Is a Crossover Kayak For You?

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Every sport goes through trends and innovations. Sometimes it’s revolutionary: mountain bikes first appeared on the scene in Marin County and created a completely new sport. Big wall gear opened up a whole new climbing world when Warren Harding climbed El Capitan’s nose in the 1960s with self-designed gear like portaledges. Some gear makes sports more accessible. Commuter-style bikes eased entry into cycling for “everyday people” who weren’t interested in hard-core road bikes, lycra outfits or mountain-bike adrenaline.

Kayaking has struggled to find versatile, entry-level boats that serve multiple purposes. The latest trend of “crossover kayaks” hybridize elements of sea kayaks and whitewater boats, bringing together everything that you need from beginner to expert.

You are probably asking, “Is a crossover kayak for me?”

Basic Types of Kayaks

Since the 1970s, kayaks have fallen into three distinct categories.

Whitewater kayaks are short, plastic, impact-resistant, and designed to navigate fast-flowing rivers. Try to cover distance on flatwater and you’ll have a miserable experience as it spins in circles.

Sea kayaks—typically 16-18 feet long—are for covering distance in wind and swell for the long haul while carrying gear.

Recreational kayaks are designed to be affordable ways to paddle flatwater lakes with calm conditions, but can’t do much more unfortunately.

Crossover Kayak

Given the expense of buying a boat, paddlers have to choose what kind of paddling they want to do. While serious paddlers will eventually acquire a quiver of boats, that requires a lot of storage space as well as cash. Nobody’s yet to crack the nut of “one boat” that is competent at several things.

Enter the P&H Hammer, the Jackson Karma RG and the Dagger Stratos.

Ironically, these three boats weren’t produced with the “one boat solution” in mind. They were designed as “play the sea” kayaks for ocean rock gardens and surf, where paddlers treat breaking ocean waves around rocks like whitewater play features. Mixing elements of sea and whitewater designs, they pack skegs for moving straight over the flats to get you to play spots, lots of rocker for quick turning, storage hatches for gear, and decklines for rescues. The hulls are a combination of extended whitewater or shrunken sea kayak hulls in the 11-14 foot range.

These kayaks appealed first to the the serious ocean thrill-seekers who wanted something they could bounce off rocks with more sea-kayaking features that whitewater kayaks offered.

Then the whitewater-inspired hulls and gear hatches appealed to some whitewater boaters doing self-supported whitewater trips on rivers too big for a canoe, with enough flatwater that a regular whitewater kayak would make it a slog. Most of these use the crossovers as a specialty boat, adding them to garages full of classic whitewater or sea boats.

The kayaking industry may have accidentally stumbled on a first boat for paddlers looking to explore different environments. Unlike recreational boats, they’re suitable for multiple environments, and will still be useful as paddlers advance and add full-on sea kayaks or whitewater kayaks to their quiver. They’ll appeal as a first boat for athletic people looking to explore different kinds of water as they find a precise home in a sport. Yes, they will be slow on the sea, a bit big in rivers, and fairly heavy to car top. But it’s one boat that takes up one slot in the garage and can give a paddler a feel for different environments. They may have been designed with experienced paddlers looking for a specialized tool in mind, but no matter.

The swiss army knives of kayaks may finally have arrived.

by Neil Schulman

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