“The brilliant thing about tandem kayaks is that you get to share the whole paddling experience with someone else.”
It all started, as all kayaking adventures usually do, with a conversation over a cup of good coffee and a plate of biscuits. On this occasion, our coffee-sipping companions were Matt Byham and André Goldsmith of Perception Kayaks. In between munching on bourbons and generally putting the kayaking world to rights, in general, the chaps asked us an interesting question, ‘why didn’t we feature two-person touring kayaks anymore?’ But we do don’t we? Or do we? After some chin scratching and casting of our minds back far further that we can actually remember we had to admit they had a point! Yes, we regularly feature tandem paddling, but it usually comes in the form of open canoes or sit-on-top kayaks. These are great (indeed Perception themselves manufacture some rather fine examples), but André and Matt keenly pointed out that there was a third way, a type of craft that filled the gap between the two. The versatile, and to this point, by us at least, overlooked tandem touring kayak….
They were dead right of course, way back in the mist of time we can recall a time when if you asked any canoe shop throughout this fair isle what their best selling boat was it would not have been the latest ‘must-have’ banana shaped play boat it would have been a boat called the Kiwi 2, an open decked touring tandem kayak made, as it happens, by our friends at Perception. We can remember working at a leading canoe shop in the south-east where for year after year we literally couldn’t keep enough in stock. We reckon that design was probably responsible for putting more bums on kayak seats than any other! We’d literally flog them faster than they could make them. So what’s happened in the interim years?
Well, the dear old’ Kiw1 2 has been replaced in Perception’s line up for tandem duties by the sleeker, more elegant Prodigy II for one thing, but more of that later. The second thing is that we don’t really think that the desire for boats like these has really ever gone away, it’s just that the folks that paddle them just like to get out there and enjoy their paddling rather than writing articles about epic journeys across a wind-blasted Scottish moor with more portages than paddling, and as a sport we maybe got a little dazzled and excited by the apparent ease that sit-on-tops provided for bringing new people into our fantastic sport (all those brightly coloured lumps of plastic sat on racks heading to the coast each summer).
The thing is boats like the Kiwi 2 and now the Prodigy II have always provided that. The more we thought about it the more it appeared that we were missing something important. There was nothing for it we had to put that right; it was time to re-connect with this versatile, unassuming and rather a fun type of craft.
Tea for Two
Emails were swapped, calls were made and diaries were aligned and suddenly we had a date set with Matt and shiny new Prodigy II for a day spent cruising down the gorgeous River Wye as it meanders its way down towards Symonds Yat. The Wye seemed a natural choice, it’s a river that’s often associated with open canoes but it is the kind of water that a tandem touring kayak is ideal for paddling on. We quickly got changed and carried the Prodigy down to the water. We stowed a couple of dry bags containing the usual day-trip kit, flasks, sarnies, picnic blanket that sort of thing, in the ample storage hatch, which swallowed it up with ease. Most people choosing a craft of this type are likely to be looking for a solid day-tripper, but we were really impressed by the Prodigy’s kit carrying abilities and it could easily accommodate enough kit or an overnight or even multi-day (if you pack light) tandem-kayak-camping adventures too.
Share the Experience
Once the essentials were stowed (the tea) we hopped on board and pushed off into the fast flowing current. The first thing that was apparent was the boat turn of speed. Once we’d spent a few minutes getting our strokes timed right it really flew and even with a rather full Wye it was still easy to travel upstream against the flow at a good lick!
Once we’d warmed up the muscles we pointed the Prodigy’s bow downstream and set off enjoying the first sunshine that any of us had seen in a while. The brilliant thing about tandems is that you get to share the whole paddling experience with someone else. Yes, you get to do that in an open canoe too, but somehow cruising along chewing the fat while hitting the perfect stroke rhythm as your paddles both dip into the shimmering surface of the water as the conservation flows as easily as the river is a special kind of feeling. You really feel like you’re working together, like a team.
Open canoes can certainly offer some serious capacity for carrying gear and sit-on-tops loads of fun but as we slid effortlessly down the Wye we really began to appreciate the beauty of this type of boat and why so many UK paddlers love them. Performance was maybe the one area that earlier recreational tandems were a bit lacking, but the same can certainly not be said for the Prodigy, we’ve already talked about its forward speed, and you can read a full review later within this article, but it was also surprisingly responsive and nimble for a boat of this length. When we pushed it to do things that maybe you normally wouldn’t it responded with ease and handled ferry glides and S-turns across fast flowing jets and small rapids with surprising ease. And here’s the best bit. It provided that handling performance with a little discernable sacrifice of the stable, rock-solid feel and initial stability, which makes boats like the Prodigy such great kayaks to get people started in!
We cruised on revelling in the magnificence that is the Wye Valley (seriously folks if you’ve never paddled here, go!) and all too soon we passed under the metal road bridge that signalled our approach to Symonds Yat and the end, for now, of our tandem-adventure. For those that are unfamiliar Symonds Yat (east) is literally at the end of the road and boasts a great pub, the Saracen’s Head) a café, a campsite a canoeing centre and shop some B&Bs and a hotel. The original plan was to take out here, but just below is the famous and historic (in paddling folklore anyway) Symonds Yat rapid. Now the Prodigy isn’t for running whitewater, but so impressed had we been with its performance that it was easy to appeal to Matt’s white water paddling background and convince him that, for the sake of a good ending, we should carry on down and run the rapid.
We cruised past the pub and as we sliced through the calm, mirror-flat water above the rapid, and despite sharing a fairly impressive history of whitewater river running between us we admitted to now also be sharing a few butterflies. With a stiffening of the sinews and the upper lips, we dropped down the shallow ramp and into the array of small holes and breaking waves. What a hoot! We needn’t of worried our trusty tandem held its line beautifully and despite crashing through a couple of good waves stayed remarkably dry. It was a suitably fitting end to what had been a fun and illuminating journey, a journey that had reawakened understanding, and dare we say, love, of just what a fantastic and unique paddling experience a tandem touring kayak like the Prodigy II can deliver.