Alan Bergman – Not every graduation requires wearing a cap and gown. In fact, I wore a bathing suit to my last graduation. It was some 15 years ago, the monumental day that I graduated from a plastic kayak into a fiberglass one.
Many kayaking gurus strongly recommend that those ready to purchase their first kayak, do so buying a plastic boat. There are several very valid reasons for this.
For starters, plastic kayaks, either sit-on-tops or sit-ins, typically cost less than their composite and fiberglass counterparts. It would be a shame to plunk down more than a few pesos only to learn that kayaking isn’t quite the perfect pastime that one had hoped it would be. Plastic boats considerably lower the cost of admission.
Secondly, plastic kayaks tend to be more stable and easier to maneuver than composite kayaks, making them good starter boats. Starting out with a plastic kayak can facilitate learning how to best handle different weather and water conditions, and also serve as a stable water “vehicle” for honing one’s paddling skills. Plastic kayaks can actually function as educational tools, too, helping you determine the boat style and size that may best suit you, going forward, for future paddling.
One day, perhaps after a few years of paddling, it will hit you like a ton of bricks. You absolutely, positively love this sport, but your plastic boat just ain’t cutting it anymore!!
What this translates to, essentially, is moving beyond plastic into a kayak built from a material that is lighter, faster, more responsive and more fun. You’re taking off the training wheels and moving on up to a real adult kayak. Transitioning from that plastic, recreational kayak into a stiffer composite or fiberglass touring or sea kayak, will open up an entirely new world of paddling advantages and possibilities. Let’s explore some of these, and the accompanying backstories.
Loading or unloading your kayak from your car roof rack can become tedious and tortuous. This also goes for carrying your yak to the water’s edge or paddling a waterway that requires portaging, where sometimes even up to a one-half mile carry may be necessary. Fiberglass and composite boats are far lighter and can make transport way easier on the back and shoulders (especially if your boat is loaded with gear).
To offer some weight comparison, the average 15-foot plastic kayak, without rudder or skeg, may weigh in at approximately 55 lbs. Its fiberglass counterpart, also without rudder or skeg, may tip the scale at about 40 lbs (or less). Generally, Kevlar-constructed kayaks, the same material used to make bullet-proof vests, tend to be even lighter than many of the fiberglass-only and composite boats out there.
And, yes, it really does break my heart when I hear about someone who has a kayak that spends more time in a shed than on the water because it is just too heavy for the owner to maneuver.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in trading your plastic yak for a fiberglass or composite one is how much faster you’ll move on the water. Less weight means less drag and less resistance, which can be summed up as . . . more efficient paddling! You will cover a greater distance in less time after transitioning from a plastic kayak.
TRACKING AND SECONDARY-STABILITY
Take a lighter boat, add increased length and increased narrowness, the sum-total is a kayak that will provide improved tracing; that is, the ability to paddle in a straight line. Coupling a longer, more narrow boat with lighter material will also improve boat speed.
While plastic kayaks may offer good initial stability, that is how stable the boat feels upon first entering it or remaining in it in one place, you can count on fiberglass and composite kayaks to provide even more important secondary-stability. This is defined as the ability to not capsize while actually paddling.
TRIP LENGTH AND STORAGE
If you’re planning to be out on the water for a long while, and/or for a lengthy waterway crossing, it makes far more sense to be paddling a 15-20 foot composite or fiberglass kayak, than a shorter, plastic recreational boat. The inherent qualities in the longer hulled, non-plastic boat will make it easier to stay on course and handle rougher, choppier water with less difficulty. These boats may offer more storage space as well, especially handy for a long day-trip or for kayak camping.
EXCEPTIONS TO EVERY RULE
After many paragraphs praising the virtues of owning non-plastic kayaks, I do want to put in a bit of a disclaimer here. My wife and I still own our very first kayaks, which are plastic, recreational boats. Here are the two reasons why.
Every once-in-a-while, we will car-top our kayaks to a lake, bay or river that may have rocky coasts or rocks hidden just below the water’s surface. We do not want our fiberglass boats coming into contact with these. The more durable, stronger-hulled plastic kayaks are a better, more logical choice for these particular water conditions.
And we sometimes invite our friends out on the water with us as a way of socializing. As good friends as any of them may be, they are still neophyte kayakers. We feel far more comfortable with them kayaking in sturdier, less fragile boats.
FUN AND SKILL-ENHANCEMENT
Savvy engineering and high-tech construction materials together create the ultimate in paddling fun for many kayaking purists in these light weight fiberglass and composite boats. From edging to bracing to rolling, a lighter weight touring boat allows all sorts of opportunities to truly enjoy your time on the water.
The paddling skills that you learned in your plastic boat can be kicked up a few notches once you graduate to composite or fiberglass and experience for yourself how much more responsive these kayaks are!
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