02 December 2013

Why a tippy kayak can be a good thing

A few months ago I paddled a new kayak that really impressed me: the XP designed by Johan Wirsen.
He lent me his personal kayak for a 500 km trip along the Swedish East coast. I had never paddled that kayak and I knew it was going to be very different to my British kayaks.
Along the way I really had a chance to test the kayak properly and I fell in love with it. The kayak was loaded with supplies and camping gear and it sat relatively stable in the water; I never had the chance to paddle it unloaded. I really wanted that kayak because it fitted me so well and allowed me to sit with my legs together, not splayed wide to fit under the thigh braces. It paddled with ease and responded very well to edging.
Once back in Australia I was lucky to get hold of a rare ultralight version; the XP is no longer in production because of copyright breach on the part of the manufacturer.
When I finally got to paddle the XP in my local waters I suddenly realized that this was a very different kayak. While the mould and shape were identical to what I had in Sweden I felt that my kayak was now so incredibly twitchy.

  Sculling Vixen_1_c

With its rather deep V hull shape and a narrow beam the unloaded kayak sat very differently on the water.
My first paddle in choppy conditions found me not in the usual relaxed style but I was bracing every so often to avoid falling in. I was concerned that this kayak might get relegated to “calm” days only but I really wanted to use it in all conditions. I took her out on challenging weather and despite feeling uncomfortable and needing to brace often I persisted.
Slowly my body got used to the tippiness and while I am not totally relaxed in her yet I can come back from a paddle no longer white knuckled.
I remember buying a few years ago another kayak (no test paddle) that I was disappointed with: I kept falling in. I was ready to on sell it but somehow persisted and developed the skill to paddle that demanding kayak. It later became my favorite surfing kayak, unfortunately the cockpit does not fit me that well.
As some say there is no such thing as a tippy kayak, just tippy paddlers I find that it takes a bit of time to overcome the initial low initial stability of a narrow hull. What I gain from my new kayak is increased skills and performance on small waves: I can easily surf wind waves that I can not in my British kayaks. While not perfectly suited to all the conditions that Moreton Bay offers (it’s a handful in short steep tidal flow driven waves) I find the performance superior to other kayaks I have.

Jeff Allen in Ocean Paddler magazine writes:
The other point about stable sea kayaks is that, if we take a beginner and put them straight into
a stable design, we gain instant success; they don’t need to learn a high degree of balance or effective bracing, they get away without the need to develop those most fundamental of skills. They develop the strokes in a stable craft /environment, but, when they move onto a more dynamic environment and try a simple sweep stroke in bubbly water, we see them capsize. 
A lack of balance and supporting blade angle are usually the culprit, which would have been their
first lesson had they started the process in a less-than-stable sea kayak. That is quite a radical
thought however, and (I hasten to add) is only my opinion. Much of our industry is based around
maintaining a good client base; happy customers will keep coming back for more.

  Surfing Vixen_3_c

In my previous life I used to ride passionately mountain bikes. My regular riding partner has a similar trail bike to mine. She was usually lagging behind a bit and I had to wait for her on some rides. She then decided to try riding a single speed on hilly trails. I thought she was mad to forego gears and make her riding harder; she sure will be a real drag…
And she was, for a few weeks. Then her technique improved, her riding style changed and her strength increased as she no longer wanted to get off on the hills she could not ride with the single speed. In a month’s time she was on my wheel and soon after she started to leave me behind.
I realized that by making her conditions harder she became a better rider since she wanted to ride that bike and not walk it, while myself I never pushed hard enough riding my geared bike: I could simply downshift on harder terrain. I never had the courage to go singlespeed but I wished I did; I would have ridden those Californian trails with more finesse and strength.


  1. The human body is a wonderfully adaptive machine but it does require some breaking in to new challenges. Case in point, learning to ride a bike as a kid and tightrope walkers. I found sitting on an exercise ball greatly helped my sense of balance.

    Tony :-)

  2. Henrik Ohlin12/6/13, 6:11 PM

    Hav you found out why it´s twitchy? Lighter kayak and higher density of the sea water in Australia? And remember, a twitchy kayak improves your rolling :)

    Saw that Zegul has just bought Arrow kayaks. An Arrow Play HV might be something for you.

    1. Henrik, the XP is more twitchy for me here in Australia because I paddle it empty while in Sweden I had it loaded with expedition gear and food. I notice a big difference in stability when my kayaks are loaded. Sad to hear that Arrow was bought out (?) even if there are no Arrow dealers in Australia

  3. Thank you for sharing this information. I've already tried Kayak in Philippines and I really fell in love with it.


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