7 Versatile Sea Kayaks
Kayaks are like cars. There are gear haulers, spin-on-dime rally cars that rocket around corners, bee-lining speedsters, and rugged all-wheel-drive rigs that keep you relaxed when the weather turns nasty. Here’s a selection that will take you wherever you want to go on the sea.
Romany by Sea Kayaking UKLike sharks that have remained unchanged for sixty million of years, the Romany has been around since the early days of sea kayaking. A classic with a devoted following, the Romany’s is predictable in rough conditions, sporty and nimble, neutral in wind, and playful while still being large enough for extended trips by careful packers. While it’s not the fastest, most playful, or largest gear-carrier, it will see you through virtually any kind of water.
If The Romany was a car, it would be an AWD Subaru Impreza
Xplore by TideraceThe Xplore is eats up the miles. Its long waterline holds speed well and provides good gear storage, making it an ideal expedition kayak. It’s seaworthy enough to navigate the rough stuff, although it’s length is more suited to moving down the coast with purpose than playing on a surf wave or exploring the nooks an crannies between offshore rocks.
If it were a car, think Honda Element
18X Sport by Epic KayaksWhile the Xplore takes a standard sea kayak and gears it for touring and expeditions, the Epic 18X Sport comes at the same challenge from another direction: modifying a racing kayak for touring. The Epic’s racing pedigree is evident in the cut-away deck, plumb bow, and adjustable seating position. It won’t be as nimble as other sea kayaks or as stable in big seas, but its’ speed will bring you to the horizon quickly.
If it were a car, think Honda Odyssey
Gemini Sport Play by Valley KayaksThe Gemini Sport Play is part of a growing movement toward shorter sea kayaks that accommodate more playful paddlers, shorter trips, and smaller garages. The Gemini Sport Play’ rockered ends, sharp edges and triple-layer plastic make it a lot of fun maneuvering around the rocks, while still holding a decent amount of speed for when you need to move from A to B. Gear storage is definitely compromised, making packing for more than a long weekend difficult.
If it were a car, it’s a Porsche 911
Hammer by P&H KayaksSpecifically designed for paddlers who want to play in the surf and rock gardens, the Hammer excels at that—and little else. Where Valley’s Gemini took a traditional sea kayak and shrunk it. P&H took a whitewater kayak and stretched it. They added bulkheads and compartments, deck lines, and a retractable skeg to help it go straight on the flats. It excels when it’s playing in rough water….but when you’re just paddling, it’s as impractical as driving to the grocery store in your Formula 1 race car.
Islay by Venture KayaksThe Islay bridges the gap between recreational kayaks, which are small, forgiving, inexpensive, and suited for flatwater, and more capable touring kayaks that reward skilled paddlers. It’s small, relatively inexpensive, and still playful enough for venturing into some conditions or packing for a weekend. Not flashy, but surprisingly good for most uses. And yes, it’s named after a type of whisky.
If it were a car, it would be a Honda Civic
Tempest 170 by Wilderness SystemsThe middle-sized and most versatile of the Tempest line, the 170 is a mix of touring volume, decent speed and maneuverability and playfulness. The cross-section has enough stability for beginners to feel comfortable when the wind picks up, and the rocker makes the 17-foot kayak more playful than the length would indicate. Intended for both multiday trips and playful day trips, the Tempest is famous for comfortable and adjustable outfitting.
You’d be driving a Subaru Legacy
Of course, any sport, the person matters as much as the equipment, and skills develop over time. Go out and paddle.
Neil Schulman is a sea kayaker, instructor, writer and photographer. He has a bias toward short playful sea kayaks and skegs instead of rudders.
Own a piece of gear that you're dying to review? Read our submissions page and let's get it up on the interwebz!