Types of Kayaks
Sea Kayaking Thailand is the only company in southern Thailand with a large fleet of proper traditional decked sea kayaks. Other human-powered craft in use in the area include inflatable boats and plastic or fiberglass sit-on-top boats. Each of these has its specific usefulness.
Inflatable boats are useful for entering the hongs (hidden lagoons within sea caves) in Phang Nga Bay, and for float trips on quiet rivers. Their best attribute is their ability to be rolled up. This makes them transportable. They are also extremely stable, which makes them advantageous for beginners, people with physical disabilities, and photographers.
They are, however, extremely sluggish and boring to paddle. They aren't really considered sea kayaks.
Sit-on-tops are good for calm-water or mangrove areas which require high maneuverability. They are suited for short distances for people who don't get much exercise or who aren’t really interested in learning traditional kayaking techniques. Most operators in southern Thailand use Ocean Kayak brand sit-on-tops. No serious kayaker even considers Ocean Kayaks brand when purchasing a personal boat.
They are sold mainly to resorts, which they are perfectly suited for, and people who don't really want to learn to kayak properly. Sit-on-top kayaks are often preferred for kayak fishing. That's where we use them.
With a traditional decked kayak, the paddler is an intimate part of the boat. The paddler’s feet are resting on footrest and his/her knees are pressed against “thigh braces”. Modern kayaks have very comfortable seats. To customize the seat and to gain more control, many paddlers attach hip pads to the sides of the seat. This increases the control, it’s something that cannot be done with an inflatable and it would be very difficult with a sit-on-top. Some sit-on-top boats have a thigh strap option. This is still not as secure as a rigid deck to brace against.
One of the most important kayak techniques is bracing. Bracing is a maneuver used to prevent capsizing. A strong brace is one of the hallmarks of a good paddler. It is almost impossible to perform a proper brace in an inflatable. The flat-bottomed design makes inflatables very stable, but once the boat is tipped over too far, it simply capsized. A more rounded hull, like those of the majority of sea kayaks, allows the paddler to recover stability with a brace. Leaning is also a sign of an experienced paddler. It is used to enhance a turn or to surf sideways on a wave. Sit-on-top paddlers could do a brace only if they have thigh straps. Most popular brands of sit-on-tops are plastic and feature very weak plastic cleats as attachment points for the thigh straps. They often pop out… usually resulting in a capsize.
The key to understanding why sea kayaks are a better choice for anything except the above situations is the efficient use of energy. In a given period of time, a person will take a certain number of strokes, requiring a certain amount of energy output. When paddling either an inflatable or a sit-on-top, the expenditure of energy produces limited progress. Neither craft is well suited to distance paddling or ocean conditions. When paddling a traditional sea kayak, the entire design and construction of the boat is aimed at maximizing energy efficiency. There is a joy in being in a long, sleek, efficient kayak that reaches back in time to the very early days of kayak development and use in Alaska.
The pleasure of exploring the rocky coast or headland of a lovely island is best experienced not in a noisy longtail boat, nor a fast powerboat, not even in a yacht. To be near the rocks, watching sea birds and crabs, looking down at coral and fish; this celebration of tropical ocean touring is best done under one's own power, in a fast, maneuverable, stable sit-inside sea kayak.
The internationally popular sport of seakayaking is available in southern Thailand through Sea Kayaking Thailand.
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