by Jerry and Judy Rendich, Wintergreen Sporting Club
Years ago, when we first became interested (and didn’t know a kayak from a tug boat), we first yaks were in the 9-10 foot range, with very rounded/rocker hulls. They were probably more suited to stunt and white-water kayaking but we didn’t know the difference and we had fun with them.
In hindsight, there were several downsides: (1) While they were speedy a body-hugging“skirt” which keeps the water out of the cockpit, even in a flip-over, but which also sort of “binds” you to the yak; and (3) They can be a pain the butt to empty if you do capsize. The skirt can be torn off in an emergency but when you’re upside down with your head bumping along on river rocks, it’s easy to forget how. That said, we’re not big fans of sit-inside yaks.
Recently, when we got pumped up about getting back into kayaking, my initial attitude toward sit-on-top kayaks was that they were overgrown bathtub toys. True, some are so poorly designed that calling them bathtub toys would probably be a step up. But I could not have been farther wrong because there are also some absolutely sensational designs floating around (forgive the pun). We were fortunate to stumble across one of these on our first stop -- and bought ‘em without a second thought. We opted for the Wilderness System’s Tarpon 100 (10-foot) model and we’ve been constantly delighted with our choice. One of the great features of sit-on-top yaks is that if you should tip over or get swamped by a heavy wave, you don’t have to reach for your bucket – the scuppers are self-bailing.
The roto-molded Tarpon is available in a number of configurations in lengths from 10 to 16 feet depending on what type of usage you have in mind – anything from day-tripping to fishing to back-country camping–and what type of venue you prefer – flat water, mild rapids or saltwater bays and inlets. They are essentially for recreational use rather than white-water challenges or open-ocean paddling. They are quite beamy which gives them remarkable stability and the hulls/keels are sharply defined which means they track well even without a skeg and carve nicely into turns. They have a large after-deck with bungees for gear storage plus two water-tight hatches – one conveniently located right by your knees. On top of that, there are a bunch of extras such as adjustable footrests, a very comfortable and adjustable seat, paddle keepers, tie-downs, beverage holders and so on.
Directly competitive with the Tarpons is the Gulf xe series manufactured by Elie. I’ve not had the opportunity to try one but from what I’ve read online, they seem to offer pretty much the same features as the Tarpon at a slightly lower price. They are offered in 10- and 12-foot lengths. They appear to be a 2-piece construction.
There are many, many sit-on-top kayaks out there at considerably lower prices but, like so many things in life, you get what you’re willing to pay for. As price-points come down, options, features, comfort and quality are reduced. That’s not to say they’re junk, they simply don’t offer as much sturdiness, coziness and convenience. Whichever you choose, ear mark enough money for a high-quality, preferably fiberglass shaft, paddle, floatation vest, a couple of dry bags and a pair of wet-slippers.
If budget is not an issue, take a look at the Hobie Mirage Sport. This little humdinger can be paddled in the conventional sense or converted to foot pedaling just like a bicycle!
It comes with all sorts of high-end, high-tech, high-dollar extras and $1,900 is only the base price. If you want to upgrade a bit so that you’re not embarrassed when you moor at the quay in Gustavia, you can add a sail, a bimini top, a dodger, outriggers or even an electric motor complete with solar panel. Or perhaps you could go for a tandem model so that the butler can do the oh-so-tiresome paddling while you socialize with the gang along the waterfront. Everything Hobie does is well-designed and high quality – just brace yourself with a stiff drink before the invoice is presented.
All things considered, when it comes to recreational yaking, we give the sit-on-tops high marks. For comparative information, product reviews and a free newsletter subscription go to www.paddling.net.