Older/Newer Designs

Some repeats (maybe)

– Last Updated: Feb-01-08 2:22 PM EST –

20 or so years ago, the "popular" boats where Pacific Northwest designs with lots of volume.

Now, many people have realized that they don't need all that volume and that, with a little bit of getting used to, a tighter cockpit can be comfortable. That is, years ago, it was standard to think that people needed/wanted all that "leg room".

An analogous think happened with backpacking. What was normal to be carried some years ago would be concidered unacceptable now.

I think that, with more popularity, people are better informed about trade-offs and there are more different boats to choose from (which means people aren't picking from a few of the "same" kinds of boats).

I think that, also, more people have more exposure to "odd" things like greenland paddles and boats.

I think part of what happened was the adoption of boats like the Romany in the late 1990s by influential people (ie, instructors).

I just have an image of a bunch of people stealthily sneaking 6 ft long GP’s onto the beach and suddenly pulling them out from hiding places. Perhaps it looked like a GP army in bumblebee suits? BCU and ACA be darned, they are showing up just about everywhere.

My favorite example of the penetration is a friend of my sister’s who showed up in Maine with a Swifty and a hand-carved GP. This guy is nothing if not thoughtful - to get around the width of the boat, he had carved up a storm paddle and was learning to use that.

True enough, just don’t assume…
… the native designs aren’t aren’t purpose built and capable of impressive performance as well.

If you’re looking at native designs from a “worse than Brit boat” or “primitive” perspective you’re not giving them a fair shake. Don’t judge them through the distorted lens of their mutant spawn the beloved British Sea Kayaks. Many see these designs as “improvements” over traditional designs - but that really only holds if you need the extra volume, will settle for more weight, and can live with lower average speeds. Notice the “trend” is away from that now and to more LV designs with lighter layups (they’re still not really interested in more speed potential in the way you are - which is fine for their needs)…

Regarding the designs you’re talking about - yeah, mine seems to do pretty well next to the Brits. I do like some of the Brit designs quite a bit - just nothing I’m in the market for. If I had to replace my kayak right now (assuming $ to do so) I’d be at a bit of a loss. I might try to demo a Marlin - but it’s not really what I want. To get that, barring any new entries - I’d have to build it.

I do have a direction I’d like to go with designs - incorporating all the “modern” stuff you’re talking about but with narrower beams (but still stable via native tricks - much as we’re seeing in the new stable ski designs) and decks a bit more “native” to allow a much sportier paddling experience than something like my trusty 700 offers - but with some of that sort of good manners retained. Yes, it would even have a rudder. No, it wouldn’t conform to any BS race specs. It wouldn’t be “racer” - and as far as that goes it might get stuck in unlimited and outclassed by “faster” boats - but would come into it’s own for holding speed on the snotty days. No remounts might even make something like it a ski beater on those days…

There a Swedish design that is so damn close to my rough sketches and overall specs it’s scary (in a cool way) but the hull on that one is super round and speed focused - and so not offering the range of handling I’m after…

Come on LOTTO!!!

New & old
Speed isn’t everything. Besides, that’s all been covered in the past as well. Baidarkas and Caribou Inuit kayaks were very fast, even by today’s standards. It’s the total package that matters.

There’s nothing mystical about the old designs just as much as there’s nothing really “new” about the new. Somewhere, at some time, somebody has probably tried everything that you can do with a displacement hull shape. They may not have had computers or even basic modern technology, but they knew what worked when they tried it. And THEY laid the foundations for what is considered to be “modern design”. Unless you’re putting hydrofoils, winged keels, or bow bulbs on kayaks, you’re likely not doing anything that hasn’t been tried before. Even skegs aren’t a new idea.

What sets new boats apart is the combinations of design elements that are used, and the fact that performance can be somewhat reliably modeled before contruction begins, making the design process faster. It’s still trial and error, but with a database of known elements (Some thousands of years old) to choose from. Boats have a long and extremely diverse history, and to say that there’s something totally new is probably not true. It’s just new to us.

Native Designs
I have great respect for the native designs. They were excellent craft for the purposes they were designed for. We must also remember that these designs were the result of the limited materials and construction methods available at the location and time.

If one was living on an icy barren shoreline of Greenland and intended on building a boat to go hunting in, then they would be very fortunate to have hundreds of years of evolutionary design and construction wisdom to start with.

Now jump ahead to today. There very well may be some attributes of the native designs that some paddlers need today. The skirted cockpit is one feature that quickly comes to mind. This is a remarkable invention and an essential feature for most sea kayakers today. Then again, many of today’s paddlers have discovered more benefits from a sit-on-top style cockpit like on surfskis.

Some traditionalists have been able to accept skegs, which I assume the native designs did not have. Some designers have made their hull shapes more efficient with the assumption that a skeg will be used in some conditions. Some have just stuck a skeg on less efficient hull that was originally designed without a skeg. The development of the skeg is more than an evolutionary step. It is huge. The benefits are great, especially if the hull is designed with with skeg as an integral component.

An even bigger improvement is available with a rudder. Rudders have been used for hundreds of years on all kinds of boats. They are practical, safe and allow for a significant improvemnet in efficiency, speed and handling, especially in rougher conditions. Yet the same traditionalists who have accepted the skeg revolution still seem to shun rudders. Most of the serious performance kayaks are designed with rudders. The technology has trickled down to some recreational level sea kayaks. Many paddlers now enjoy the benefits.

I believe the natives would have embraced skegs and rudders if they had the knowledge and means to include them on their boats. If the natives had discovered rudders and used them in days of yore, you can be sure that just about every sea kayak today would have them. The traditionalists would insist that you have one.

There have been many revolutionary improvements to sea kayak design since the natives. However, there are also some strong forces within the sea kayaking community that resist adoption of new technologies with a passion. I see this resistance to adopt new technologies to a much stronger degree with sea kayaks than in any other type of boats. It seems to me that just about every form of transpotation/recreation today is extremely quick to adopt new technologies including white water kayaks, powerboats, sailboats, trains, planes & automobiles. The exception is sea kayaks.

I don’t think it’s really about…
… shun rudders.

It’s really more about the trade-offs and right tool for the job. More of a minimalist thinking - where for much coastal touring use a rudder is overkill and a skeg is adequate to balance weatherhelm when needed and a bit simpler more rugged.

For more “performance” oriented paddling it’s rudder hands down - but that’s got a lot to do with performance hulls also tending to have longer LWLs and rounder cross sections that a skeg is not right for and can even make a handful in some conditions. Turning/trim forces are needed - not just CLR adjustment - and the boats are design to have rudders. Also running at speeds where there is more wave energy to grab and maneuverability at speed is critical to tap it.

Very different paddling. Not really an either or thing - as much as people like to frame it as such. It’s another case (like which paddle type is best) where it’s only really a valid question in a subset of sea kayaks - where both devices can work OK and the jobs they do mostly overlap.

It’s not hard to find an upper limit of LWL where skegs are not longer the right choice. No real lower limit - but choice is (or should be) dependent on use.

FWIW - Greenlanders and other did have skegs. Some integral to the design itself - and also many examples of strap on skegs. Obviously no drop down versions - but the strap ons are adjustable by moving them fore/aft. There is also some limited evidence of rudders being used on other SOF like baidarkas - with lines running outside to the cockpit and adjusted by hand (likely more of a trim tab function that a steering one).

Outstanding post Wayne!
That is right on target.

Also a great post Greyak

check out the Prijon Athlete NM

Natives had Skegs and Rudders - Wow

I did not know that some native Greenland kayaks had versions of skegs and rudders. That is very interesting. I would think a hunter gliding up to a seal with a spear in hand would appreciate the benefits of a rudder. Were these rudders and skegs found on later generations of native craft? Were these appendages relatively new and just beginning to evolve or were they tried on older craft and the idea abandoned?

I understand the appeal of skegs vs. rudders. I really did not mean my post to be an either/or thing. I was using rudders as an example of resistance to change that seems unusually strong in sea kayaking. I’m not saying that rudders are for everyone, but if a newbie asks about rudders, there will be lots of people passionately arguing against them.

I have frequently seen other paddlers
Take the same boat I own and do things I haven’t succeeded at.

Now I at least know where the missing link is in the boat’s design.

That said I do believe that with computers, new technology and new materials to build with, somebody and some companies will continue to introduce new products that will tweak hull’s, but not to the level of reinventing the simple experience of being outdoors and on water.

GPs Allowed
Actually, when I did my 4* assessment, 3 of my fellow paddlers had GPs. Only I and another person were there with our trusty Werners.

We all passed and in some fairly rough conditions, too.

To my knowledge, Cheri did her 4* a few years back with a GP.

I could be wrong, but I think it’s the ACA that has an issue with GP use in their classes, unless it’s for a Greenland Paddling specific instructors’ award.

a harsh enviroment, where things that get splashed were sometines encased in ice and you need to get a seal or starve. Skegs that were under water would be more dependable (coupled with skill)They even had the harpoon carried under the water for this reason in certain weather conditions. It wasn’t about speed and drag.

Best Wishes


“skirted cockpits” are not new either…
…as both the Aleut and Inuit used jackets (tuiliq) or skirts (akuilisaq) that attached tightly to the coaming and sealed it. Greenlanders even had dry suits that they used for whale hunting, but not for kayaking. They were used by the guys whose job it was to jump onto the back of the harpooned whale and deliver the “coup de grace”. Ballsy stuff!

Before you go making any more pronouncements about modern “breakthroughs”, you might want to do a little research. When you get right down to it, the only real advances have been in the materials. Performance-wise, native designs are perfectly suited to their respective tasks, whether that’s sneaking up on seals in rough conditions or chasing down swimming caribou. Early “modern” kayaks didn’t even come close in performance and it’s taken expensive composites to surpass native skin boats, if by only a relatively small margin. Various baidarka designs and caribou Inuit designs are very nearly as fast as today’s specialized race boats.

It’s also easy to forget that native craft were all “working boats” and that their lives depended on them. They didn’t have the luxury of building boats that were unsuitable for anything other than going fast in a straight line when propelled by paddlers with lots of leisure time for training. When you get right down to it, there have arguably been much greater advances in understanding human physiology and optimizing athletic training than in kayak design.

You’re right about the ACA
Fortunately, their Greenland instructor program appears to be going nowhere. That’s widely seen as a good thing within the Greenland paddling community, as we don’t need the ACA to tell us what’s “proper” Greenland technique.

paddlers changed

– Last Updated: Feb-04-08 11:12 AM EST –

I think that improved communication -- especially the Internet -- has made folks much more aware of the kayaking "subcultures", and encouraged cross-pollination. Compared with a decade ago, there's a much larger population aware of greenland paddling, surfskis, kayak surfing and other aspects of the sport.

Given the market demographics for sea kayaking(as opposed to whitewater), I don't see the pace of change as "conservative".

The “Team Zero” approach seems to be becoming the predomiant attitude among native paddling aficionados. Show me how, and let me do it.

Once you codify something for certification, dogma and politics inevitably take over. I much prefer to be shown the basics, and allowed to adapt them to myself and my gear.

“Certifications? We don’t need no stinking certifications” :wink:

BCU seems friendlier to GP’s
Much more so than the ACA. But that’s not universal, can depend on the coach or assessor.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the roll-out of the new BCU syllabus in NA plays out. There may be a pickier level of specification around equipment etc that could narrow the allowable use of a GP in star assessments.

How are you so sure?
You sound like you really know a lot about the BCU requirements for assessment with a GP paddle. Have you gotten this directly from a RCO, a coach during a training, or is this just your own observation?

The coaches that assessed us have fairly “tough” reputations and neither one of them, at least to my knowledge, are twigger paddlers.

I have no idea what the new BCU reqs will be regarding gear etc. It might be best to just wait and see before making suppositions.

What will be, will be, after all.

GP invasion
Actually the sight that floored me was Nigel Foster in a Tulek with a GP - trying out some of the Greenland Rolls. He actually did the under the boat sculling roll in about a half hour playing around with it on his own. Here’s a high level BCU coach / assessor - maybe the best paddling technician there is with a good outlook, great sense of humor and total acceptance of anyone’s style or preferences.