10 Sea Kayaks You Should Paddle Before You Buy
Oh well, there’s Flo on my left and there’s Mary on my right / And Janie is the girl with that I’ll be with tonight
And when she asks me, which one I love the best? / I tear open my shirt I got Rosie on my chest
‘Cause I’m the wanderer / Yeah, the wanderer / I roam around, around, around – Dion
Sea kayaks are expensive. To be honest, reading alone won’t tell you what you need to know before you drop $3,000 or more on a top-of-the-line kayak. You have to paddle them to know how they feel to you. What’s more, how you feel in a particular kayak may be nothing like what someone else feels in that same boat. That means, no one can really tell you what the right kayak is for you. From there you can infer that what I’m about to tell you.. is worthless.. but read on if you like!
Let’s set a few parameters here. First, I’m only considering composite sea kayaks. There is nothing wrong with plastic kayaks mind you, they are just not included in this list. Maybe we’ll do that list another time. Second, I’m only listing sea kayaks I’ve paddled myself. To be fair, I’ve paddled a lot of kayaks over the last few years.. but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fantastic boats that I simply haven’t tried. These days there are all sorts of styles and variations to suit everyone’s needs. In the end it’s very probable that the right boat for you is not on this list, however if you are seriously going to invest a good chunk of cash on a sea kayak; A boat that you can take out on the ocean or the great lakes, a boat that can handle mixed to rough conditions, one that you can do weekend or longer trips in, and one you can learn to roll in, I’ll stand by today’s title. These are “10 sea kayaks you should paddle before you buy”…
10 Sea Kayaks You Should Test Paddle
1. Nordkapp by Valley – Valley is where modern sea kayaks began. They have 2 boats on this list. Since the Mid-70s the Nordkapp has been one of the most respected expedition kayak designs in the world. Over the years Valley has spun off a variety of variations to suit a variety of paddlers. The Nordkapp is number one on my list, not because I think they are best kayaks ever made, but because you simply have to paddle one to have a baseline when talking about the world’s finest sea kayaks.
2. Romany / Explorer by Sea Kayaking UK - The next boats on the “must paddle” list have to be the The Romany & The Explorer from Sea Kayak UK. I mention them both simply because the Explorer is more or less an expedition (read “Larger”) version of the Romany. You would be hard pressed to come up with another design that has been trusted nearly as much as the Explorer by world-class expedition paddlers. I own both a Romany & Explorer myself. Although I paddle other kayaks as well these days, I love my SKUK boats.
3. Force 3/4/5 by Impex – You’ll notice that most of the kayaks on my list come from the UK. The reason is simple, the UK offers some of the most varied and most challenging sea kayaking conditions in the world and their kayak designs speak to that experience. That is not to say there aren’t great kayaks made all over the world. The Force series by Impex are made here in North America. They are fun, lively sea kayaks that fit a variety of paddlers as well. While Impex makes a variety of designs, the Force series makes the “must paddle” list.
4. Alaw Bach by Rockpool – Rockpool sponsored by 2007 PR circumnavigation so I’m totally biased. The Bach shares bloodlines with the Explorer, Romany & Tiderace sea kayaks. The sad part is that finding an Alaw Bach to test paddle here in the states is next to impossible. The Alaw Bach is a nimble little minx in rough conditions and rolls exquisitely for a kayak of its size. If you can paddle one before you make your final choice, do so.
5. Tempest by Wilderness Systems – Steve Scherrer designed a great kayak with the Tempest. I think sometimes the kayak itself has been overshadowed by the heavy marketing on the design of the seat. Well, even if you removed all the fancy “Phase 3 outfitting” you would still have a very nice sea kayak. The Tempest comes in a variety of sizes to fit a variety of paddlers. Before you get out your checkbook, find a Tempest to test paddle.
6. Cetus by P& H kayaks – The Cetus took the sea kayaking world by storm a couple of years back and is still making a name for itself. The generally unique hull design offers an extraordinarily stable craft that still handles well in mixed conditions and is pretty easy-going on beginners. When the boat first came out we felt it was a bit big, but now there are small and mid-range versions to fit every sort of paddler. The Cetus is going to be the dream boat for many paddlers.
7. Xplore S/X by TideRace – The latest sea kayaks from the mind of Aled Williams. I can say without a doubt, that at the moment these are toughest sea kayaks on the market. While everyone else has gone light and flimsy, TideRace translated “quality” into something you can still crash-land on a rock and paddle away from. These are some strong boats. Combine that with their responsive, yet forgiving design and you have another kayak to check out before you decide.
8. Avocet by Valley – I couldn’t create this list without coming back to Valley and talking about their almost overlooked masterpiece. The Avocet. If I had to pick the perfect “student” boat, this would be it. It’s a fantastic all around kayak that will suit just about anyone of any skill level. The Avocet would also be the only boat I could even dare to recommend to someone to buy blindly. Would it be my first choice? No, but it’s hard to imagine anyone hating this boat. If you’ve tried a bunch of sea kayaks and they are all too “something”, then try the Avocet.
9. Capella by P&H – P&H gets another boat on my list, the Capella. The Capella is P&H Sea Kayaks “all ’rounder”. It comes in more sizes than sweatshirts at Wal-Mart so there is a boat for every body type. I have to be honest, I could never figure out all the love the Capella gets, but I know it does. So you simply have to test paddle a Capella to see if its special magic calls out to you.
10. Silhouette, Legend & Shadow by Seaward – Last on my list is family of craft designed by Nigel Foster. The first time I’d paddled one of his designs was with him standing on the beach watching.. Talk about sweating bullets!! Nigel’s Silhouette, Legend & Shadow are unique in their feel. They are quick, nimble and attractive on the water. They are good boats to round out the list because while being very different in feel or design to the Brit-Boats that kick off the list, they are also fantastic craft in their own right.
There are other great boats out there from many fine companies including; Current Designs, Nadgee, Boreal Designs, Mirage just to name a few. The list could go on and on. Maybe a composite boat isn’t right for you. Maybe you’ll decide a smaller recreational kayak will best suit your dreams. There’s a lot of other questions to ask before your buy. Still, whatever you choose in the end, I’d recommend at least test paddling these 10 fantastic sea kayaks before you put your money down. These days more than ever, buying a new kayak is a big investment. Take your time. Choose wisely.
So let the debate begin! What kayaks would you suggest?