What to look for in a New Kayak

Tiderace Xplore_s First thoughts

South Haven pier in light breeze Sea Kayaking

Couple of first thoughts on the Tiderace Xplore_S. This is probably the stiffest kayak I have ever owned. There don’t really seem to be any mushy spots in the hull or the deck. There is some flex, enough to ensure the kayak won’t be brittle, but overall it is probably the most rigid hull I’ve paddled. As rigid translates into better hull speed and more responsiveness in the water, this is good news. The classic layup is solid and straightforward. Mine also came with a clear coat keel strip which is pretty cool. The keel strip will add additional durability when pulling up on rocky beaches. This boat was not made in the new factory in Thailand which is supposed to be a pretty rocking facility for composite manufacturing, this kayak is pretty flawless.

A good friend of mine bought a brand new kayak last year and when he puts it on the roof rack, it compresses significantly under even modest tension from straps, and then stays dented until heat is applied – not cool. This kayak doesn’t have that problem.

We tend to evaluate things like new cars pretty thoroughly, but who really ever knows what to look for in a kayak even when it’s new. It’s a pretty common question, and one that I am sure has a lot of different answers.

A couple of points I always look at on a new kayak are:

  • Seams – are they flush with no overlap
  • What is the overall appearance of glass on the inside? Are there any loose strands of glass, are there any bubbles of resin/epoxy that weren’t squeezed out?
  • Do all the hatches seal tight? Are they watertight? Do they bulge during heat changes?
  • Is the cockpit rim stiff all the way around?
  • Is the gelcoat applied evenly all the way across the outside? Is it smooth?
  • Is the seat solid inside the kayak with no creaking, or groaning in the hardware?
  • Does the skeg work? Meaning does it go up and down in the water, and does it stay both up and down?

Performance is such a subjective thing to each person and application. Some people want a light, fast boat with a rudder, some people want a shorter more maneuverable boat for rough water, some people want a boat to do serious trips from. In sea kayaking there are a bunch of multiple applications. My application for a sea kayak is as follows:

  • A boat small enough to fit me, I am 5’7″ and around 180 lbs. I don’t like a lot of extra boat. I can do quite a few of the greenland rolls, so moving into a boat that prohibits most of them isn’t in the cards.
  • Speed, I like to have enough hull speed to outrun windwaves, and make long crossings in style. I really like doing downwind sea kayaking and having a fast boat makes this much more fun.
  • Modest gear hauling capabilities. I have small light backpacking gear and I realistically get out once or twice in the summer for about a week.
  • Maneuverable when edged. I like a boat that will carve out when edged. I really enjoy making edged turns and having a boat that skids out and carves nicely when edged makes my day.
  • Skegged design. Meaning the boat will skid out in the wind without a skeg and when the skeg is dropped it goes straight.
  • Durable, durable, durable. I need a kayak to be pretty bullet proof. If I am rescuing students over and over all summer, pulling a kayak over your cockpit rim and wondering if it will hold is not a good thing, you don’t want to worry about it.

On these notes the Xplore_S gets a strong pass. Though one small note is that the largest waves I’ve paddled in is 2 feet so far, and winds around 25-30 knots on Lake Michigan. Can’t wait to get it out in something a bit bigger.

Obvious disclaimer – I am a sponsored paddler from Tiderace.