Kayaking is your entry to new adventures, and it’s one of the most relaxing things you can do on water. Now the variety and relative affordability of plastic kayaks is changing the paddling scene. Gear Editor Matthew Sterne asked some experts about the current crop.
Kayaks for courses: Choose yours
Choosing a kayak can be a confusing business. There are more than 10 local companies in South Africa alone, each producing a range of different models. There are kayaks for white-water, touring, sea recreation, fishing and racing; they come as sit-insides or sit-on-tops, in plastic or fibreglass or composites, with or without a rudder, as solos or tandems. Beyond kayaks there are canoes, surfskis, K1s and K2s – all paddle craft but essentially quite different. It’s enough to make you feel at sea before you even begin. Kayaks have emerged as the most popular recreational choice in recent years.
There are three reasons for this:
- They’re robust and virtually unsinkable.
- They’re stable so everyone in the family can use them.
- Most of them have watertight storage compartments.
When buying a kayak, the first thing experts will ask you is: what do you want to do with it? Fibreglass (this includes carbon fibre, kevlar and composites) is light and fast but is easily damaged if you hit a rock (nobody likes that sinking feeling) and tip readily. They’re also fairly expensive – about R20,000. Plastic kayaks (usually a type of polyethylene) are about half the price of fibreglass, more stable, hardy and come in bright colours. They don’t glide as quickly in the water so not all die-hard paddlers are fans, but for those starting out or families looking to have some fun, plastic, rudderless kayaks are the way to go.
Terrence Ward, Terry Corr, Billy May and Peter Cole
1. VAGABOND MAZOWE
Terrence Ward of The Paddle Mag and Paddle Experience tour company at Sandvlei in Cape Town says: ‘The first thing that drew us to the Mazowe was its incredible stability. We have clients who come with zero paddling skills and the more stable the kayak, the better for us. The second thing is that it has adjustable foot holds, so it can accommodate different leg lengths in comfort. And third is the storage compartments and packability of the Mazowe. We can go on a five-day trip and it has space for all we need. The only downside is the weight,
as it’s heavier than other models.’
2. FLUID SYNERGY
Terry Corr of Shark Warrior Adventures, based in Simon’s Town, says: ‘I spent about two years researching kayaks in South Africa and kept on coming back to the Synergy for its stability and hardiness. We call it the 4×4 of kayaks because it’s basically indestructible. We’ve tried all kinds of ways to sink it and have failed, so that’s very reassuring. I like that it tracks very well (even without a rudder) and doesn’t slide from side to side like other kayaks. It’s also low in the water so doesn’t catch the wind, which we have a lot of here in the Cape. Some of the clips haven’t worn too well but that’s not a major issue.’
3. LEGEND NESSY
Billy May of Ocean Ventures in Durban says: ‘The Nessy is sturdy and buoyant so people feel very comfortable on it. It punches through waves nicely, which is ideal for us as we take clients out from uShaka Beach to Vetjies Reef and towards the harbour entrance. It’s not a surfing kayak by any means but it gets you beyond the surf with no problem. It’s ideal for a beginner who wants a family kayak as anyone can take it onto a dam or the ocean. I wouldn’t say its made for long distances, but it’s versatile and fun.’
4. OUTDOOR ELEMENTS BENGUELA*
R9,999 (includes two paddles, two frame seats and 10 rod-holder mounts), outdoorelements.co.za
Peter Cole of Orka Paddles says: ‘My wife and I come from a racing background. When our first child was born we wanted a plastic kayak so that we could all go out together. I also wanted a rudderless kayak that would keep a straight line – the Benguela does this as it has a keel. That was nine years ago and recently we bought the latest model. It paddles just as well and is sturdy. The fish hatches are a nice feature and the new plastic handles are better. It’s a good deal because everything is included – the paddle, backrests and the kayak.’
*New version of Benguela now available
5. VAGABOND KWANDO
While some kids’ kayaks seem toy-like, the Kwando feels like the real deal. It has the same design and features as the adult Vagabond craft, but it’s packaged in a size that’s suitable for children. The team at Vagabond think it’s the ‘best kids sit-on-top in the market worldwide, not just in South Africa’. And it ticks all the boxes: a watertight hatch for storage, a bottle holder, a spot to rest the paddle, strong handles, moulded-in footrests and a comfy seat.
6. LEGEND TRIDENT
This is the latest fishing kayak from Legend, following the Makara, and it seems to hit the sweet spot. ‘Everything is just in the right place,’ a regular paddler says. The hatch is in between the paddler’s legs for easy access and its two-door system ensures that even your biggest catch can be stored with ease. The footwell is deep and flat so you can stand in the kayak, and there’s an indent to mount a transducer. The trident is extremely fast due to its length while also being really stable. Other cool features include a fish bag, the option of an under-stern or over-stern rudder and a small recess to keep your bait-fish.
Your local specialists
Visit a local retailer to see the different kayaks first-hand and find one that suits you best. The following specialist outlets are a good place to start:
Brian’s Kayaks in Paarden Eiland. 021-511-9695, kayaks.co.za
Aquatrails in Fish Hoek. 021-782-7982, aquatrails.co.za
Orka Paddles in Kirstenhof. 021-701-7913, orkapaddles.com
Paddlezone in Claremont. 021-683-3698, paddlezone.co.za
Canoe & Kayak World in Northriding. 011-807-8111, canoekayak.co.za
Canoe Concepts in Albertskroon. 011-477-0784, canoeconcepts.co.za
The Paddling Shop in Fairview. 041-484-2539, thepaddlingshop.co.za
Nautical Sports in Newton Park. 041-811-2628, nauticalsports.co.za
Wild Coast Kayaks in Bunkers Hill. 071-883-2633, wildcoastkayaks.co.za
Second Nature Watersports in Quigney. 043-722-1752, [email protected]
Palmz Kayaks in Bluff. 083-320-4792, [email protected]
ARK is approaching 30 years in the business (you may recognise its Crocs if you’ve been on an Orange River trip) and now has three inflatable kayak models. The most popular is the Alligator 320, a 3,2-metre one-person kayak. Their great advantage is that they’re ‘car-boot kayaks’ – they pack down to a convenient size and are easy to store and transport. ark.co.za
6 kayaking safety tips
1. Check your equipment before you launch. Are there any leaks in your kayak? NB Is the plug in?
2. Take your cell phone in a drybag.
3. Always wear your life jacket. Having it in the kayak is no good if you fall out in waves.
4. Check the weather – if there’s wind, fog or mist perhaps reconsider. Never go out in a strong off-shore wind.
5. Tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Or use the free NSRI app called SafeTrx and share your trip with a friend.
6. Wear highly visible clothing and a bright cap. Put high-vis decals on your paddles. In other words, stick out in the ocean as much as you can.
This article was first published in the April 2020 issue of Getaway magazine.
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All prices correct at publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before booking or buying.