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  • Writer's pictureAyoLane Halusky

Best Kayak for Florida Paddling

What is the Best Kayak to own in Florida?

As a tour guide for kayaking local waters and a ACA Coastal Kayak Instructor, clients ask this question almost every trip. It really makes me happy to know that people who attend a “Earth Kinship Kayak Tour'' are considering diving deeper into the kayaking sport, however the question can’t be answered so quickly with a make and model. If you're looking to get your own kayak it's important to establish what style of kayaking you want to experience. I find It's best to spark their interests with a follow up question like this, “Do you know that not all Kayaks are created equally?” It is true, each kayak is created with its own specific features built into the hull shape and design. These features are created to improve comfort, efficiency, and performance. The paddler will discover that one kayak compared to another will be more of an ideal fit for them, depending on the style and area they are choosing to paddle in.

The most important decision you will make is, where you're planning to spend your time on the water. A few different habitats in NE Florida to consider are; tidal marshes, ocean, surf conditions, freshwater creeks, swamps, open rivers, springs and lakes. Each one has their individual challenges. The different styles are determined by the type kayak, the skill of the paddler, and how they are used to communicate with the environment they are in. For example, I would discourage a beginner paddler from buying a 10’ sit-on-top recreational kayak, if they were planning 2-5 mile day trips in coastal surf and tidal environments. On the other hand a fisherman who is going for a quick dip, 100’ from the launch site, in a freshwater creek or pond doesn't need a 17 foot sea kayak. One type of kayak will work better than the other.

Kayak types can be simplified into 3 main categories: Recreation, Touring and Sea Kayaks. One could argue that you could also add fishing kayaks and whitewater kayaks as their own categories but let's keep it simple. There also maybe options for sit-on or inside kayaks within these categories. Many Kayak companies have a sit-inside or sit-on-top options for recreational kayaks and a few less sit-on-top options for touring and sea kayaks and there are many reasons why. Let explore that first.

Sit-on-top kayaks

Pro: The feeling of freedom when jumping in and out of your kayak a lot of beginners love. People who are first timers often have a sense of safety and comfort and a reduction of fear for being trapped inside their kayak. Lastly they are unsinkable unless you cut a hole in them. Sit-on-tops are sealed and stay floating when the waves crash over them. The water drains through scupper holes.

Con: The distance between the water and the kayaker is increased, creating a seat high over the water becoming top heavy effect, making it easier to tip over. Wind becomes an issue with a kayaker that is sitting higher above the water being blown in different directions. This will increase the need for more corrective strokes to maintain control. To reduce the issue of tipping, sit-on-tops are created wider. A wider kayak makes the paddler lean beyond their center line to reach the water, creating less efficiency for distance. You will see this as waddling effect where each paddle stroke turns the kayak left and right. This increases the amount of energy a paddler will use to maintain distance and speed, creating a slower and lest efficient kayak. Because a sit-on-top have less body contact with the kayak the kayaker has a reduction of control in each paddle stroke. For example the transfer of energy from the paddle blade through the body to the boat is reduced. A sit-on-tops will not protect you from sun, wind, rain or waves. Seats and foot pegs are often molded into the plastic with a one size fits all feel to it.

Sit inside kayaks

Pro: lower the center of gravity where the kayaker is sitting under the water line, creating a greater stability on the water. Kayaks with a low profile, above the water line, reduces the effects from wind and weather. These kayaks can be created more narrower and are often longer. More of the kayaker’s body is connected to the kayak below the deck which increases the stability and control over the kayak. This body connection helps transfer the energy from the paddle stroke from the blade through the kayaker's body into the kayak, allowing the kayak to glide efficiently across the water surface. Protection from Sun, weather and waves. Storage compartments that also act as buoyancy for the kayak. There are skirt options to keep the cold air and water splashes out. Adjustable seat and foot peg options and easily replaced.

Cons: If you flip, getting out requires the kayaker to release connection to the kayak or learning the skill to roll back up. If water enters by rain or waves the kayaker will need dumped or pumped out. These kayaks are made to be more narrow than a sit on top, so flipping over is a little easier, yet with a little training it isn't very common. Less movement of legs and some have experienced feet falling asleep.

Kayak types into 3 main categories: Recreation, Touring and Sea Kayaks.

Recreation kayaks range from 6-12’ long. Shorter kayaks like these are easier to turn, and can navigate in narrow creeks and streams for a short distance. The small ones are lighter in weight and make them easier to portage or carry in/or on a vehicle. One thing to note; is the length of the kayak helps turning ability however, will cause difficulty tracking in a straight line on the water surface.

Like we said before, people often experience a waddling effect when attempting a straight line paddle. The end result is the Kayaker has to use more energy to go any distances. The hull shape will be wider to reduce tipping over. Often they are built with channels along the bottom to reduce some of the waddle effect when paddling.

Emotion Spitfire 9’ Kayak

Touring Kayaks are often sit-inside where the center of gravity of the kayaker is lower in the water creating stability when paddling. Newer designs are creating low sit on top versions.

Wilderness Systems Tsunami 14’5”

These kayaks are 12 to 16’ in length. These are the number one choice for a professional tour guides company. Touring kayaks are ideal for the beginner paddler who wants to experience a coastal tidal environment as well as rivers and lakes. Touring and Sea kayaks are made with different types of chines and often a rocker within the hull design. (See below) This creates a range of performance variables for the experienced paddler on the water. Packing for the weekend or a day trip is easy due to the extra space below the deck and has many features such as the sea kayak. You can get a rudder attachment for touring kayaks that will help control the kayak without any lessons or paddling skills. Most paddlers who learn paddle skills feel a rudder isn't necessary if you take the time to learn proper paddling techniques.

Sea Kayaks are designed to be in the ocean and coastal areas as well as flat water environments. These kayaks are often 16-20 feet in length, narrow, fast and a low profile above the surface. Low profile meaning less of the kayak is showing above the water line, this will reduce the amount of effects that wind and weather has on the kayak's performance.

Nigel Dennis Explorer Sea Kayak 17’6”

The hull shape is shaped like a “V”, increasing the ability to track in a line gripping the water to maintain a straight line called tracking. In heaver condition or weather there is a built in skeg that can be lowered in the stern to reduce the effects of wind called "weather cocking". Sea Kayak's rocker can be slightly increased compared to a touring kayak, where the bow and stern raise up slightly to make it paddle more efficiently in weather and waves. The sides of kayaks are called the chine.

The chine is either describe as soft or hard. Soft chines are often the choice for the advanced sea kayaker. You can feel the sides of the kayak transition from the deck to the bottom being a smooth and rounded. This soft chine creates a smoother ability to edge the kayak on the water creating the opportunity for advanced maneuvers with in a variety of conditions on the water, including a roll in the surf. Hard Chines are boxy and have edges and can be felt running your hands from the deck to the bottom, The design of a hard chine creates resistance when doing advanced maneuvers on the water, edging with a hard chine kayak is like training wheels on a bike and are ideal for the beginner or intermediate kayaker who wants to enter most environments and still have a stiff stage of stability.

You may wonder what is the relationship between the chine and rocker. A skilled kayaker can use the rocker and the chine together with edging to reduce the effects of a long kayak, making it turn like a short kayak. Soft chine kayaks are ideal for the intermediate paddler who is moving into an advanced skill level.

We have explored the three main designs of kayak hull shapes and a few pros and cons of each. Next step is to get into each type before you make the decision. I recommend going on a guided tour and trying out a kayak in the habitat you're most interested in paddling before buying one for yourself. At Earth Kinship Eco Tours we use the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 touring kayak. They have been tested in Florida for more than 20 years and have been the favorite for most professional tour companies. Come book a trip today and see how they work for you.

AyoLane Halusky

Earth Kinship LLC

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