My nephew, Tim, first challenged me to get a kayak. I had gone to surf school with him that summer and then we rented kayaks and went out for a little paddle on Monterey Bay, down near the aquarium. I really didn’t know what I was doing and neither did he, but we both had fun. On the way home, when I said I really liked that better than surfing (mostly because I was a terrible surfer…), he said I should get a kayak. It seemed like a crazy thing to do, never having paddled till that very day. But, long story short, I did. Not the only time my nephews have given me good advice, by the way.
Kayak #1: Ocean Kayak sit-on-top
This was my first kayak, a lightweight plastic model that I could roll on and off the top of my little red Fit. I bought the roof rack, the rollers, and set it all up myself. That first paddle was the opening of a door in my life. As work and life got more intense, I’d take my little red kayak down to the northern end of Elkhorn Slough, slide it in the water, and forget about my troubles for a few hours. I’m pretty sure kayaking saved my sanity for a few years.
I moved to Seattle in 2012 and didn’t have anywhere to put the kayak in my tiny lower Queen Anne apartment, so I sold it before the move and missed it a lot that first year in a new city. I’d look longingly at the paddlers on Elliott Bay and wished I was one of them.
And then, when I rented a house in West Seattle, I became one of them.
Kayak #2: Eddyline Skylark
Now I had a basement where I could store a kayak, so I bought this green Eddyline Skylark. Oh, wow, what a step up from the red one! The first day I went out on Elliott Bay was great, although the wind and swell made it a far cry from the sheltered, flat waters of the Slough. The next day, my abs were killing me. But slowly, I got stronger and learned how to deal with the waves and the wind. That Skyline was so much fun!
Then, once again, I moved to a tiny apartment, this time in preparation for leaving Seattle with my Alto the next year. It would have cost me more to store the kayak for a year than it was worth so I sold it to a woman who promised to take good care of it. As she and her husband drove away with it strapped to the top of their car, I cried. Honestly, I still miss that Eddyline and think that someday I’ll get another one just like it, if I ever settle down somewhere.
(Now here is the silly part of my kayaking obsession. For two years, I traveled around the US in my trailer, carting along my life jacket and Werner paddle. No kayak, just the life jacket and paddle, both of which were really nice. They were like a promise to myself someday I’d figure out how to carry some kind of kayak.)
Kayak #3: Advanced Elements Inflatable
In 2018, I bought an inflatable kayak from REI. I didn’t do my research good enough though, and the model I bought was perilously thin on the bottom (a single layer, seriously!). My first paddle with it was a painful lesson in the difference between a hardshell kayak like the Eddyline and an inflatable: I sliced open the bottom of my new kayak as I pushed off from the boat ramp. Oops. Googled for solutions and people swore by gorilla tape, so that’s what I used to patch it. It worked quite well the rest of the time I owned it. Sometimes what you read on the internet *is* true.
Then, one fine fall day in Tennessee, I went paddling with some camping buddies, two of whom had these funny white foldable kayaks from Oru. I was the boat anchor of the group, paddling my heart out to try and keep up with everyone in my little green inflatable kayak. One of the Oru owners offered to trade kayaks for the last stretch back to the campground. I fell in LOVE with that kayak. It paddled so easily, and it was really fast compared to mine. It was only a matter of time before…
Kayak #4: Oru Bay
I bought an Oru Bay model. As you can see by the photo, I really liked it. It was more like the Eddyline than the inflatable and that was totally what I wanted in a kayak. Except… it was really hard to put together. My hands, one slightly imperfect due to breaking it a few years ago, and both slightly challenged by mild arthritis, didn’t have the strength to put that kayak together some days. It became a blocker that kept me from paddling more than once. So when I saw Oru announce the Inlet, a smaller, lighter, easier-to-assemble model, I jumped on that kickstarter as an early backer.
Kayak #5: Oru Inlet
When the Inlet finally arrived in Gainesville, I couldn’t wait to get it out of the box and fold it into paddling form. It was way easier and faster than the Bay. It’s also a bit more tippy and I had to learn how to feel at ease in it. The bigger cockpit makes it easier to get in and out, although I am not the picture of grace with either move yet.
This isn’t a kayak for Elliott Bay or rough waters by any stretch of the imagination. It’s for flatwater paddling: lakes, slow rivers, sloughs, etc. And that’s fine with me. I like the explore the coastline, drift along with the tide, and take pictures.
The other think I love about the Inlet is that it folds up and fits either in my back seat or standing up in my truck bed/cap. Way easier than carting it around on the roof and also more aerodynamic (although anyone towing a trailer isn’t really that concerned with aerodynamics!).
So there you have it, my paddling history in five kayaks.
How to Pick a Kayak
Which kind of kayak is right for you? It depends on where you like to paddle, whether you want a hardshell or sit-on-top, one that stows away easily, or one that can take the waves and wind. Try to rent a few different styles to try them out and see what fits you. Your favorite kayak is out there somewhere, just waiting for you to find it.
The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.