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THE EVOLUTION OF THE KAYAK (1)

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.

Part 1

Traditional vs. Modern Kayaking – From Survival and Utilitarian Use to Recreational Applications

1. THE ORIGINS OF MODERN KAYAKS

In the beginning of the twentieth century kayaks were practically unknown to the wide public. They were self designed, hand made personal paddling boats used by native people of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions, in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Siberia, mainly for hunting marine and land animals.
These peoples seldom fished from their kayaks and hardly ever used them for recreation. They preferred to paddle their kayaks in protected waters such as rivers, estuaries and bays, and they neither surfed nor went in whitewater. They obviously didn’t paddle standing in their kayaks – although they sometime did so in their Umiaks, which were bigger and wider, multi-passenger canoes.
Native kayaks were not uniform: some were narrow and some not, and while some were over 20 feet long others could be half that length. The common building technique used then is known as ‘skin on frame’: The builder covered an internal wooden skeleton-like structure with animal skins.
None of those traditional kayaks ever featured a rudder or a seat, or even a backrest, which are all modern additions aimed at solving problems that are characteristic to present days kayakers.
The native people who used narrow kayaks often relied on the ‘Eskimo Roll’ for recovery, but not always. Some researchers assume that rolling the kayak was practically the only means of survival available to these people who didn’t have lightweight watertight suits, because swimming in extremely cold water while wearing heavy fur clothes is a recipe for disaster, and many native people didn’t know how to swim.
The wider native kayaks were designed to offer more stability and thereby provide safety through capsize prevention rather than recovery.
A much less known prehistoric personal paddle craft is the Caballito de Totora (‘Reed Pony’ in Spanish) used by Pre-Columbian fishermen on the Pacific coast of South America. Like the Inuit kayak, this sit-on-top reed watercraft is paddled with a double blade paddle. Its paddleboard design is very much reminding of modern sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks, except for its higher bow designed to go over big waves.
There are similar designs in other ancient cultures around he world as well.

Next Chapter >> 2. A Brief History of Kayaking as a Set of Recreational Activities

Kayak Fishing From the Mounted (Riding) Position

While the advantages of fishing standing are pretty obvious to most fishermen, many who haven’t tried the Wavewalk Riding (mounted) position may wonder what’s so special about it, and why it is considered so advantageous when compared to the traditional L kayaking position or to fishing seated in a canoe.

The answer is that it has to do with how much support you have for your casting and reeling-in efforts, as well as when you’re fighting a strong fish:
The result of every physical effort you make, whether it’s jumping, running, pulling or throwing something depends on the kind of support your body gets from the ground you stand on. Soft, slippery or shaky ground doesn’t offer you good enough resistance.
Similarly, fishing from a big boat enables better physical performance than fishing from a small, unstable one: You can cast to longer distances and fight bigger fish more easily.
Riding the saddle of a Wavewalk kayak doesn’t offer you as much stability, support and confidence as the deck of a big bass boat, but it certainly gives your legs more support than a sit-in or SOT kayak does, and through your legs you get more support and power for your arms and upper body.
Imagine riding a pony, which is similar to riding a Wavewalk kayak saddle: The horse rider can gallop and jump hurdles, throw a spear or shoot arrows like ancient warriors used to do, or a lasso like modern days cowboys still do, and so on. -Now try to imagine all this being done when the rider sits on the horse’s saddle in the traditional L kayaking position… It’s practically impossible because the rider would lack stability and sufficient support from his legs.
Like any analogy this one is not perfect but it’s close to the truth: The combination of having two hulls on the W kayak’s sides and riding the saddle that you mount in a posture that’s advantageous from a biomechanical standpoint changes everything when you fish.

As Jeff McGovern put it:

 -“I would venture to say the Wavewalk design offers improved casting with any gear. From the riding position, I get more power with my casting and spinning because I can put my whole body into the cast and use my legs. The solid feel of the boat gives you a great sense of security. “

Riding (Mounted) position: Best for kayak fishing Riding (Mounted) position: Best for kayak fishing (2)

John Forney’s First W Boat Design

John Forney is a boat designer and builder from Texas.

He has already designed and built a number of kayaks, both in wood and skin-on-frame.

John took upon himself to be the first to design and build a wooden W boat, and he did it.

This W is 12 feet long and 30 inches wide, and it can take two large size kayak fishermen with all their gear, as well as camping gear:

John Forney's 12 ft wooden W boatBennett Crow christening John’s W boat.  Photo: John Forney.

John says: “It’s a known thing that you build your first boat just to learn and then you throw it away, but this boat is just too good to throw – it’s amazing.”

John is now involved in building two more wooden W boats, and he plans to design and build W boats in other materials as well.

Yoav

Seal Launching your kayak – Sometime It’s Necessary, and It Can Be Fun

Seal launching your kayak can be a good solution if you don’t want to spend too much time looking for a better spot to start your paddling or fishing trip from. You can do it just for fun too.
The kayaker or kayak angler who’s planning to venture into seal launching should cover the front part of the cockpit, at least for the launch.
We advise you to start learning to seal launch on a moderately steep slope, and slide over a shorter distance… You can seal launch from a dock or a deck too.

Also, before you become proficient in seal launching, and when you’re just learning the technique, remember the rule ‘Stuff Happens’, so leaving your cellphone, camera, GPS and fishing gear on shore might be a prudent thing to do.

Have fun!

The following demo video was created by Roxanne Davis, a kayak angler from Connecticut, when she fished from a Wavewalk 500. These days Rox fishes mostly from a motorized W700 –

Paddling and Kayak Fishing in Cold Water and Weather

Cold is a relative term, of course, and what we mean by it in this case is temperatures below freezing or close to that.

Sometimes you can find open water on a frozen river or lake, and since it’s possible to launch your Wavewalk kayak from ice as well as to beach it on ice the question is ‘why not go paddling or fishing?’

The simple answer is ‘because cold water and/or cold weather are very dangerous‘. Falling into cold water can cause hypothermia in as little as seconds, and a person paralyzed by hypothermia cannot get out of the cold water by themselves.
In other words, the combination of ice and cold can turn out to be deadly.

Some of the factors that contribute to making such activities more dangerous are:

Air temperature: When it’s below freezing your paddle can get covered with a layer of ice and become heavy. The water dripping from it on your kayak can freeze and form a heavy layer that might destabilize it. If the water freezes inside the cockpit you might slip on it, lose your balance and fall overboard.

Alcohol: Absolutely not. Drinking while you’re paddling or fishing in cold water or weather is taking the first active step towards an accident. There is a strong correlation between drinking and paddle fishing accidents. If you need to boost your energy while you’re kayaking or kayak fishing do it with hot coffee from a thermos bottle, chocolate or energy bars.

BTW, cellphones are an absolute necessity in order to call 911, but a wet cellphone is useless…

Children – Too dangerous: Being smaller, children have a bigger surface area by relatively to their volume, which means that if they fall in the water their body temperature will drop faster than that of an adult in the same condition. Children also have a tendency to be careless (at least those that I know…) and panic easily – two potential hazards that you don’t want to have to face.

Clothing: Boots, heavy shoes, waders and heavy clothing are an absolute no. A good wetsuit or dry suit and watertight booties are a must.

Distance from shore: Don’t paddle or fish where people on shore can’t see you. Preferably, they should also be able to hear you. Carry a whistle with you.

Number of people on board: Paddling or fishing in cold water all by yourself is really careless. If you feel you must do it you should go with a group, preferably with people who know what they’re doing and could advise you on what to do and not to do, as well as help you in case something happens. It’s also a good idea to have a bigger boat, preferably a motorboat as part of your expedition – stuff happens.

Saltwater – Ocean water with typical salinity freezes at about 28.9°F (-1.8°C), which is a colder than the freezing temperature for fresh water. This means that sea water that’s partly covered with ice is likely to be colder than fresh water in a similar condition. This means it would be even more dangerous if you fell overboard.

Time of day: Winter days are shorter, which means that you might find yourself trying to paddle your way back in the dark, which is dangerous both because it increases the risk of an accident as well as reduces the chances of you succeeding in rescuing yourself or getting rescued by others.

Type of boat: Reducing your degree of exposure to the elements is a good idea when kayaking or fishing in cold water and weather.
The worst are sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks that put you close to the water, with very little free board, and no other protection. Sit-in kayaks (SIK) can be a little better since they offer you the opportunity to protect yourself with a spray skirt, but using such an accessory is hazardous if you don’t have a fool proof Eskimo Roll (very few people do), and it’s highly inconvenient for fishing. Canoes offer good protection from spray but paddling them can become too difficult because of windage problems. Finally, Wavewalk kayaks offer you the best protection from both spray and wind, and they also perform better than the other boats under wind. Wavewalk kayaks are also more stable, a factor that reduces the risk of flipping them, but no vessel is capsize proof.

Water depth: Getting out of deep water is far more difficult than it is from shallow water. Falling in deep water can cause hypothermia faster than it would take you to rescue yourself, which means that your chances of survival might be slim.

Wind: The combination of wind and sub freezing temperatures can lead to the formation of surface ice where you had open water before. This means that on your way back to shore you might find yourself tired and shivering in your boat without being able to paddle through the newly formed ice.

Your physical condition: Some people are in great shape and can resist cold, but are you one of them? Remember – water is about 700 times denser than air, which means that it can cool your body instantly and lead to heart failure even before hypothermia settles in.

Statistics are numbers, but for those who are included in them, they are a reality. So, if you still feel you must get out on a cold winter day, it’s better if you keep your kayak at home and find something else to do that’s not as dangerous as paddling and kayak fishing…