The story of the W500, the best fishing kayak for its time

W500 powered by a 2 HP outboard motor

When Wavewalk launched the 500 series (W500), in 2009, it became a big success overnight, and people stopped ordering the previous W300, which got canceled soon after, in 2010. Simply, the W500 design was a bigger and much better version of the W300, which didn’t have a chance to survive.

The W500 offered what no kayak could until then – Super stability coupled with zero back pain. On top of this, its onboard storage space was several times bigger than the storage space that any fishing kayak offered, and it could take a second passenger on board, providing this person wasn’t very heavy.

For a kayak that offered a load capacity of 360 lbs, the 60 lbs W500 was very lightweight. This 6:1 Load to Weight (L/W) Ratio was improved only in 2017, with the 6.5:1 L/W ratio of the S4.

In 2010, Sungjjn Kim from South Korea successfully outfitted his W500 with a 2 HP air-cooled outboard gas motor from Honda. This was a huge breakthrough in motorized kayaking, and a most significant event for Wavewalk. Before that, anglers dared outfitting their kayaks only with feeble and sluggish electric trolling motors that offered poor performance and a limited range of travel.

Soon after, Wavewalk started experimenting with Sungjin’s motorized kayak concept, and presented it to the public in articles and videos, including videos that showed it successfully driven in the ocean chop. Clients reacted positively to these ideas, and a new class of vessels was created – the cartop kayak-microskiff, an ultralight, fun, versatile and inexpensive boat that worked well as a paddle craft too.

In 2013, Kenny Tracy from Maryland outfitted his W500 with a powerful, water cooled, 6 HP outboard motor from Tohatsu. He squeezed 13 mph from that rig – faster than any motorized kayak prior to that. This was the first step in the creation of a high-performance W500.

Following Kenny’s success, and in view of the safety limitations associated with the use of such a tiny kayak with a heavy and powerful motor, Wavewalk started offering  a version of the W500 called the W570, which was essentially the same model outfitted with large-size, detachable, inflatable side flotation modules. With the W570, Wavewalk also offered a lightweight, detachable spray shield.

But it became clear that adding power and accessories to the small W500 would not satisfy the market’s demand for high performance cartop microskiffs, and in 2015, Wavewalk came up with its W700 series. The W500 cost 20% less than the W700, and weighed 20 lbs less, but in the long run, these two advantages weren’t enough to compete with the bigger and better W700. In 2017 , the  little W500 got further squeezed by the advent of the high performance S4, and eventually, this year, 2020, Wavewalk suspended its offering of the W500.

During the decade in which the iconic W500 was available for sale, it sold in 30 countries worldwide. People have used it for touring, diving, crabbing, fishing, shrimping, hunting, camping, bird watching, photography, positioning rowing shells before races, searching for sunken artifacts, sailing, tendering big boats and yachts, scientific research and engineering, as well as maintenance of bridges, harbors, and waterways.

The W500 offered people with severe back problems to enjoy kayaking, boating, and fishing, without suffering from any back pain or other ergonomic issues. Even people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) benefited from its remarkable stability and comfort.

Wavewalk did not fully discontinue the W500, and the company will consider taking the W500 tooling (rotational mold) out of mothballs if an opportunity for large size orders presents itself.

 

 

Jon Boat vs. Wavewalk S4

Green S4 boat in flooded wooded area

Jon boat vs the Wavewalk S4 – Can you even compare them?

Job boats are a family of boats that range greatly in size, stability, load capacity, speed, etc, while the Wavewalk S4 is one boat.  So how are they comparable to begin with?
The answer is that it depends – Comparing the S4 to an 8ft wide, 24ft long Job boat is rather pointless, unless you talk about seaworthiness, since the S4 is probably more seaworthy. Other than this, the large size Job boat would be more stable and faster, and have a much bigger load capacity.
In other words, if you need to go in rough water, an S4 is probably a better choice, and the same is true for skinny (extremely shallow) water, since the S4 drafts less, and you can paddle it if needed, or pole it, and if the water gets too shallow, such as at low tide, you just get out of it and pull it until you reach deep enough water. This is to say that you can’t get stranded in an S4, while it’s quite possible that you would in a big Job boat.
Also, the nimble S4 is more suitable for moving in areas with thick vegetation, such as flooded woods.

But this is a bit of a stretch in terms of a realistic comparison, and it would be more useful to compare the S4 to medium size and small Job boats, namely Job boats designed to carry up to two passengers, and go at low to moderate speeds.

When compared to medium size Jon boats, the main weakness of the S4 is its humble load capacity: 650 lbs of payload is a huge number in the kayak world, and it’s even good in comparison to small, 10ft to 14ft long Jon boats, but a typical 16ft Jon boat can take a payload of over 1,000 lbs, and this makes a significant difference.

Other than this, the S4 is rather limited in the power of the motor that it can take. A 10HP outboard is close to the limit of its capacity, and this is a rather small motor for a medium size Jon boat, let alone a big one.  In other words, medium sized and big Jon boats are potentially faster than the S4.

So where does the S4 shine?

Again, the S4 is one boat, so it’s hard to compare it effectively to the whole range of Jon boat sizes, but let’s start with the obvious: The S4 is much more stable for its size than comparable Jon boats. It’s also easier to paddle, even by comparison to very small and narrow Jon boats. Jon boats have a flat bottom, which limits their usage to flat water, while the S4 is used routinely by anglers who fish moving water, choppy water, and even blue water, namely offshore.

The S4 weighs 98 lbs without a motor, which puts it on par with the smallest Jon boats. Practically speaking, this means that the S4 is a car-top boat, while most Jon boats aren’t, and they require a trailer for transportation, and in its turn, this fact limits their owners in terms of places that they can launch from.

In other words, the S4 has a broader performance envelope, which makes it much more versatile than the Jon boat design. This may justify the higher price of the S4, compared to smaller Jon boats.

And last but not least – The Jon boat is a sturdy work horse that doesn’t look as appealing as its close relative the skiff. It’s not designed to please the eye, let alone to be a babe magnet. But the S4’s unique combination of a catamaran design and pointy front deck makes all heads turn, and this is priceless.

Wavewalk S4 powered by a mud motor
Chris Henderson’s duck hunting S4, with retriever dog and Twister mud motor (surface drive), and a pair of lightweight all-terrain wheels.
Duck hunters standing next to a Wavewalk S4
Not all duck hunters who posed here with their catch can go inside the S4 cockpit, because the mud motor requires more room for steering and operation.
S4 with surface drive motor
The S4 can carry many dozens of duck decoys in the huge storage space offered by its twin hulls.
Green S4 with outboard motor
Doesn’t look like a Jon boat…
S4 micro skiff - Jon boat for hunting
S4 outfitted with a platform for hunting dogs. Austin Rykbost, South Carolina

The Internet domain jonboat.us is for sale »

Motor Kayak vs Microskiff

S4 motor kayak with three fishermen on board

Intuitively, most people understand that a motor kayak is just a kayak powered by a motor, while a microskiff is a type of small, flat bottomed boat. In this article, we will try to define as clearly as possible what a motor kayak is, and what differences there are between such a kayak and a microskiff, more specifically, a cartop (portable) microskiff, which is closest in size to a kayak.

Motor Kayak

A motor kayak is a regular kayak, preferably one that is bigger and more stable than a typical kayak, that is primarily propelled by its passenger(s) who use either paddles or pedal drives. In other words, it is a human powered craft. Such kayak, when outfitted with a motor, typically a weak electric trolling motor, is safer than a kayak that is only human powered, and it can travel to longer distances, and back.

Since kayaks are designed for human propulsion, namely for low power and low speed, they are very limited in the range of motors that may be used to power them.

The problems in motorizing kayaks range from poor means of control to lack of stability, discomfort, and excessive wetness. Arguably, a motorized vehicle, or craft that does not offer adequate access to its motor is not safe. For these reasons, a motor kayak is typically powered by an electric trolling motor, and used on flat, protected water.

The Wavewalk 700 is a catamaran kayak that is extremely stable, and offers enough free board and good protection to its passengers. The driver of a motorized W700 can easily and effectively access the motor, wherever it is mounted, and for these reasons, this kayak can be powered by outboard gas motors that are much more powerful than any electric trolling motor.

Read more about motor kayaks »

Microskiff

A microskiff is a small, flat bottomed boat, powered by one outboard motor. Typically, microskiffs are transported on trailers, and they are used for fishing in flat or protected waters. The very lightest microskiffs can be carried on the truck bed of a pickup truck, and the Wavewalk S4 weighs so little that can be conveniently car-topped.

Microskiffs, even small ones, are too wide and too heavy to be effectively paddled, and this is the main thing that sets them apart from motor kayaks. They are motorboats.  The S4 is different from other microskiffs in the sense that it’s more seaworthy, and it paddles pretty well, especially with a tandem crew.

Summary

  • Kayaks are human powered craft whose performance can be enhanced  by the addition of a small, low-power electric motors.
  • Microskiffs are small motorboats that are too big to car-topped or paddled.
  • The W700 is a catamaran kayak that works great both as a solo and tandem fishing kayak, and it can be effectively powered by an outboard gas motor.
  • The S4 is a high performance, seaworthy cartop microskiff that can be paddled as effectively as any large size kayak, or canoe.

 

 

 

 

The steady kayak

The Steady Kayak

A Steady kayak, not just Stable in the usual sense that it won’t overturn or even tilt by much, but steady as a dock, that is a kayak that allows a person to perform something difficult with the same confidence, ease and precision as if they did it from a dock, and achieve the same results. Wavewalk kayaks sometime serve as work boats, typically for engineering companies that specialize in the maintenance of bridges, docks, and waterways, but now these extremely stable small boats have a new usage, in sports –

The organizers of the 2019 US Masters National Rowing Regatta in Grand Rapids, MI, the largest race regatta this year, used half a dozen Wavewalk 500 twin-hull (catamaran) kayaks to serve as starting line boats for aligning the competing rowing shells at the start of the race.

What does a starting line boat do in a rowing competition? – A rowing shell can reach the incredible speed of 14 mph, which makes this type of boat the world’s fastest human-powered vessel, but these narrow, elongated boats are hard to maneuver and maintain exactly at the same spot. Therefore, before the race starts, someone has to help positioning the competing rowing boats in the exact spots where they are required to be, and keep them there before they bolt forward.

In the video below, it’s possible to see how this is done – A person lies down on their belly on the deck of a Wavewalk 500, with their feet resting on top of it and their arms stretched forward. They hold the rear tip of a rowing shell with one hand, and release it as soon as they hear the sign to start going forward. Once their job is done, the starting line boat operator simply let their feet drop down into the kayak’s twin-hulls, raise their upper body, and sit on the saddle-seat in the riding posture.

Paddling 21 miles solo in a tandem fishing kayak

Wavewalk 700 kayak crossing lake Tahoe

KAYAKS DESIGNED TO PERFORM BETTER IN A BROADER RANGE OF CONDITIONS AND APPLICATIONS

21 miles in a kayak is a long distance, especially on lake Tahoe, which is often windy due to its 6,000 ft elevation. Anyone who wants to try paddling such a distance on that lake should choose their kayak carefully. Most paddlers capable of such a feat would opt for an extra-long and extra-narrow sit-in touring kayak, a.k.a. sea-kayak, outfitted with a rudder system, without which tracking would be hard, and maybe even impossible.

But Edwin Warner simply took his Wavewalk 700 twin-hull kayak to lake Tahoe, and crossed it from its west shore to its east shore and back in 5.5 hours. Edwin weighs about 250 lbs, and he’s not a racing kayaker. In fact, he is a kayak fisherman, whose preferred activity is crabbing in the San Francisco bay. Edwin didn’t even consider outfitting his W700 with a rudder, and no Wavewalk paddler ever did such a thing, since it’s totally unnecessary, because Wavewalk kayaks track well naturally, due to the fact that they are catamarans, and their users can relocate their center of gravity (CG) fore and aft, and thus effectively control the way the kayak reacts to wind coming from any direction, and neutralize this unwanted factor.

It didn’t occur to Edwin that fishing kayaks are not meant to go over such distances, since typically, they are sluggish and hard to paddle, and he didn’t stop to think that maybe tandem kayak with a load capacity of over 500 lbs is not exactly the optimal vessel for crossing such distances in windy conditions.

Edwin simply trusted his W700, because he’s been fishing with it in the Pacific ocean for years. He didn’t bother to get an extra-lightweight carbon-fiber paddle for this trip, because he knew that his sturdy Wavewalk paddle fits his W700, and he trusted it.

Edwin paddled this 21 mile distance in 5.5 hours, that is close to 3.82 mph in average – Not a bad time for a heavy, middle aged guy in a fishing kayak that’s less than 13 ft long. If Edwin had paddled this distance in a traditional 20 ft extra-long racing or touring kayak, his bad back would have forced him to turn around and cut his trip short.

So how is this story relevant to kayak design? It’s about the envelope of performance of the patented twin-hull kayaks made by Wavewalk – A single Wavewalk kayak can serve two large-size anglers or hunters in a long trip, where both will be seated or standing at will. They’d be able to carry on board all the gear they would need for such a trip, and progress at a good pace. And if needed, they could easily outfit their W700 with an outboard motor, and drive anywhere they want, regardless of winds and currents.

How do common mono-hull sit-in and sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks compare to this? Well, they don’t, really, since they under-perform the W700 in almost everything.

I sum, not all kayaks are equal, and Wavewalk’s patented kayaks outperform traditional, common sit-in and SOT kayaks.