The pleasures of sea-kayaking are often tranquil ones. Cruise solo along the Na Pali Coast, for example, and you'll become lost in your own lush paradise. But such idyllic serenity lasts only so long. Soon you're likely to find yourself indulging in "lower" seaborne pleasures: crashing through head-high surf, abandoning your boat to skinny-dip, matching wits with a sperm whale.
Indeed, sea-kayaking is the most versatile of outdoor sports. The boats can haul twice the gear of a backpack, glide as effortlessly as a snowboard, and thrill like a luge. As a rank beginner you can dink around a sheltered harbor watching birds and seals. Learn self-rescue skills plus tidal navigation and you can head offshore to go island-hopping for the weekend. Eventually you'll be ready to explore the most remote coastlines for a month or more—quite often using the same boat you started with.
But since you can't embark on an expedition every time you paddle, it's important that the boat you choose be entertaining for the short haul as well. To that end, we tested a host of models and picked the exemplars of four signal sea-kayaking virtues: capaciousness, zip, ease of use, and portability. We've also selected the utmost appropriate gear for each boat. What's left to be done? Well, deciding exactly how you want to go about chasing Eden. Rough duty.