An ugly box


Got this in the mail the other day and liked it so much that I snapped a photo of it.  Yes, on my phone.  Fair warning (if you haven’t already guessed) that this isn’t going to be a photo post; we’re talking paddling for a moment.

The Ugly Box, courtesy of Austin Kayak, is one of those nods to environmentalism that I really appreciate because it isn’t just lip-service.  This is a major retailer, I’m certain they do a lot of shipping, so why not reuse cardboard whenever possible.  I don’t want a pretty box when I order something, I just want a box that survives the apes at UPS.  So if the box is re-used, or even a cut-down, rebuilt portion of another box, I am totally cool with that.  I applaud it.

What was in the box?  The latest in what I am sure, based on my experience with photography, will be a long line of kayak accessories.  In this case a spray skirt for my little red Impulse.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a spray skirt is a fabric piece, usually nylon or neoprene, that fits over the cockpit opening on a kayak.  It has a hole in it for the paddler, with an upturned section called a “tunnel” that fits around your waist.

The cockpit opening on the Impulse is huge.  Forget actual dimensions for a moment and consider that Seal, the brand I bought, has a numbering system for their skirts.  Most of them are in the 2 to 3 range.  Mine is a 7, which I think is the largest they make.  It’s a huge skirt for a huge cockpit.  Now that huge, open cockpit is really nice when I’m on calm water with the camera; I can put the Pelican case between my knees comfortably.

Going down class II and III whitewater, however, is a different story.  Now granted, I’ve only done this once a year during Riverfest, but last year in the Impulse the rapids would hit the bow, wash over it, and fill the cockpit.  At one point during the course, the only reason the boat didn’t literally sink under me is the blocks of flotation foam built into it.

[Your intrepid author, trying the spray skirt for the first time in his backyard.]

[Your intrepid author, trying the spray skirt for the first time in his backyard.]

Having an inexpensive boat I can beat around in and take down rivers?  Great.  Having to stop and empty it out six times during the Riverfest course?  Not so great.

No fast-forward to this December, when I got a message from the Lackawanna River Corridor Association, the same wonderful and dedicated group who puts on Riverfest, announcing the first Shiverfest event!  That’s right folks, we’re going kayaking down the Lackawanna River through Scranton in January!

Granted, given the way this winter has gone thus far, we could be out there on a balmy 45 degree day, although I doubt that my luck will be that good.  But whatever the temperature, it’s going to be FAR too cold to get wet.  Shiverfest, I’m sure for legal purposes, recommends a wetsuit.  I don’t have one, they tend to be expensive, and I don’t know just how much use I’d get out of one if purchased.  So I’m going in another direction, starting with the spray skirt to keep water out of the boat, and followed with layers of waterproof clothing, all cotton-free (in winter, cotton kills).

I expect it will work out fine for Shiverfest, as we’re only doing 3 miles on a section of the Lackawanna River that flows through the city and is pretty tame overall.  I don’t think this section contains any whitewater at all.  The skirt will get a second change at Riverfest next spring and will, hopefully, prevent the boat from filling with water again.

On the other hand, the Impulse may not make it that long, or may be supplanted by another boat by then.  Like the camera itch, the kayak itch is miserable, and I keep eyeing two models from Dagger, both of which look like a hell of a lot of fun.


Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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  1. Marie Pennington

    Overalls with a kayak attached!

  2. Did you consider that you could have picked up a diving mask and snorkel for less money than the skirt? That way if the kayak sinks, you could operate it as a submarine. Up scope!

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