Kayak shopping while fat

Me, kayaking in open ocean water on a splendid sunny day.

CW: discussion of fat-shaming during kayaking outings and gear fittings.

I’m doing it– I’m finally buying a sea kayak! For years now, I’ve rented boats for paddling in lakes and rivers, estuaries and protected ocean bays. I love love love being on the water.

So why haven’t I bought a kayak before? You can get a used one for less than the cost of a good used road, mountain, cross or gravel bikes. Yes, they’re long– my future kayak will run 14 feet (4.25 meters) or longer. But I can store it in my backyard on sawhorses, with an inexpensive cover. And my car has a roof rack for transporting it. As for lifting a 50+ lb. boat, there are technology aids (e.g. little kayak trolley), that help make the loading feasible for one person.

Little two-wheeled trolley for moving a kayak here and yon.

So what’s been stopping me? Part of it is the maintenance of yet more gear. Also, why buy when you can rent? Here’s why.

Almost every time I’ve rented a kayak for a day trip, or signed up for a kayaking instructional workshop, I’ve been greeted with looks and comments of impatience, frustration, puzzlement and all-around negative vibes about the prospect of finding gear and a boat to fit my size. I’m not kidding. Almost every time. They tut-tut, shake their heads and cast about for everything from the actual boat (let’s look for a really wide cockpit for you), to a spray skirt (no, we don’t have any neoprene spray skirts to fit YOU), to a PFD (aka lifejacket; although to be honest most women complain about how they’re not designed to fit them).

When I did a weekend intensive ocean kayaking course, I found myself chatting with the main instructor– a world-class sea kayaker and long-time teacher and guide. When I said I was looking for a boat and was finding it difficult to find one I was comfortable in, he shook his head and said soberly, “yeah– they just don’t make many boats for people your size.”

Here’s the thing: that is totally false. There are loads and loads of kayaks for people my size. There are not loads and loads of super-high-end fiberglass or kevlar performance sea kayaks for people my size, but there are some. I actually paddled in one that he had in his gear shed– the Romany Excel. And I don’t want one of those anyway, partly because they’re very expensive, and partly because of this ad for them:

Ad for the Romany Excel sea kayak, which uses the phrase “extra large paddler” twice.

Naturally, it’s crucial to know the carrying capacity of a kayak, and they are designed for different maximum weights. It’s in the specs for every boat, so this information is easy to access. I suppose someone thought that aggressive marketing to the “extra-large-paddler” market would help sell this boat. Hmphf.

What really upsets me, though, is that ads like this make me feel like kayak manufacturers think the “regular” paddlers don’t and can’t include me. (FYI: I’m a size 16–18, XL/XXL) Yes, there are plenty of kayakers who weigh less than I do. There are many kayakers who are larger than I am. In sum, regular kayakers come in a variety of sizes and heights.

I want to be a regular kayaker in both senses of the word: 1) I want to be considered just one of the regular paddlers, not an outlier/special case “extra-large paddler” (regardless of my size); 2) I want to kayak regularly. In order achieve 2) I need to spare myself the ordeal of head shakes and “I guess I can see what we’ve got in the back”. So, I’ll get my own damn boat, thank you very much. Stay tuned for updates as the used-boat shopping commences.

I’ll end with some photographic evidence that they do, after all, make boats for people my size.

Janet and me (left) kayaking inside our boats.

Readers: have you had trouble finding gear because you didn’t fit some advertiser’s or coach’s idea of the “regular” practitioner of your sport or activity? If you have something you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it.

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