Thursday, February 12, 2009

Inflatable Kayaks - the easy way to explore the ocean

If I told you kayaking is one of the best ways to experience the sea, most kayakers would probably agree. I bet they would also agree the procedure of transporting the kayak back and forth to wherever you want to go paddling could be easier. What if I told you there is a great way to solve this transporting issue. A way that delivers a flexibility that equals bringing a sports-bag wherever you want to go. Introducing inflatable kayaks, store them in a closet or in the back of your car, ready for action when you are.
This post will cover the differences between inflatable kayaks and traditional hard-shell kayaks.

Is the kayak you want the kayak you need?
I believe most decisions are based on emotions, when choosing a partner emotions can be good, when choosing a kayak not so good. By now, it should come as no surprise the biggest advantage of buying an inflatable kayak is its storing and transporting capacity.

Inflatable kayaks have improved much overtime
There was a time when things made of rubber and plastic were more or less equal to bad quality. I remember having a small inflatable boat as a kid, which was always leaking air. Finding that leak was a nightmare, and when I did, the boat had to dry up before I could fix it, not part of my childhood agenda…
Well, much have changed since then. Not only has the quality of the material used for producing inflatable kayaks improved many times. The shape of the kayaks has evolved. The comfort and paddling capabilities has also gotten much better. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a traditional kayak and an inflatable one.
What do we bring with us from the inflatable kayak store?
Not that much, you will carry a bag, a pump and a paddle, no real surprises here... Now, keep the following in mind, and you won’t be disappointed. Even though an inflatable kayak is portable, it still has some weight. Everything is relative, just compare your bag to a traditional hard-shell kayak. See? Suddenly a pretty nice deal. When deflated some inflatable kayak models are not much bigger than that you can check them as airline luggage. Think about getting an extra bag which can alternate as a backpack if you know you will travel across longer distances by foot.

What about storing the kayak?
Inflatable kayaks are easy to store, a dry corner in the garage or closet will be enough. When you need it, just shove it into the back of your car, and you’re good to go, and look, no expensive roof-rack! If you are going on a hike, stuff the kayak in a big backpack and take off.

How sturdy is an inflatable kayak?
One might think that inflatable kayaks are easy to break, like popping a balloon. Not so, inflatables have come along way, and if you wanted to break one you would have to work hard! I have seen a film where the kayak manufacturer used a hammer on the kayak. It was weird but I got the picture. Some inflatable kayak models come with multiple floors with a tougher outer fabric to take care of the immediate hammering... Most are puncture resistant and use low-pressure air inside (no explosions please...). If the unthinkable would happen you don’t have to worry to much about sinking, most inflatable kayaks have multiple chambers so if one would break you would still stay afloat. It’s a good idea to bring a repair kit when going on longer trips. When the punctured area has been repaired it will often be stronger than the rest of the kayak.
Keep in mind that inflatable kayaks (and other inflatable items) are sensitive to temperature, especially heat. If you leave them out in the sun for a long time the air inside will expand, and you will have to adjust the valves to let some air out of the kayak.

Ok, let’s launch the kayak. Here comes one of the drawbacks with inflatable kayaks. As with balloons and other inflatable items they need air inside to work properly, and it is up to you to get that air inside. Fortunately there are many different kinds of pumps that can help you. I prefer foot pumps, but hand or electric pumps can be handy depending on the situation. Count on being on the water within 5-15 minutes depending on the type of pump, kayak model, and of course your own “dedication”.

What about paddling and inflatable kayak?
Let’s get down to the waterside of business. Inflatable kayaks behave pretty much like hard shells in the water. A critical part of a kayak is its ability to stay rigid, not to fold when traveling through rough water. A longer boat will often track better, and a shorter one will be easier to maneuver. Specifically, the handling properties of inflatable and hard-shell kayaks depend on the different models. If you are a newbie you should consider a shorter and wider kayak as they are usually more stable and easier to master than their opposites. Some inflatable kayaks have a rudder or skeg which will help a lot, especially when paddling against the wind.

Which inflatable kayak?
So, where do you intend to paddle? Going solo or tandem? Are you novice or advanced? You can find the same line of inflatable kayaks as traditional hard shells. They are usually categorized in touring, white-water, and recreational kayaks. Inflatable kayaks can be open or closed. The open ones are often called sit-on-top kayak, most two seaters look like this but shares the trait with the smaller white water and wave kayaks. The closed ones have a spray protection which can be huge advantage when trying to stay dry in rough conditions. There are more specialized kayaks, but I won’t cover them here.

Popular kayak brands
Some of the more popular brands on the market are Stearns, Sevylor and Advanced Elements. A trend seems to go towards hybrid concepts which use aluminium in the bow and stern. The main reason for using this is to get closer to the shape of a hard shell kayak which will then improve rigidness and tracking capabilites.
One interesting solution converts a traditional one seated inflatable kayak into a two seater.

Here are some manufacturers of inflatable kayaks:

Stearns inflatable kayaks
Advanced Elements inflatable kayaks
Sevylor inflatable kayaks
Sea eagle inflatable kayak

The ideal fishing boat?
Getting to that perfect fishing spot is always a challenge, especially when having to compete with friends and other fishers. Just imagine their faces seeing you with a fishing rod in one hand and an inflatable kayak in the other. Fear.

What if I like the rivers?
If you are into the white water business there are plenty of options in the inflatable kayak world. A white water kayak is usually much shorter than traditional sea kayak. They come in ranges between 1.3-3 meters. Whitewater means rough handling and the kayaks need to be sturdy to stay in one piece. Inflatable kayaks have no problems handling direct contacts with either the river bottom or branches from trees.

What about going camping?
Inflatable kayaks usually have less amounts of storing space. The main reason is the air that needs to be stored somewhere, and that gives less room for other stuff. A sea kayak often has a spray deck which also removes storing capacity. Try not to bring all those extras if you’re going on a longer camping trip just the basic stuff (like food). One option is to use waterproof bags and store items on top of the kayak.

Which accessories?
You don’t need any special paddle when paddling in an inflatable kayak. I would suggest a 2-piece or maybe a 4-piece paddle that is as easy to store as your kayak. Inflatable life jackets are more of a nice to have than a good to have, you need to be able to move your arms properly. There are many kayak life jackets that sit tight to your body, and you won’t even notice them. A life jacket that gets you stuck while paddling can be very annoying.

Buying tips
- Decide when and where you will paddle - Pick the right model
- Will you bring lots of stuff - Pick a roomy kayak
- Paddle alone or with a friend? - Pick a one-seater or a two-seater
- Pick the right pump - Work the paddle not the pump

Important tips
Don’t forget the pump, without it, you most likely have ruined your paddle day.
Remember to dry you kayak properly before storing, or you will have a big mold problem.

So, there you have it. What are you waiting for?