Saturday, April 2, 2011

How to travel with a kayak internationally,

Yea, there is room for one more boat
First off, these are not rules these are merely suggestions on how I have managed to get my kayaks too and from.

Traveling with a kayak is a pain in the ass. You are the slowest, clumsiest tourist.  This makes you a prime target for pickpockets, thieves, and everyone else looking to rip you off. You are traveling with the biggest suitcase ever. Try to travel with a group of other kaykers; strength in numbers. If traveling solo bring a small lock so you can lock your boat up to something and walk into a store or bathroom without your kayak. If you feel like some one might be sneaking up to steal out of your bag or wallet, make a wild turn and smack them with the boat. Overall, I have never been hassled too much, most of the people including the criminals are too busy laughing at the stupid gringo.

2x4s make a excellent rack on a rental car

Starting simple:  Cars
Almost all of us have car racks back home -- now you are traveling, the rules just changed. Most cabs do not have roof racks, and they have those little signs on top, most of those come off pretty easily, if the little sign does not come off, just flip your boat over and go cockpit down. Bring straps, I prefer a big 20 footer and two 9 footers, this gives you lots of options. Most cabs at least think they are in a big rush, be willing to dole out another 50 cents to show the cab driver how your straps work and reassure him you do it all the time.

your sleeping pad between your boat and car will avoid denting the roof too much


Different places have different customs on this one, some times boats go on the roof, other times underneath, and sometimes they might just ride in the seat next to you.
On the roof, have your straps ready, some times the driver will only stop for a few seconds. The next thing you know you are on the top of a bus doing 50 mph down a dirt road with a 1000 foot cliff on one side. 
Underneath, most busses are about 8 feet wide, that means a 8 foot 6 inch creek boat needs to go in a little sideways.  It also means fitting a Pyranha Everest or some other longer creek boat becomes exceedingly difficult.
The bus driver is going to ask for extra money, he usually puts it directly into his pocket. You can either talk to the ticket seller and squabble over the price ahead of time, or buy the driver off. I have found it easier to play dumb with the driver. I take most of my money out of my wallet, (and in a Texas drawl) say "no nintendo por favor" and then open up the wallet revealing the two dollars you have left. Usually the driver will see you are as poor as he is and just shrug his shoulders.
bus rides can be interesting

Boats and Trains
Most of these crafts are huge and have plenty of extra space. They can deal with the extra weight of the kayak. Once again they are going to look for some money. Stick to the same rules as buses -- barter and play dumb.

Riding in style on the Big boat
Now for the tricky one:  Planes
As far as I know there are no airlines flying out of the United States that actually allow kayaks on board. That does not mean you cannot fly with your boat. There are a couple of airlines that will take "small light weight break down kayaks", but the average creek boat does not fit into their size requirements. Don't despair, there are a few things you can do to help get your boat on the plane.

"wave ski" on it's way to Chile
Plan ahead:
1)  Get a bag for your boat.  I go to the fabric store and get some cheap material and make a gigantic "pillow sack" with a draw string on one end. I then take a couple nine foot cam straps and put them around the boat on either side of your cockpit. Then connect the two 9 footers with a 20 foot strap looped over itself several times (this makes an ok shoulder strap, it also gives the baggage people something to grab onto other than your collar).  I use the shoulder strap when I walk up to the ticket counter, I think it makes the "wave ski" look lighter. If you buy a bag, make sure it doesn't say KAYAK on the side. (your are about to lie to the ticket counter and tell them it is anything but a kayak).
2)  Look nice.  You don't have to wear a suit, but a collared shirt and clean pants, try to portray that you are a professional and that you fly a lot. The ticket folks will want you to fly with their airline again.
3)  Show up early, wait until the line gets small and the checker has time to play with your baggage. Worst case scenario -- after being denied go sit and pout and hope that ticket person goes on break. Then run back into the line and give it another try.
4)  If you can, find the ticket person that looks new, they won't have a clue and they are easier to trick.
5)  Print out the airlines baggage rules, find the (wave ski) (surf board) (light weight break down kayak) portion and highlight it.

When talking to the baggage person
1 Be nice, helpful, let them be in control, and offer assistance.
2 Have your passport, ID, credit card and your highlighted "rules" all ready to go.
3 LIE.  You can't bring a kayak on the plane, so it is whatever you tell them it is. Be persistent, say whatever it takes to get your kayak on board. I had a lady in Asheville, NC ask me if it was a kayak, after I said no she asked if I had been to the Green Race the day before. My gear was still wet and my hang over was in full effect from the race. I responded with: "The blue race?  What is that?" Tell them you do it all the time: "Yeah, I was down in Africa last month". They might try to tell you it won't fit, my response is "I have fit it in a Cessna before, it will totally fit!".
4 If they tell you it doesn't meet the size requirements remind them that it is round and that if you did all the calculus that it would fit in their requirments.
4 If they tell you no, plead. "I am on this trip for four months, and this is why I am going please."
5 Last resort: "Fine, if I can't take it with me, you deal with it."  Turn your back and start to walk away. The people in the airports are really afraid of baggage being left behind, and they may just put it on the plane to get it out of the airport.  (They might also call the bomb squad who will take it out on the tarmac and blow it to smithereens.)

This is the conversation I usually get:
baggage person: What is THAT?
me: It is my wave ski (big Smile)
baggage: What is a wave ski?
me: It is like a surf board for surfing in the ocean.  Here are the airlines baggage requirements, it is highlighted right here.
baggage: Well.... ok?  It looks like it will be 100 bucks?  Hold on! Does it meet the length requirements?
me: Yeah.  It is a bit awkward but it fits no problem. Here is my credit card, thanks.
Baggage: Ok, have a fun time with your wave ski?

Our my personal favorite quote from a security guard as I was falling asleep next to my wave ski on an overnight layover in Texas: "Just tell me that isn't your grandma."

Remember, have fun, you are on vacation and you do this all the time.


  1. Do you put your paddle and gear inside the kayak or travel separately? Also do you do anything to reinforce the paddleshaft to keep it from getting busted by the Airport folks?

  2. Jed, I usually travel with a few paddles, so I put them all together stick them inside my sleeping bag and then into the gigantic pillow case with my boat. I make sure the paddles sit on top of my boat. I have also traveled for raft racing and have used a hard sided ski case. The folks at the air port will definitely think it is a fire arm, but it will keep them safe.