10 January 2010

Size matters

I have the feeling that some individuals are obsessed with size.
Some must think that bigger is better.

I keep on coming across people that appear to have a fascination for acquiring items that seem just too big for them.
Are the large items compensating for their own physical size insecurity?
I have seen it in all aspects of life: young men with clothing that are too big for them (usually on guys that would prefer to be more bulky), riders straddling motorcycle where they can barely touch the ground, outdoor enthusiast that carry a backpack so big that hinders their progress on the trail...

Not forgetting the all-obvious obsession with large vehicle.
If you look at what is driven around in the urban environment one would think that the western world has very little paved roads (particularly around schools at kid’s pick up time :-).
It would appear that most of us live in very rural areas and need very large vehicles to get to work or do grocery shopping.
On the other hand, interestingly enough, I have observed (in Australia and USA) that majority of real active people usually drive compact cars.
Is the large 4WD the domain of the wannabe?
There are obviously legit users of said large vehicles where a smaller one just would not work for their business (i.e. construction).
Is there a trend to compensate with the large for the lack of confidence, or in some cases, for guys, the perceived lack of “manhood”?

somebody not confident about their manhood?
Funny enough the trend seems to extend to sea kayaking as well.
I have been noticing that some are buying sea kayaks that are just simply too large for them.
I can understand the inexperienced novice where his/her priority is usually a “stable” kayak (often by default large) but it seems that some paddlers are trading for larger kayaks that don’t really fit them.
I know of several paddlers that have upgraded from a seemingly OK kayak to monsters 6.1 meters long (21ft) barges.
These kayaks are designed for extended unsupported expeditions and perform poorly in the hands of a paddler that has not got the skills or the strength to maneuver it in a bit of wind.

kayak too big for this paddler needing towing in 15 knot of wind
And just because you are a couple it does not mean that you have to have matching kayaks; surely there is a difference in size and weight between the two of you :-)
So why are there a disproportionate number of barges around used primarily for day paddles or a brief overnighter?
But there is no need to go to that extreme to find yourself in a kayak that is just too big.

If one wants to improve skills and be able to really feel connected to a kayak a smaller size is usually better.
I have witnessed a remarkable advancement of skills after a paddler has switched to a kayak that would fit her properly.
Very evident areas are the ability to edge the boat, quick turns, improved paddle stroke (due to lower cockpit rim and width of kayak) and rolling.
While some seem to justify that a kayak must be large enough to carry supplies and equipment for several weeks majority of us very rarely (if ever) venture on trips of more than a few days. In my part of the world that’s in tropical conditions where very little protective clothing is needed therefore requiring even less cargo space.

Serious major expeditions are usually carried out in medium size kayaks (SKUK Explorer being the most popular one). If remote locations can be reached in those kayaks surely a few days in balmy conditions could be too.
While some manufacturers are rather vague with payloads, Valley's website is informative enough to offer a weight guideline for optimal performance.

So, despite that info, some paddlers still choose boats that are way too big for them.

No amount of padding experience will make an oversize kayak fit well. Wind and waves will make that craft bob around the sea like a cork.
An Aquanaut HV, for example, to perform optimally will have to have a paddler and cargo of 250 lbs (113 Kg)! Such kayak with a lighter paddler will perform poorly compared to one sized to match the paddler.

A kayak that is designed to carry large loads will have too much freeboard (when unloaded) that will act like a sail in anything but calm conditions.
A kayak that does not sit deep enough in the water will feel often a bit tender. Needless to say also that a kayak that is too long will be a handful to turn around, especially in wind.
I could carry on with the disadvantages of a large kayak (long/large ones need more effort to be paddled at Club outings pace, heavier, occupy more room in storage, harder to lift/transport etc.)

A well fitted kayak promotes maneuverability. Unfortunately padding out a cockpit of a too large kayak is often just a marginal improvement but certainly not the solution.
A too high coaming of the cockpit will always remain too high on a paddler that is clearly too small for that given craft.
With the range of kayaks available today to fit most body types there is no longer the need to make do with a boat that does hinder your skills.
Way too often the concept of “the longer waterline equals to a faster kayak” is misconceived if the paddler has not got the strength and technique to actually paddle a longer craft.
Most smaller paddlers will be better served by a kayak that despite being a bit shorter will actually give less resistance to be paddled at Club pace speed.
So very few paddlers rarely reach and maintain the higher “hull speed” of a long kayak.
Paddled at slower speeds the longer kayak is actually harder to paddle.
Honestly, a lot of folk out there on the water would be better off with a kayak that fitted them.

11FEB10: Expedition Kayaks' blog post on "downsizing" is interesting (no direct link available)


  1. The premise behind Greenland Qajaq design is exactly what you describe, a boat that fits your body size and mass, with the minimum freeboard to allow you to carry what was necessary to complete the function you wanted the boat for.
    Unfortunately fashion rather than sense seem to prevail in our consumer driven world.

  2. I agree! people always seem to think a longer boat will be faster, based I think on a misunderstanding of what theoretical hull speed represents. That said I do paddle a Mirage 580, a very long boat. But I'm 6'3" and do trips up to 2 weeks in duration and it's very comfortable for that sort of stuff :-)
    I occasionally paddle with a woman who paddles a plastic boat that's less than 5 metres, it's a good boat and she does some great trips but she always complains she's slower than us because it's a short boat, I bite my tongue rather than point out the reason she's slow is not the boat, it's that she's got poor strength and her paddle technique isn't great

  3. Lu, the Mirage 580 in not necessarily a big boat, just long. A person your size would fit way tighter than a 5'2" paddler.
    And that's my point: a kayak should be fitted to the size of the paddler. Buying a large kayak just because it "feels" more stable is often a mistake that novices make...

  4. Well said (by the way, the chap in the too big kayak seems to have his paddle askew). Here, in the states, most monster SUV's are driven by tiny housewives who never seem to have any passengers.

  5. Silbs, here in Australia monster SUVs are driven by small penis syndrome guys.
    Ordinary SUVs often by just wannabes
    The "housewives" tend to scrape the sides of large vehicles in tight parking lots (smaller lots than USA)
    Re the paddle: it's actually kosher, believe it or not.
    That paddle (the U-Beaut) "apparently" was designed to be paddled upside down. Don't ask me why but that's what I have been told...


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