Why Kayak?

Here are some good reasons for going kayaking:

It’s a fabulous way to exercise! Paddling with a consistent, sustained touring stroke is great aerobic exercise. With the correct paddle technique, it works many muscle groups, especially the abdomen, glutes and shoulders.

We live on a blue planet. More that 70% of the world is ocean. Kayaking is the ultimate way to explore our beautiful coastlines, bays and rivers.

Kayaks have a shallow draft, which enables them to go places that even boats cannot go. New South Wales is blessed with fantastic beaches, bays, inlets and inland waterways, with conditions to suit novices through to veteran paddlers.

Kayaking attracts people from all walks of life, however the sea is a great leveller. Egos soon disappear when conditions become challenging or new skills are being learned in a new environment, and it’s a wonderful way to build team spirit and to meet new friends.

Kayaking offers the ultimate escape from our increasingly busy lives. Want to take your mind off all those work and family pressures? Paddle 10 minutes out of Patonga Beach and you can enjoy the peace and tranquility of virtual wilderness.

Environmentally, paddling is one of the least offensive marine sports. No noise or fumes, no massive wake from the hull and you’re sure to meet other like-minded individuals, who care about our planet.

Learn new skills: Although the learning curve for kayaking is not steep (almost anyone can paddle on calm water), the curve is very long, stretching out for the life of the paddler. To sea kayak in a wide range of conditions, paddlers must not only learn competent boat handling skills, but also the many fine points of marine navigation and marine weather. Paddling conditions also vary in different parts of the world. Even the most experienced kayakers have much to learn about kayaking and a lot of new challenges to tackle should they choose to, making kayaking a rewarding experience to grow into for a lifetime.

Be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Especially on multi-day kayaking trips, paddling a kayak with all the gear you’ll need for days on end under your hatches is a satisfying and liberating experience (in the same way backpacking is) that will make you question our society’s materialist values.

Adventure Kayaking (and outdoor sports in general, for that matter) is one of the last accessible, legal forms of true adventure left to us in an overpopulated, ordered world. The experience of this ultimate freedom is addictive.

Mastering kayaking can make you into a competent paddler in a surf zone, as exhilarating and challenging a place to paddle as any river.

How fast can a kayak be paddled?

Paddling speed depends on many factors, including, but not limited to paddling technique, paddler strength and endurance, sea conditions, hull design, and hull load. As a general rule of thumb, an average kayaker of moderate experience and moderate strength, paddling in a calm sea in a standard plastic 5 metre long, 60 cm beam (wide) kayak without much cargo, can sustain a speed of 3 knots (roughly 5.5 kilometres per hour) for long stretches of time. This is a brisk, yet comfortable walking pace. (1 nautical mile = 1.829 kilometres)

Beginners are usually a bit slower, paddling at 2 to 2.5 knots on average.

Experienced paddlers in fast boats can do better. As a general rule, the narrower (and consequently, less stable) and longer a boat, the faster it is. The fastest boats usually have a beam of 56cm or less.

The theoretical maximum speed a kayaker can paddle without beginning to plane (referred to as the "maximum hull speed") is 1.34 times the square root of the length of the hull at the waterline. However, only strong, experienced kayakers ever approach the hull speed of a 5.3 metre sea kayak. With shorter (4 metre) boats, hull speed plays an important role and moderately experienced paddlers will quickly run into the boat's maximum speed.

Lighter boats are easier to lift and may accelerate more quickly however there comes a time when strength is sacrificed. Light boats are not good in very windy conditions and if they flex too much will cause drag in the water. Composites (Fibreglass, Diolen, Kevlar, Carbon and Kevlar / Carbon) are generally lighter and stiffer than polyethylene (PE), and being more rigid also tend to be faster . Consequently experienced paddlers desiring speed often choose more expensive composite boats. Composites also develop fewer deep and nasty nicks and scratches than PE boats. These nicks, which can also be repaired, add turbulence to the boundary layer of water on the hull's surface and significantly increase drag. Foam core 3-layer PE boats offer better flotation and thermal insulation and are more rigid that single layer PE. As a general rule of thumb, the use of composites may increase a kayak's speed by about half a knot over its PE equivalent. PE kayaks are more forgiving and bounce better than composites.

Sea conditions have a tremendous effect on paddling speed. If you normally paddle 2.5 knots, but there is a 2.5 knot opposing current, you'll paddle in place! On the other hand, if the current is in the direction you want to go, you'll paddle at 5 knots! Current speeds of 1.5 knots or more are common in the Hawkesbury River, so it's essential to check a marine chart and tide table before setting out. Wind is also a significant factor. At 10 knots or less, wind causes few paddlers significant trouble, but a novice paddler will likely be unable to make any headway paddling into a 20 knot headwind! Knowing the wind forecast and understanding the prevailing wind directions in the area you're paddling is also very important.

So how fast can a sea kayak be paddled? Experienced and fit paddlers in long, narrow, PE or Composite boats should have no problem holding 4 to 5 knots for long stretches in average conditions, which is practically a jog.

Where can a sea kayak be paddled?

Answer – any body of water, except rapids. A sea kayak's seaworthiness is entirely dependent on the paddler. The sea kayak was designed and in use millennia ago by native people in Greenland, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands. The ocean waters in these regions are some of the roughest and most turbulent in the world.

A lifetime of enjoyable kayaking can be spent paddling in protected waters. However, it's satisfying to realise the sea kayak was invented to cruise the open ocean, and epic ocean expeditions are taken routinely with sea kayaks. Experienced paddlers can successfully negotiate surf of virtually any strength.

Given that conditions at sea are subject to change without too much notice, its best to get local knowledge before racing off into the unknown.

One caveat to all of this – think twice before taking a sea kayak on a flowing river! A sea kayak is designed to track straight, and not to execute the tight manoeuvers necessary on most rivers.

How far can a kayak be paddled?

Just like the answer to the question, "How fast can a sea kayak be paddled?," it really depends. All of the items effecting kayaking speed also effect kayaking distance. Most novices with improper paddling technique are exhausted after only a couple of kilometres. With proper technique and a moderate amount of practice, 15 - 25 kilometres in one day should be no problem.

Experienced paddlers should have no problem paddling 30 or more kilometres a day. Very fit, very experienced paddlers can go 50 kilometres a day, and occasionally you'll hear stories of 80 kilometer days! Of course, sea state, wind, current direction, and current strength have a lot to do with it.

Why is hull shape so important?

Whether you are buying a cruising yacht or a kayak, its all about the design of the hull.  For this reason alone it is essential that you test paddle the kayak you like before you pay for it.

Ask the seller about the stability characteristics, both primary and secondary. Ask how the kayak performs in a following sea, or in windy conditions. Most of the big shops won't have a clue, they're just box movers, any yachtie can confirm that. Talk with someone who has built or designed hulls and hopefully has actually paddled the kayak in a variety of conditions.

This is a complex craft and you life could depend on hull shape.

What about rolling?

Some kayaks are more easily Eskimo rolled than others. Many kayaks, such as the P&H and VENTURE range, anticipate this need by providing solid thigh bracing into their boats, to expedite the kayak roll. Rolling is a combination of your connection to the boat, hip movement and to a lesser extent, use of the paddle.  It’s a great skill to have and a neat way to cool off in summer. Learning to roll is like eating an elephant, best done a mouthful at a time. It should be taught, by a qualified instructor.

What About Stability?

Hull shape is everything. It dictates performance and handling characteristics, especially in rougher conditions. My preference is for a moderate V shaped hull with soft to hard chines. This gives a nice mix of tracking and speed while maintaining good initial and secondary stability. Kayaks with flat hulls and round bilges may offer good initial stability and speed, but offer little to no secondary stability. At the end of the day, it’s all about how it feels for you. Don't let self-appointed experts select a kayak hull shape for you. You must try the different designs to learn what will work for you. Just as 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder', so then, 'stability is in the mind of the paddler".

What costs are involved?

Kayaks, like cars, come in a wide range of models and options at a wide range of prices. The polyethylene boats are among the least expensive sea kayak touring boats available. These typically retail between $1,950 and $2,750. Lighter weight CORELITE boats like the SCORPIO or DELPHIN from P&H, mostly cost less than $3,000.

Well-built composite boats are more expensive. True sea kayaks, such as the P&H CETUS have a hull made of DIOLEN with a FIBREGLASS deck and cost about $4,000. DIOLEN increases a boat's impact resistance and is easier to repair than KEVLAR.

Kevlar/Carbon boats are more expensive than fiberglass, but they have the virtue of being even lighter and more impact resistant. You will spend more than $4,500 on a good Kevlar/Carbon boat from P&H.

Beyond the boat, certain accessories are essential. Good paddles cost between $400 and $1000. A neoprene spray skirt (spray deck) costs around $180. Filling out the basic kayaking gear inventory with a good PFD (Personal Flotation Device), paddle float, throw rope and pump, will cost around $400. Options include a breathable, Gortex paddle jacket $300, a waterproof / floating VHF radio $450, dry sacks $15-$65, GPS $700, compass $175 and flotation bags $100.

For off-shore paddling a 406 MHz PLB (personal locator beacon) with built-in GPS is essential. This device is registered to individuals so the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA http://www.beacons.amsa.gov.au) knows who needs help, the type of craft, and the position accurate to about 15  Metres. This investment is around $800 and is worth every cent. I use the Kannad 406 PLB XS3 GPS.

Which kayak is right for me?

In short, it’s the one that you feel at home in, and that will meet your performance criteria. If a boat doesn’t feel right don’t buy it. As the paddler, you want to feel part of your kayak. Ask yourself “what do I see myself doing and what will my skill level be in 12 months time?”

Definitely try and compare the on-water performance of different kayaks before you buy! You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it, would you? Please remember that there are inherent dangers in kayaking and it is an unwise practice to buy a kayak with price as the sole criteria. Your life could depend on it.

Which is the best paddle to buy?

Fundamentally, the one that feels right when you paddle with it. Paddle design is both an art and a science. Length of shaft and paddle width and shape dictate performance characteristics. High tech composites provide strong lightweight paddles, while fiber-glass is always a strong favourite in the mid-price range. Paddle length depends on many factors, including: your height, boat width, torso length, shoulder width and seat height.

Paddle shafts can be straight or bent and be made of aluminium, fiber-glass, carbon, or carbon-kevlar. Blades can be offset or feathered and are made from plastic, fiber-glass, carbon, or carbon-kevlar. Well-designed blades enter the water cleanly, grip the water well without slipping, and pull straight through the water without a side-to-side fluttering movement.

Wing or propeller blades are designed for sprinting or racing, and are not recommended for long distance touring.

Do you have any recommendations for good books about sea kayaking?

The best way to learn about sea kayaking is to go on group / club trips and pick the brain of experienced paddlers. There are many good books out on sea kayaking though, and to gain a solid foundation on the sport, you should really read some of them.

In my opinion, the absolute best book out there for the beginner sea kayaker is "The Complete Book of Sea Kayaking, 5th edition," by Derek Hutchinson. It is quite comprehensive, very well illustrated, and written by the grandfather of modern-day sea kayaking.

Nigel Foster’s six DVD series on kayaking is the complete training package to supplement your on-the-water learning. His instructional style is clear and effective. Other excellent DVDs include, Performance Sea Kayaking, In the Surf, This is the Sea I, II, and III, and The Kayak Roll.

Another must read is "Sea Kayaker's Deep Trouble," edited by Matt Broze and others. It's a book filled with true sea kayaker disaster stories. There's nothing like reading about other people's survival experiences to shock you into playing it safe.

Do I really need a rudder?

Reliance on a rudder for steering is a popular and unfortunate trend in Australia, with some manufacturers having a rudder that is not retractable. This style of rudder can severely restrict beach or rock landings. However, contrary to popular belief, a rudder on a kayak is not designed to help you turn. It is designed to help you paddle straight when wind and waves conspire against you.

Turning a boat is actually quite easy – just a few sweep strokes and a casual lean will set you on course. Kayaks like the P&H are designed to raise the keel out of the water during extreme edging (or leaning). However, paddling a steady course when a strong wind is blowing from abeam can be challenging, not to mention exhausting. This is a situation when you might desire a retractable rudder.

Advanced kayaks, like P&H, have a retractable skeg (fin) as standard equipment and only offer rudders as an option. This improves tracking with less drag than a rudder. There is much to be said for learning the skills necessary to control a boat without a rudder. With the rudder as a crutch, many paddlers never take time to develop the skills of a kayaker.