Occasionally there is a paddler skilled and talented enough to make any kayak perform well but for the more common mortal often a decent kayak will improve things out of sight.
That moment for me occurred when I switched from a ruddered kayak to a skegged one.
Now, I know that a good tradesman never blames his tools but I don't call myself a good tradesman, actually an average one. I will seek the best tool I can get.
At the time there were only a handful of rudderless kayaks in my area.
All of them were too small and I could not test paddle them.
Finally I found a kayak that fitted me and had a skeg.
The skeg alone is not the ultimate component in a great kayak but generally is associated with tighter fitting cockpit complemented with decent thigh braces.
I found that if a kayak is loose it generally can not be edged and consequently is a dog to control (I am talking mongrel kind of dog here...).
I had enough of just cruising paddling. Speed has never been my goal nor have been bragging rights of how fast I can go (no GPS speed readings for me).
I see a kayak as a vessel for adventure and fun.
Since I regard adventure as a long trip that often my time constraints won't allow it, the fun factor has to be high when paddling a kayak.
Enter the surf zone.
Since the local conditions don't offer rebound and rock gardens I have to content myself with surf alone.
In my ruddered kayaks I could not surf; they just were not built for that.
The design of a ruddered boat is such that even by retracting the rudder on the deck those kayaks just were not happy in rough conditions.
Needless to say that some were built too light and the surf would damage them easily but I never felt right in my ruddered kayaks.
So, when finally I came across a kayak that would fit me and that was a true British style kayak I bought it without test paddling.
I still remember my first paddle in it: bloody brilliant.
I have never looked back.
So, when a paddling buddy's skills started to improve in his considerably well fitted kayak I took him in conditions that were slightly beyond his skill level.
I would be there to pull him out of the drink, if necessary.
He did great but could only go so far in his ruddered kayak. *
He wanted more but eventually realized that he needed a better kayak to get there.
My buddy then paddled one of my boats and found it much more responsive than his ruddered one.
He wanted one.
And he was lucky to get the very last for sale in Australia.
Last Sunday we all met at our local surfing spot, him in his new Impex.
The conditions were gentle and very suited for a maiden voyage in a new boat, a new style of boat too.
I was expecting some initial embarrassment for him while trying to work out the skeg concept and the higher maneuverability of his new kayak.
It was amazing to witness the marked improvement in skills almost immediately.
He started to surf the gentle waves and quickly progressed to steeped and bigger ones.
Something I have not seen him do in his old kayak.
His comment after a short time paddling in the gentle surf:
"...I can't believe how much more maneuverable this kayak is and how much more fun I can have..."
I don't have any pictures of him surfing the bigger waves because that smile was worth a thousand words.
PS Readers have questioned my wisdom in selecting such low waters for skill development for my buddy. I am no expert but that's how I was taught by instructor Gary Forrest as seen in this video here
* PS MAY10: a very good article on how to improve skills in a ruddered kayak: here