Open ocean kayaking is the closest you’re going to get to surfing upright without putting a lawn chair on top of a surfboard. It’s all of the fun and satisfaction of gliding across the water and riding a wave that surfing gives you, without the large mouthfuls of saltwater and the self-loathing defeat of never catching a wave.
Kayaking could be compared to mountain bike-riding on top of the ocean. The kayak really allows you to feel the ocean swells and get in sync with the rhythmic motion all around you. It takes a few minutes to grow your butterfly wings and fly out of that awkward caterpillar phase when you’re paddling around in circles, but the change happens fairly fast.
Recently, I was on an open water tandem kayak in the Caribbean Sea off the Island of Vieques near Puerto Rico. At first, my friend and I were struggling against the cross-currents that run in between the southern harbor town of Esperanza and the small coral island that we were trying to get to; but once we started working with the current and wave direction our strokes became much more efficient, and we started to cruise.
However, I would say that kayaking is physically challenging and can be quite the exercise. I certainly felt the burning in my arms, stomach and legs after the first 10 minutes, and it highlighted the use of new muscle groups. The great part of tandem Kayaks is that you can take turns paddling and occasionally rely on your partner to create momentum while you rest (wink, wink).
The kayak that we used was very easy to pull up the beach and light enough to not be swept away in open water with an impromptu anchor line tied to a rock. It also came with a little storage hatch where I packed away my beach gear, sun block and lunch, which really comes in handy when you’re exploring secluded beaches and you get hungry.
Kayaks are also the best type of boat from which to jump into the water; they are much more stable than canoes which can be quite tippy. More importantly however, they are easy to get back into, which is almost impossible with a canoe. This feature came in very handy when we kayaked the Biobay (also in Vieques). You have to go at night when the moon isn’t out to experience the full bioluminescent effect of the bay, so you don’t want to have to deal with your boat flipping over in the middle of a deep lagoon in pitch black night.
The Ocean Kayak we had rented had bow and aft deck bungee stays to hold our wet/dry bags and snorkeling gear, molded foot wells for extra leverage while paddling, and paddle keepers (straps that keep your paddle from drifting away). But I wish it did have the original seat backs that came with the kayak because on long paddles our lower backs started to ache. The closest kayak design that matches the one we used was the Malibu Two XL Ocean Kayak for a little less than $900. Of course, that doesn’t include the paddles, life vests, and extra gear (which adds on an extra $400, unless you get it used).
Overall, a fantastic way to explore and conquer the ocean waters.