|To purists, sit-on-top kayaks are like green eggs and ham: we did not like them and their open-deck cockpits, until we tried them. Then we experienced the sheer, childish fun of abandoning ship. If you fall out of the Heritage Kayaks Nomad LP ($990)—accidentally or on purpose—just climb back on. Novices gain confidence and snorkelers can fin across outer reefs without beaching their boats. Of course, since you can plan on getting wet, sit-on-tops are best suited to tropical waters.
The Nomad's swim-platform persona emanates from its porky, 28-inch width, typical of its breed and necessary to steady the high seat in high seas. But the Nomad incorporates an unusual design trick: The width of the hull at waterline is a drag-reducing 23 inches; the remaining girth skims just above the surface unless you lean sideways, at which point it feels as if you've plopped down a stabilizing outrigger. The result is that the Nomad paddles faster on flat water than most of its cousins.
At 16 feet, the Nomad is also longer than most sit-on-tops, so it stays sufficiently true to course for a full-day paddle, and watertight storage compartments fore and aft can accept a week's gear. If you want to keep your butt above waterline, though, heed the maximum capacity of the boat: 190 pounds for paddler and equipment. (Compare this to the Sitka's 320 pounds.)
The Nomad really shines when just messing around. Hop in, adjust the footbraces, and power out through the surf. Waves that wash the deck drain right out. The polyethylene hull, while heavy (62 pounds, the same as for the two-foot-longer Sitka), is tough and abrasion-resistant—just the ticket for exploring offshore rock gardens in the Gulf of California.
You don't want to abuse a featherweight paddle fending off boulders. The fiberglass Nimbus Spartan is affordable ($115) and tough enough to use as a clam shovel, though heavy at 45 ounces. An appropriate PFD for the Nomad user is the Seda Model 33 ($59), a sea-kayaking standby. Its channeled-foam construction makes it more comfortable than slab-sided models.
Since there's little danger of hypothermia when the water temperature is 80 degrees, your chief sartorial concern is not offending other boaters. Throw on a pair of Patagonia Baggies ($35) over your swimsuit and you're set. A pair of Teva Alp Pro sandals ($55) will protect your feet while exploring tide pools, and the wide cotton-duck brim of the Ultimate Hat ($37) will keep your nose and ears from frying.
You can go swimming from the bow / And you can use it in Palau / You can drag it on the beach / For island-hopping it's a peach.