A new coworker of mine has been sea kayaking for several years. We talked recently about our kayaks, paddles and styles. He paddles a carbon composite Epic 18X, which I would describe as a fast touring sea kayak with a swedeform hull, large cockpit and a rudder. His Epic weighs about 37 pounds, goes fast and has plenty of room for touring. It has a plumb bow: all of the boat length contributes to the waterline. He is a firm believer in rudders. He says many kayaks have problems weather cocking in strong winds and most kayaks will have problems tracking in a quartering sea. A retractable skeg might help with these issues but a rudder is far more effective. Skegs also add drag even when they are not deployed because of the slot in the hull, and since their mechanism is internal (as opposed to a rudder's mechanism) they are difficult to fix when they break. He likes the large cockpit in the Epic that allows him to lift his knees occasionally while paddling long distances. Often he doesn’t dress for immersion because he would cook in a drysuit during the kind of workout he gets when paddling, and usually doesn’t wear a sprayskirt. He does not roll, but is proficient in various self−rescue techniques.
The South Sound area doesn't have surf or rough coastal conditions, so one can make the argument that a highly rockered “British style” kayak design with a tight cockpit and upswept bow and stern doesn’t really makes sense here. He said they definitely look cooler and more “kayaky” though. But it’s not about aesthetics: it’s about practicality. It’s about using the best tool for the job, which the Epic 18X is if you want to go far and fast, loaded with gear.
Well, everything he said made plenty of sense to me. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective (i.e., the opinion of an experienced kayaker who didn’t go through BCU training or is a Greenland−style traditionalist.) But I have to disagree with what he said about aesthetics. You can’t tell a wooden kayak enthusiast that kayaking is "not about aesthetics!" Wooden boat owners are simply not practical people. For people who spend a great deal of their spare time building their own boats, aesthetics takes precedence over practicality every day of the year.
Paddling quietly alone along a rocky cliff covered with sea life during a warm summer evening while the sun sets, in a wooden boat that you built with your own two hands − is that not about aesthetics? If you just want to get somewhere on the water an inflatable dinghy with an outboard motor will work just fine. A few gallons of gas will take you plenty far (certainly as far as the next fuel dock) and you’d be able to carry a lot more gear and maybe even a passenger or two. And if you're into paddling for the exercise, maybe your time would be better spent in the gym.
As far as rolling goes, it's not just an effective self rescue technique: it looks really cool too. Honestly, that's why I practice so hard at it. So in the end, what he said made me question my motivation for going into sea kayaking in the first place, and forced me to think about what I enjoy about it. I came to realize that I really didn’t want to own a fiberglass boat of any kind after all. I have to thank him for that!