The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Aesthetics and Performance in Fishing Kayak Design

What's important in a product varies according to what different people are interested in. If you're into kayak fishing, you'd be interested a number of things, including stability, comfort, storage, etc. offered to you by that kayak. In other words, for a kayak angler, the beauty of a kayaks depends first and foremost on its fishability, which is a composite measure of a fishing kayak's performance.For example, if you're into kayak fishing, and you saw a kayak that's very fast but also very unstable, it would seem useless to you, and therefore unattractive. Most anglers fish from motorboats and not from kayaks, mainly because they perceive kayaks as being too unstable and too uncomfortable for fishing. Therefore, for the majority of anglers, a fishing kayak is just a too small, too uncomfortable and therefore ugly fishing boat.

What is beautiful?

According to the dictionary, we perceive something as being beautiful if it is attractive to us (e.g. a beautiful woman) or pleasant (e.g. a beautiful day), or pleasant to look at (e.g. a beautiful dress), or if it’s done or made very well (e.g. a beautiful goal in the second half), or with a lot of skill (e.g. a beautiful roast).
Beauty can be associated directly with sensory pleasure, or with indirect, social value related to monetary value, or prestige (e.g. a beautiful diamond), or with both.
In case of a product such as a kayak, the beauty we see in it is a measure of how much we appreciate its performance in terms of what’s important to us, subjectively, whether as something we’ve already experienced with this kayak, or something we believe we would experience, if we used it.

In this sense, the saying ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’ is perfectly true.

What’s important?

What’s important in a product varies according to what different people are interested in. For example, if you’re into kayak racing, you’d be interested in kayaks that are as fast as possible, and very fast kayaks would seem beautiful to you, but if you’re into kayak fishing, you’d be interested a number of things, including stability, comfort, storage, etc. offered to you by that kayak. In other words, for a kayak angler, the beauty of a kayaks depends first and foremost on its fishability, which is a composite measure of a fishing kayak’s performance.

For example, if you’re into kayak fishing, and you saw a kayak that’s very fast but also very unstable, it would seem useless to you, and therefore unattractive.
Most anglers fish from motorboats and not from kayaks, mainly because they perceive kayaks as being too unstable and too uncomfortable for fishing.  Therefore, for the majority of anglers, a fishing kayak is just a too small, too uncomfortable and therefore unpractical and consequently ugly fishing boat.

Beauty and love

The more satisfied a kayak angler is with the performance of their fishing kayak, the more they see beauty in it, and in fact, some kayak anglers get to love their kayak, following the good experience they’ve had with it, and the good time they anticipate having with it in the future.

False beauty

Anyone who’s interested in fishing kayaks can see that the common fishing kayak is essentially just a chubbier, more accessorized, and sometimes fancier version of its ancestor the recreational kayak.

The common fishing kayak is very wide because of the desperate need to increase its stability, even at the cost of sacrificing both speed and tracking capability, and most importantly – taking away the pleasure of paddling from the person who paddles it. This is what kayak anglers refer to as ‘a barge to paddle’, and the reason why some touring and sea kayakers still won’t consider fishing kayaks as kayaks at all…

Too much is too little

The multitude of accessories is sometimes required to compensate for a fishing kayak’s deficient functionality. The perfect example is the rudder that most fishing kayaks are equipped with, and most kayak anglers hate, but they have to use it simply because without it their kayak wouldn’t go straight, due to its poor tracking capability. Another good example are the hatches – an uncomfortable, often dysfunctional solution to the critical problem of storage, or lack thereof…

In this context, it is easy to see why manufacturers who offer pedal driven kayaks are more successful in the market for fishing kayaks than in any other kayak market: Common fishing kayaks are so hard and unpleasant to paddle that a hyped, ill conceived solution is seen by some as better than nothing, at least until they realize they’re not necessarily better off pedaling…

When fancy becomes ridiculous

A product that is essentially lacking in performance, and therefore not  attractive enough, is a problem for its manufacturer, and they would attempt to increase its attractiveness by whatever means they have, even if such means present no advantage at all to the client. The typical example for this in fishing kayaks is increasing the amount of foam in the kayak’s seat, which cannot really solve the basic problem of the passenger pushing their lower back against the backrest with all the power their legs have. But extra foam may look more ‘ergonomic’ to some people, and if it’s promoted as being ergonomic, some people could get convinced to buy the kayak – until they realize that’s not what they had bargained for, and get tired of this game, go back to fishing from a motorboat, or switch to a W kayak.

Another common example of overdoing things is the form of the fishing kayaks themselves: Some kayaks feature very elaborate hulls, or decks, or both, as if the extra detail could improve anything as far as stability, speed and comfort are concerned. To the unprofessional or inexperienced viewer, such extra details could seem like an indicator that the kayak is more ‘advanced’, but the truth is that overdoing things can only diminish actual performance, by definition. In other words, nothing beats simple effectiveness in design.

Simple is beautiful

This is the simple truth in design, and it’s even more true in fishing kayaks, which are judged by their performance: A fishing kayak is a technical product that needs to deliver results in terms of what the angler can achieve with it, and how they feel while doing so, as well as after the fishing trip is over.

If a kayak allows you to launch or beach in a spot that another kayak doesn’t, it performs better, and therefore it’s more beautiful. If a kayak allows you to stay inside it for long hours, while no other kayak allows you to do that without inflicting discomfort and pain on you, that kayak performs better, and you’re going to like it more, and therefore see more beauty in it.

These examples come to show that it’s not the amount of time invested in designing or manufacturing a product that appeals to our sense of beauty, but it’s the real life performance of that product, and our own experience with it.  When we realize that in order to get a certain level of performance, the product needed to be made in a certain way, we appreciate the way it was done. And if the result was achieved by simple means, we tend to appreciate it even more.

Once people realize the advantage for themselves in a certain design, form, or feature, they see the beauty in it, and sometime even develop a warm feeling for it, a feeling called love.

Beauty and marketing

Being a technical product, the way to judge and evaluate a fishing kayak is by doing a feature by feature comparison, and preferably by validating the results of such comparison in a live test.

There is no fishing kayak, fishing kayak design, or concept that rivals the W kayak in any of the important requirements from a fishing kayak, which are Stability, Comfort, Ease of Paddling, Passenger Room, Storage Space, Versatility, Tracking, Handling, Mobility, and dollar for dollar Value. Value is not a technical feature, but in this case we’ve included it in the list because it represents certain technical attributes of W kayaks that reduce their cost of purchase and ownership, compared to other kayaks.

Years ago, Wavewalk’s competitors used to criticize its product by raising doubts about its actual performance, such as speed, comfort, tracking under wind, etc.  These doubts were based solely on imagination, and had no basis in anyone’s real life experience, and over the years,  as the evidence presented by Wavewalk improved, and more of its customers contributed positive reviews, this type of critic has subsided.

However, some competitors still say, occasionally, that W kayaks are ‘ugly’, and when such comments are made on online discussion forums, they are intended to create some kind of negative ‘peer pressure’ on kayak anglers who are interested in the W kayak. The problem with such tactic is that if a general and broad argument such as ‘ugly’ is brought forward without any substantial, technical evidence to back it, it sounds hollow, and basically meaningless. But if the ‘ugly’ argument is backed by a specific, technical argument, the reader could go and check its validity on Wavewalk’s website, through the demo movies, technical articles, and customer reviews, and they could then see for themselves that it’s a moot argument.

The challenge that Wavewalk is facing is to convince thousands of anglers who fish from kayaks that W kayaks are better, and worth switching to. We also need to convince millions of anglers who fish from motorboats that they need to give kayak fishing a second thought, and that fishing kayaks are not necessarily ugly, if they can provide a higher level of fishability that’s comparable to what these anglers are used to get in fishing boats, as W kayaks have proved they could.

In sum, the W kayak holds the key to making more people see the beauty in kayak fishing.

Read more about motorizing your fishing kayak >>


12 Comments

  1. Marco

    Good piece 🙂
    Maybe in the future some people would think that SOT yaks are beautiful, because of nostalgic reasons, as some people today collect antique cars and love them, although they’re not exactly better than modern cars 😀

  2. Jeff McGovern

    Hmmmm, OK Yoav in simple terms the W500 is HOT!! Call it drop dead gorgeous or simply irresistible. It sure is fun to spend hours in the Wavewalk while your fishing buddies in all the other kayaks make really weak excuses for those multiple trips to shore they make. Yeah you got it right.

  3. Rox

    If this is ugly, I guess the W’s are the Bulls dogs of the Kayak world.

    To some people, they are ugly, to some Beautiful.

    Bull dog fits the Wave Walk Yaks, they can Bull their way into any fishing spot you want.

    Powerful, Stable and can carry a large load! 🙂

    So to all the nay sayers……Bite This. 🙂

    Tight Lines and Paddle safe all.
    Rox

    PS: Come on Spring!

  4. Octavio D

    I like this article, and I agree with what it says, in principle, but beauty is a very subjective thing, and it means different things for different people. Some people are impressed when they see a celebrity recommending a product, or using it. Some people buy the most expensive car not because they’re convinced it’s better, but because it makes them feel “in” or more respectable.
    Some people just like to copy what others do, without giving too much thought to it.

  5. CJ

    The English Bulldog is the mascot of the US Marine Corps. How can anyone not like it? 😀

  6. Marco

    It’s amazing to read the sort of bull that w competitors post about it on some fishing forums 😉
    And the funniest of all is that these people are not ashamed to say they’ve never tested, or even seen a w kayak in real life… It must be their “professional impression” based on the fact they’re in the business of selling other yaks 😀 😀

  7. Gary

    And, of course, they’re beautiful because they’re green and gold, just like the World Champion Green Bay Packers.

  8. W kayak

    Aha! that’s a good point, Gary 😀
    Congrats on your win!

    And for those who don’t know, Gary Rankel’s W500 is named the “PackerYakker”, and it’s one of Florida’s most effective fishing machines 😀

    Yoav

  9. Craig Masterman

    “The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.”

    Quote by Carl Sagan I thought was appropriate to the last two blog posts.

  10. W kayak

    How true! 😀

    That’s some good food for thought, Craig,

    Yoav

  11. An interesting thought is that Yoav designed this craft not from a fishing background but a water walking background. The W is attractive to kayakers with many interests, stability being the common denominator.

  12. W kayak

    Mike,
    I had mostly wave walking (stand up paddling) in mind when I designed the first W series, known today as the W300. This first product was more of a ‘proof of concept’ than s solution to specific need, or problem.
    As for the W500 series, the main requirement was more stability (“There’s no such thing as too much stability in a kayak“…) as well as more comfort for big people, including in stand up paddling and fishing.
    I wanted to eliminate, or at least shorten by much the learning curve, especially for clients who are not very young, lightweight, and/or athletic.
    Conceptually, the focal point moved from the Use (application) to the User Experience.
    I listened attentively to what Jeff and others had to tell me about their experience with their W300, in fishing and in paddling.

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