Romany for sale but am not sure how similar they are to the standard model. There are several Poseidons for sale but I don’t know if it has the same hull, etc. as the standard Romany. I’m a large person with long legs but fit nicely into the standard version so I’m reluctant to go for the larger versions and have a loose fit. Any info on the model differences would be appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Dale


      There are basically four design lines with the name Romany, that is if you disregard that the original Explorers were for a short time called Romany Explorers, and that “Romany” herself is not a design at all, but the name of Nigel’s oldest daughter.

      The original, referred to these days on the web site as the Classic, is what started it all and is still built today.

      A boat with the same hull but lower deck and smaller cockpit is the Romany LV.

      The Romany HV began as the Poseidon. Same boat….just a name change. It’s longer, wider and has a much larger cockpit than the Romany. It rolls well, possibly even better than the Explorer, but the cockpit fit will not work as well for average to smaller folks. I doubt it would roll as well as the Romany.

      Somewhere along the way, Nigel discovered that the HV was an awesome surfing sea kayak, so he redesigned the deck to accommodate a broader range of paddlers and renamed it the Romany S for “Surf”.. It has aggressive thigh braces, great for surfing and rolling. I’m 5’11’, 190 with a 32″ inseam and the boat is roomy and comfortable for me. It will still accommodate much larger paddlers.

      There’s a plastic version of the Romany S, perhaps just a bit smaller than the composite version.

      The last and newest is the Romany Excel, built from the external mold taken from the Romany S during development of the plastic boat. The plastic boats shrink in the rotomold, so you have to start with a mold bigger than you want the plastic boat to be. The composite Excel is a great boat for linebackers, 6′ 4″ 220 and up.

      Hope that helps.