PR_15_16_Tribe_13.5_Red_TopWhen my daughter was 5 weeks old, she met her first hiking trail from the comfort of a snuggly. At 5 months, we were regulars at the neighborhood pool. By a year and a half she’d graduated from the snuggly to a kid backpack. By the time she was 3 she was hiking more than she was bumming a ride.
When Hana was approaching the ripe age of 4, it was time to once again expand her outdoors education.
So I bought a tandem kayak.
The boat was an Old Town 138T Loon. As a protective dad, I appreciated its girth and stability: no matter how much Hana rocked the boat (which seemed to her this new toy’s main function), the odds of it flipping were slim. And until she was ready to chip in with the paddling (I opted to spare her that fun until she turned 5), it was an easy boat to paddle solo. From that Old Town Loon grew our annual Father’s Day tradition of taking a paddle trip together. The venues may have varied — the Deep River, Contentnea Creek, the Three Rivers area of Falls Lake, to name a few — but the boat didn’t; we always paddled our gray Loon.
Until this year.
IMG_0551We had the opportunity to test-paddle a new boat, Perception’s Tribe 13.5, and I was intrigued. Intrigued, in part, because rec kayaks have evolved so much since I bought the Loon in 1999. At the end of the millennium you were simply glad to be on the water. Comfort? This was the outdoors — boats weren’t intended to be comfortable. You took a three-hour paddle and it might take your body three days to recover: that’s just the way it was, and we liked — well, truth be told, we really didn’t like it. We just didn’t know much better.
We do, however, like paddling 2016, sit-on-top style. Here are some reasons why:

  • Seats. The first visual clue that boats have changed are the seats. Gone, for the most part, are the hard molded seats that even on a short paddle lead to a severed case of NumBuns. Our Tribe, for instance, employs the aptly named Comfort Seating System: forgiving fabric seats with easy-to-adjust nylon straps that let you stiffen or relax the backrest on demand. You can also adjust the seat height as well as the height of the backrest. It’s a bit like having a Laz-Y-Boy in your cockpit.
  • Footwells / foot braces. Lord help the paddler in a closed cockpit boat who doesn’t get the footbraces placed just right before putting in. Seasoned Yoga practitioners might be able to adjust on the fly, but the rest of us are stuck with set braces for the duration. In a sit-on-top, however, footwells molded into the boat let you adjust easily throughout your trip. Feel a cramp coming on? Stretch to the next footwell and problem solved.
  • Self-bailing scupper holes. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but those holes in the bottom of your sit-on-top actually let water out, not in. That’s especially good in a sit-on-top, the open design of which is more likely to invite water. My problem with the Loon wasn’t so much that it took on (and retained) water, but the fact I inevitably spaced out stowing a sponge or half plastic milk-jug, essential to bailing a closed-deck boat.
  • Storage. Many closed-deck kayaks have storage holds, often fore and aft. The problem: you can’t get to ‘em while you’re paddling (at least those of us incapable of a Linda Blair about-face can’t). With the Tribe, it’s right between your legs. There’s also open-decked, bungee-corded tankwell storage, fore and aft, sufficient enough to paddle a small cooler to a mid-sound island.
  • Thunk-proof paddling. Over the years, Hana and I have become sympatico paddling partners; rare is the clash of our paddles when we travel tandem. But in our Tribe I found it pert near impossible. Especially curious considering the Tribe is three inches shorter than our Loon.
  • Room for one more. Got a small third party you want to bring along? A molded seat mid-boat easily accommodates a third party.
  • Easy carrying. OK, this may be a “mature paddler” thing, but in addition to carrying handles on the bow and stern, the Tribe has molded handles midway up both sides; they’re perfectly balanced, making the 67-pound boat surprisingly easy to carry by yourself.

The stable nature of this wide (33.75 inches) boat makes it ideal for parent-kid combos who are just getting started on the water. It’s also the perfect choice for casual paddlers with a house at the coast or on a lake, casual paddlers who want easy, inexpensive (and fun!) access to the water. (It’s also a boat that doesn’t need coddling: the boat’s rotomolded polyethylene plastic construction makes it highly UV- and abrasion-resistant, not to mention impact resistant.)
Hana and I won’t part with our Loon, which brings up another attribute of the Tribe line: they’re easy to stack.
Another boat for the fleet.

For more information on the Tribe 13.5T and other members of the Tribe family, go here.