Versatility: From Specialized Kayaks to Broad-Range,
High Performance Kayaks
1. THE ENVELOPE OF KAYAK DESIGN IN THE MICRONAUTICAL CONTEXT
Ordinary multihull kayak designs offer increased stability but at a price of reducing speed and mobility, and without improving ergonomics. In this sense those designs didn’t really expand the envelope of kayak performance, since the basic tradeoffs that characterized it remained the same.
This multi-dimensional performance envelope was limited by two basic factors: The L kayaking position and the monohull design, and liberating the kayak from the monohull constraint wasn’t enough. This is because unlike bigger boats that greatly benefited by the introduction of multi hull designs, kayaks are personal micro-boats, which makes their design primarily a matter of ergonomics and biomechanics before hydrodynamic issues can be considered.
That is to say that kayak design falls under the definition of micronautics – the art and science of designing watercrafts that weigh less than their passengers, and are affected by their physical attributes, athletic skills, performance and behavior more than by anything else.
In this sense even traditional kayaks and canoes have more in common with surfboards, paddleboards and dinghies than they have with big monohull boats of similar hull shape.
2. TYPICAL TRADOFFS IN TRADITIONAL KAYAK DESIGN
By ‘envelope’ we understand a boundary that limits what is possible to achieve. The kayak design envelope is multi dimensional, and each dimension (axis) is a continuum between two contradicting requirements.
The classic contradicting requirements in kayak design are Speed vs. Stability, and Tracking vs. Maneuverability. This double contradiction can be approached as a set of two broader requirements, which are Versatility vs. Performance.
There are other, less important pairs of contradicting requirements such as Durability vs. Weight, and Solo Performance vs. Load Capacity that define the kayak design envelope, but the first two ones are viewed to be the most important ones.
This classic envelope was imposed by the physical attributes of the monohull kayak. This is reflected in the kayak market by the fact that monohull kayak models are typically designed for narrow ranges of applications and users.
Versatility has hardly played a role as a feature because it was technically limited, and interpreted as lackluster performance in specific applications.
For example, a good fishing kayak had to be made as stable as possible, but because of this requirement it couldn’t be fast or perform well in the surf.
3. VERSATILITY – THE NEW PARADIGM
‘Multi-purpose’ kayaks aren’t new: Long and slender kayaks known as surf-skis can be used for touring (sea kayaking) as well as for surfing, and wide recreational kayaks can be used for fishing.
The problem with multi-purpose monohull kayaks is that they don’t offer high performance in either one or all the applications people use them for.
For example, recreational monohull kayaks and even those of them labeled ‘fishing kayaks’ are neither stable nor comfortable enough to offer the full range or performance that kayak fishermen can get from the W kayak. Similarly, being very long surf skis aren’t well adapted for surf playing, and they certainly don’t enable their users to paddle and surf standing.
Since the W kayak is not constrained by the monohull’s narrow performance envelope it is the first truly and fully versatile kayak:
It is faster than any monohull kayak of similar size, yet it’s stabler than any kayak. It’s small and highly maneuverable yet offers more storage space than any kayak. The W is more comfortable than any other fishing kayak, as well as more mobile than any kayak since you can launch, paddle and beach where other touring kayaks can’t go. The W performs well both as a solo and tandem boat, and both double-blade and single-blade paddlers find it to be perfect for them. The W fits big and heavy users, yet it’s friendly enough for small children to handle by themselves – even in the surf. And last but not least, the W offers four basic paddling positions including two new ones, plus many intermediary positions.
Interestingly, some people found it hard to believe that any kayak could be that versatile, and they doubted the W’s capabilities. Other people who were used to highly specialized kayaks found it difficult to imagine a situation where they would be using the same boat for two different activities (E.G. fishing and touring).
These days more people are willing to question old conventions and accept the fact that paddling and fishing are subject to continuous and sometime substantial progress, like most other technical fields are. Many people now accept the W for what it is, which also means that they evaluate what the W offers relatively to their own, real needs, and even conceive new types of usage.