Is there any place on Earth today where we can “disconnect” and not feel guilty? Well, yes, there is. Welcome to the world of paddle sports, where a boater can still escape from cell phones, radios and display screens.
More and more water lovers are discovering the “silent pursuits” of kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding; according to the Outdoor Industry Association, these are among the fastest growing outdoor activities in North America. Why? Maybe because these sports offer a cost-effective way to boat. No gasoline or even a trailer is required.
Paddle sports are also extremely accessible, appealing to all ages and skill levels. They can be done alone or with others, for a few hours or for a week, in whitewater or on a calm lake. Kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding offer a one-of-a- kind, personal experience on the water and can be combined with other interests such as fishing, photography or bird watching.
For 2012, manufacturers of these vessels all have one goal in common: to capitalize on their growing popularity and advance the art of escaping. Here’s a look at the newest models to hit the water.
The kinds of kayaks are as varied as their riders. The sitting style is either sit-on-top or cockpit. Hull types are hard shell or inflatable. And did I mention versatile? Designs include the longer-on-the-water touring kayak, sea kayak, shorter freestyle kayak and whitewater kayak — plus kayaks for fishing and recreational use. Because of popular demand, today’s kayaks are being engineered for stability and increased carrying capacity. There’s also a trend toward motorized kayaks as an alternative to conventional, pedal-powered and sailing kayaks.
Freedom Hawk specializes in fishing kayaks, and the company launched the Pathfinder standup model this year as a “next generation” entry. It’s designed to be fished in all water conditions, from open water to coastal flats, lakes, rivers and ponds. The unique blend of stability and performance allows the fisherman to stand, sit, paddle, pole, motor, troll or float. Built in Sparta, Tenn., the Pathfinder’s patented outrigger features three positions: Position one allows for conventional kayak maneuvering; position two offers maximum stability for standup fishing; position three allows for fishing in rough water conditions, poling or motoring. According to the company, this is the first kayak designed to be fished in two to 200 feet of water. www.freedomhawkkayaks.com
Hobie revolutionized the sport of kayaking several years ago with the debut of its MirageDrive, a propulsion system that harnesses leg power instead of arm power for paddling. It works by pedaling alternatively left and right to drive two underwater flippers. The Mirage i9S features this efficient, hand-free system in addition to the portability and storability of an inflatable hull. And this kayak rides and operates like its more rigid, hard-shelled cousin. A wheeled travel case makes transportation easy. The Mirage i9S comes with a twist and stow rudder, adjustable high-back padded seat, four-piece paddle with on-hull storage, rear and forward cargo areas, and sail mount. Bonus: Almost all Hobie products are made in the USA. www.hobiecat.com
A recent merger with Legacy Paddlesports, brought Liquidlogic a state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled manufacturing facility that provides excellent consistency in molding all of its kayaks: river, crossover, creek, freestyle, recreational, touring, sit-on-top and standup. The new Marvel 14.5 Tandem is a great family model built with safety and reliability in mind. It features a hatch and cover and built-in paddle holders. The Marvel is available in a rainbow of colors: yellow, mango, firebrick, ice, blue and lime. Creature comforts include support for the rear end and lower back, a footrest design that encourages circulation and reduces leg fatigue, and padded thigh rests. The optional rudder is a good accompaniment for controlled steering in a stiff wind. Made in North Carolina. www.liquidlogickayaks.com
My husband Paul and I enjoy floating the many accessible and beautiful rivers of Missouri, including our favorite, the Jack’s Fork. Canoes are designed to be steady, maneuverable and easy to control with proportions shorter in length and greater in width. The centuries-old design is usually pointed at both bow and stern with an open cockpit. The different types of canoes are as varied as the waters they tour, including recreational, whitewater, racing, expedition, wilderness tripping and river tripping.
The two-person Adventure 14 by Confluence Watersports is a ride the whole family can enjoy. It’s virtually maintenance-free due to its rotomolded construction, and the multi-chine hull is stable, rigid and an excellent tracker, which translates into easy handling and great performance. Take it fishing, paddling, picnicking — there’s plenty of room for gear. Features include ergonomic, contoured padded seats with adjustable backrests, a center bench seat and padded carry handles. The Adventure operates well with standard canoe paddles (sold separately) or longer kayak paddles. Made in the USA. www.confluencewatersports.com
Mention the word canoe to an aficionado, and the name Old Town is guaranteed to come up. This company built its first wood-and-canvas model in 1898. By the 1950s and ’60s, it had introduced lightweight fiberglass versions of its canoes and kayaks (yep, they also make kayaks). The new Discovery 119 is a solo canoe that’s agile, stable and easy to handle. It can also operate efficiently with a double-bladed paddle. Constructed of three-layer polyethylene, the 119 comes in red or green. The seat is contoured with an adjustable backrest. Its durable, lightweight material makes it ready for exploring any new waters. Paddle sold separately. As with all Old Town boats, the Discovery 119 is USA made. www.oldtowncanoe.com
The sport of standup paddle boarding — standing upright on a board or kayak and paddling — is emerging as a global sport with a Hawaiian heritage. It developed as a way for surfing instructors to manage large groups of students, as standing up on the board gave a higher vantage point. Standing up also lessens the glare of sunlight on the water, allowing a paddle boarder to see more of what is below the surface. Proponents of the sport also love to maneuver the boards over small waves.
The Nalu Kayak/Stand-Up Paddle Board combines the best features of a sit-on-top kayak with the maneuverability of a standup paddle board. Manufactured in the USA by Ocean Kayak, the world’s largest boating supply store, the Nalu’s molded-in seat and stable platform appeal to both beginning and intermediate paddlers. The Nalu delivers in flat water or moderate surf. Start out for a day of kayaking with the two-bladed paddle (included in the package), remove one blade, stand up and finish the day paddling — viewing the water and scenery from a whole new perspective. www.oceankayak.com