Contrasting SOF to composit kayaks.

There’s a lot written about one model of composit or RM kayak versus another. The advice of “demo demo demo” is good advice. It’s interesting too though to hear people’s take.

Not as easy to demo SOFs. Good advice there too, though. I plan to attend a couple TIKS events this summer.

I’m interested if anyone wants to talk about the differences in feel and handling and anything else, between their SOF and some of the well know composit boats (pick one: T165, Romany, …) State something about the design and dimensions of your SOF of course.

Paul S.

I Can Only Generalize One Thing…

– Last Updated: Mar-06-07 5:50 AM EST –

the SOF will have a flex to it. This seems to dampen out the seas in terms of the minimizing jarring on the body as one goes up and over. This flex is surely hated by paddlers concerned with speed because it means some dissipation of energy.

The fact is an SOF is an individual craft, not mass produced. So any of the other attributes related to hull design is of your choosing, e.g. length, width, deadrise, rocker, volume. single chine, multichine, etc. All these effect the performance, makes the SOF more specific to an individual paddler, and can't be generalize from one SOF to another.

I do like overall light weight of the SOF but that lightness comes at cost, I think, of toughness. I know some of the G-Style folks claim the boats are tough. While I like playing in textured waters, I won't go near a rock garden with one. I had incidents of running into barnicled boulders and giving pinhole punctures. Those pinholes, in the course, of several hours will fill the bottom of boat with several inches of water. Then again, I used 10 oz dracon stretched very tight. Maybe 12 oz nylon, with some it's inherent give, would be more puncture resistant.

Having said the above, after building my sof. I never really paddled my composite sea kayaks again.

I would encourage anyone with the inclination and wherewithal with tools to build one. You actually can learn quite a bit about kayak design in the process of building and paddling one. You'll understand a bit more after building more than one.


Paddle all you can fit
I think that as Sing says SOF boats are by there very nature are all different.

Even in a class where we made 5 ostensibly identical boats each one differed in enough details to make them individual. Unless you bent all your ribs to a jig/form and used fixtures to cut and align everything identically, were perfect with your rocker, you will end up with a subtly (or not so subtly) different boat each time.

Best idea is to try every boat you can squeeze into and get a feel for how a SOF feels compared to composite.

Not sure which TIKS you are attending but if Brian Schulz is there then check out his boats. He has 2 models derived from glass boats. His Ginnyak loosely based on a Mariner Elan, and his SC-1 is an authorized copy of a Mariner Coaster.

He has an article discussing the build process and comparing the feel of the glass versus SOF model. He also has side by side pictures comparing the 2 boats and even has some feedback from a couple of people who were comparing a SC-1 with a coaster.

I paddle a P&H Vela and a Peter Strand built SOF. I don’t use the SOF in the same way as the composit kayak because it is a very low volume qajaq (haven’t met anyone else who can get in it) and to be honest, pretty uncomfortable for paddles any longer than a couple of hours. I haven’t spent any time in the surf in it yet. The first difference I noticed was that you can literally “feel” the water move beneath you - I love that. It seems to move through the water rather than over it. I feel like I’m wearing the kayak, rather than sitting in it. I get some of that feeling in my Vela because it fits me well, but much more in the SOF. And it leaks. I’m not sure how much it would leak if I just paddled it, but it’s so natural and fun to roll it that I find myself doing it without event thinking about it. I can only equate it to dancing. I end up with a fair amount of water sloshing around. I know my comments are related to how I feel in the kayak rather than design and performace, but I’ve never built or designed a kakay and I can only describe them from a paddling point of view. I am tempted to build a SOF that has a little more room, maybe even add a seat!


the SOF is 17’ 2" long, 18" wide, 5.5" deep behind the cockpit, 6.5 in front. Cockpit is 15 x 16.

Although the Vela is designed for a smaller paddler, it feels huge in comparison.


Biggest difference:

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Fit and control - because you have control of the critical dimensions - assuming you take advantage of this and don't just build to commercial specs (some good reasons to - but I'd rather build what I can't buy).

Next is performance - for same reasons. You can build them to do whatever you want.

From there, all the other differences vary as much as their individual paddlers. Hard to compare, even just on structure/material issues.

I would not say mine really has much flex. None noticeable paddling (this surprised me, as I was expecting something else). My frame is very rigid and skin quite tight. Skin will flex/deflect a bit - some softening of the ride there - but at less than 19" beam there is not much distance for the skin to span between frame members so its a pretty subtle thing. The flat panels on Kim's Kevlar WS Sparrow Hawk can do the same thing. I have seen flexy kayaks - and floppy skin kayaks - this ain't one of 'em (but I'm not taking the sort of pounding Sing like was in his Ronin either - in big waves I'd expect to feel a bit more flex).

Mine's 19'8 14" x 18 7/8" so pretty hard to compare to any commercial kayak (closest would be something like an EFT if you chopped the decks way down, added a touch more rocker, and an ocean cockpit - but then it'd be a very different animal). Has plenty of speed - and would take a far better paddler than I to "hit the wall" in it. Also out turns my QCC. Very easy roller, but I can't balance brace in it (yet) it as I have no wiggle room at the sides to get twisted around (or my QCC - because of high cockpit sides, I think). Mostly this is the upper torso size thing talked about on the other thread - though have done it in some other boats.

QCC beats it for comfort - can spend hours in that one with no issues (not stock - but just minimal outfitting/personalization). I have been in the SOF for up to 4 hours, but usually keep it to an hour or two. It's not the kayak, it's me. Big gut and limited flexibility basically has me doing a constant sit-up in in. Takes a half hour or so in it to loosen up, then it's good. Some more weight loss, some yoga, and/or just paddling it more(!) would take care of this.

On the water, it's hard to explain just how good the SOF feels, though I think it's more about it doing what I designed it to do - and specifically for me - than what it's made of.

SOF v composite
Think it important to differentiate what’s unique about SOF and what can be replicated in a custom composite. My limited experience is that most SOF are very low volume relative to composites, even something like an Outer Island that’s optimized for rolling. SOFs also don’t have bulkheads and every one I’ve been in leaks like a sieve, so you tend to spend a fair bit of time pumping/emptying. But they are fun to paddle and especially fun to roll. There are a relatively small number of people who’ve replicated a low volume SOF as a strip built boat. Don Goss is one, and all the folks who’ve built Bjorn Thommaspon’s Black Pearl, soon to include me. Am aving one build by Dan Caouette of Clear Stream Fine Woodworking in Milan, NH. Approximately 18’, 19" beam, 5 3/4" rear deck, 8 3/4" front deck height. I decided to go this route (even though it is quite a bit more expensive) because I wanted the design charastics of an East Greenland SOF with the build advantages of a composite.

Leaking doesn’t thrill me.
I’ve thought of wood strip, too. Time would be a bigger deal than the money for me. The satisfaction of building wood strip would be bigger too though.

Paul S.

Expaniding the topic.
Describing how you feel in the boat when you paddle it, as some have, is good too. Also, how often you use it vs composite if you have one.

Also opening the topic up to wood strip kayaks.

I see a lot of your SOFs are about 19" wide. I assume they’re proportionally tippy. I just got completely used to my 22" :). I think I’m improving quick in that area though.

Thanks for the conversation.

Paul S.

My experience is that they feel a bit more tippy (easy to get used to) on flat water, but come alive in a very unfussy way in lumpy water. You can build a SOF or custom strip kayak that looks like an Artic Hawk or like an extreme rolling kayak. Depends on the purpose. The BP is a great rolling kayak and very good in lumpy water, but w/o the disadvantages of worries about punctures, leaks, no bulkheads etc.

hey I got in it!
I’m pretty sure I sat in your qajaq during the last training camp. It definitely was a tight fit though but my Strand boat is pretty tight so it wasn’t that much harder to get in. Dan Segal’s De Rijp boat was an entirely different class of difficulty to get in or out of. It was downright scary.

On a semi related note, I jumped in Cheri’s Strand boat again a couple weeks ago at Sweetwater and it’s been stretched out quite a bit so it’s big and floppy compared to our kayaks now!


How Common is Leaking?
I would have thought with the urethane coating, etc. SOF boats would not as a routine matter have a problem with leaks. I wonder just how common that problem is?

I think I’m looking for …

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I say "think" cuz I'm learning and changing as I go, and wouldn't get into this project or purchase until next fall. I'd be 6' 2", 200 +/- 10 lbs, 36 +/- 1" waist, size 11 shoe.

I'd be looking for a boat compromised toward day trips, good roller, and good in conditions. I wouldn't want an extreme roller if it compromised other performance. (I'm not sure that it does, as lower volume is less corky and less effected by wind, but I'm a relative newb so I'm listening. If the boat is truly optimized for rolling at the expense of other handling, then I'd consider it a "cheater" and not interested in that. I'm starting to hit norsaq rolls in my T170 now, and it's a pretty high volume boat. With the T170 and the T180 before that, as I come down in weight I can feel them catching more wind and becoming more corky, so I'm pretty sure I'd appreciate a lower volume boat for my final weight of 200 lb.)

I'd like it to be fairly fast on flat water, but not for racing, and not at the compromise of the above. This should be accomplished with the narrower width (called beam?), right?

The rest is wish list now, and would count an SOF out I think. Would be nice to be able to do a few days camping out of it, packing light. Three bulkheads and a day hatch would be great, too. My composit boat could do this stuff though. I already have permission to have two boats, one that anyone in the family could use. That one might be something like a T165, or possibly a Nordkap classic. I like a tight, low volume boat, and I can fit into the T165 now at 245 lb, 40" waist, so I think it might be great at 200 lb. Haven't paddled it yet. It would be good for the rest of the family, too. On the other hand, I might like a Nordkap better, and my daughter would be the primary second user and could work her way into a Nordkap I think. She's very athletic, water polo, rock climbing, etc. She and I would go kayak camping a couple times, but I could rent a boat for that if I didn't have two that fit the bill.

My dreaming is now tending toward roughly 19-20" wide by 17' long, not more than I need for front deck for thighs and slight knee bend, and low back deck for rolling. Sort of like a Nordkap with a little lower decks and lower volume.

Recommend a stock wood strip or SOF design, or commercial composit boat for that matter?

The thing that draws me to the SOFs, and probably the same thing with wood strip, is I've read that you can take a stock design and customize it to your body dimensions, using some formulas, to get a great fit. For example, if you take a SOF building class with a builder, you do that.

Anyway, lots of thoughts here. I'm just trying to give you a feeling for where I'm trying to go with this. Bring me wherever you think might be useful.

What's the "BP?" Didn't find it right away googling BP kayak.

Paul S.

Leaks? Blame the builders…
… not the type. Same goes for floppy/saggy.

I typically have less water in my SOF than my QCC after a paddling session. Difference is even bigger if rolling much. I also typically spend zero time pumping either. At takeout a bit of sponge action for the composite, or lift and tip for the SOF is all that’s needed. I use my pump about as much as my paddle float.

What water I do get in either is mostly brought on board when I get in and out. Some small amount may also get in through tunnel/clothing when rolling. I have no skin/seam/coaming leaks. There may be a little seepage through deck line holes but I can’t confirm any - and the leather swells and seals them tighter the wetter things get.

If SOF were as flexy, floppy, and leaky as folks make them sound - they would not have been as successful in the Arctic (Inuit did not carry pumps AFAIK) or as popular among recreational paddlers now. Some may be, but that doesn’t mean they have to be.

Consider building your own boat…
I would say that building my own boat was the best paddling decision I have made…was a blast. I have built a hybrid strip/sng and a sof…recently sold my hybrid and am building another one.

Have you checked out: ( ), the mecca of kayak builders (my bias)…as there are other kayak building forums as well. There is a search option on this site, where you can search for reviews of all of the following boats. If you post your size and plans, you will also get many friendly suggestions.

However, it is best of course to demo a boat before building/buying…as I know you know. Depending upon where you live, there are numerous ‘Meet at the Beach’ gatherings around the country where you can demo homebuilt kayaks. You can also post a request on to demo a specific boat and/or to inquire about ‘Meet at the Beach’ happenings. I did so, and a wonderful guy in NJ offered me the opportunity to build his King…I did…and am now building one.

Given your size come Fall, I would recommend your looking at the following possibilities:

  1. Joe Greenley’s Redfish King ( - I am building this boat as we speak. I demoed it in the Fall, a wonderful design. It comes with plans, or a full kit. It has a ‘rollers recess’ built into the plans for laybacks, though this can be done with most boats if you wish.

  2. Nick Schade’s Night Heron ( with plans or kit from The N.H. can be built as a sng, strip, or hybrid (strip deck, sng hull-which is what I built).

  3. Eric Schade’s Merganser Series ( ), can be purchased with plans or kit from Eric. Can also purchase these through if you wish as the Shearwater Series.

  4. Here is the reference to the Black Pearl (BP), an exquisite design by Bjorn Thomasson who will custom fit the plans for you. You can build this as a strip, sng, or sof. I will build this one after the King.



At 200+…
… you may need to go longer than 17’ if you want to keep beam narrow. Sinking the kayak deeper isn’t the best way to reduce freeboard L

The main difference in “rollers” vs all arounders tends to be the amount of freeboard. LV is nice, but going too low can leave you in a hard to maneuver submarine in conditions. Personally, I’d keep some reserve buoyancy. My SOF reflects this and has a good bit more freeboard and higher foredeck than a dedicated roller so I can ride the waves a bit more than they ride me. It’s still wetter than most commercial kayaks.

If I were going to make a “cheater” roller I’d go 2’ shorter, 2" wider, and 1.5" lower decks - with flatter hull cross sections.

As you noted, all these things are compromises.

Björn will customize his plans to fit your size and needs. In addition to the more specialized Black Pearl, also check out the Hunter, and his super sweet (best of all worlds?) kayak - the Njord (can you tell it’s my favorite?):

great responses by others
Relatively to add about the BP except to point you toward the builder who did Scott Lovrien’s BP and will start mine next weekend: .

Since you’re on the west coast, if you want to build a SOF, you might also want to look at Brian Schultz’s site/classes: .

The only commercial boat optimized specifically for rolling is Jay Babina’s Outer Island in glass by Impex. At 200 pounds you’d fit it. I love this boat for long day trips and rolling, and you could camp for a weekend out of it if you’re a light weight backpacking person, but why would you want to do that if you already have a Tempest? Another option–great roller, great in surf, super for short camping trips is the NDK Romany. Might be exactly what you’re looking for.

water will come in through the coaming depending on the size of the holes use to stitch the coaming down with the skin. I went each hole with 5 minute epoxy and a toothpick.

But, I agree, the SOF can be pretty watertight. The water leaks that I experienced were from punctures to the skin from running over barely submerged boulders.



Great info, thanks! NM

Thanks everyone!

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Great info! Plenty for me to research. I’m familiar with Brian Shulz’ Cape Falcon Kayaks, near Portland. Though I’ve never met him, I’ve met several people who have taken his class and have his boats, one tonight actually. There's also Bob Kelim, in Washington I think. I also have the book, Building the Greenland Kayak, Cunningham.

I’m not as familiar with wood strip kayaks. I did check out a couple books at the public library: The Strip-Built Sea Kayak, Shades; and Kayak Craft, Moores.

Thanks for all the web sites and advice. I’ll definitely be digging into the web sites. I have plenty of time but wanted to start early.

Paul S.