Raising the Bar in Kayak Design and Performance:
New Standards For The Third Millennium
This article discusses the changes in kayak design, usage and performance over the past century and in recent years.
Versatility: From Specialized Kayaks to Broad-Range, High Performance Kayaks
1. THE ENVELOPE OF KAYAK DESIGN IN THE MICRONAUTICAL CONTEXT
Ordinary multihull kayak designs offer increased stability but at a price of reducing speed and mobility, and without improving ergonomics. In this sense those designs didn’t really expand the envelope of kayak performance, since the basic tradeoffs that characterized it remained the same.
This multi-dimensional performance envelope was limited by two basic factors: The L kayaking position and the monohull design, and liberating the kayak from the monohull constraint wasn’t enough. This is because unlike bigger boats that greatly benefited by the introduction of multi hull designs, kayaks are personal micro-boats, which makes their design primarily a matter of ergonomics and biomechanics before hydrodynamic issues can be considered.
That is to say that kayak design falls under the definition of micronautics – the art and science of designing watercrafts that weigh less than their passengers, and are affected by their physical attributes, athletic skills, performance and behavior more than by anything else.
In this sense even traditional kayaks and canoes have more in common with surfboards, paddleboards and dinghies than they have with big monohull boats of similar hull shape.
2. TYPICAL TRADOFFS IN TRADITIONAL KAYAK DESIGN
By ‘envelope’ we understand a boundary that limits what is possible to achieve. The kayak design envelope is multi dimensional, and each dimension (axis) is a continuum between two contradicting requirements.
The classic contradicting requirements in kayak design are Speed vs. Stability, and Tracking vs. Maneuverability. This double contradiction can be approached as a set of two broader requirements, which are Versatility vs. Performance.
There are other, less important pairs of contradicting requirements such as Durability vs. Weight, and Solo Performance vs. Load Capacity that define the kayak design envelope, but the first two ones are viewed to be the most important ones.
This classic envelope was imposed by the physical attributes of the monohull kayak. This is reflected in the kayak market by the fact that monohull kayak models are typically designed for narrow ranges of applications and users.
Versatility has hardly played a role as a feature because it was technically limited, and interpreted as lackluster performance in specific applications.
For example, a good fishing kayak had to be made as stable as possible, but because of this requirement it couldn’t be fast or perform well in the surf.