Submitted: 10-01-2008 by Gimpdiggity
Well, if you're reading this review then you're interested in a lightweight, easy to use, inexpensive inflatable kayak. How do I know that?? Because that's exactly what I was interested in when I found the Kwik Tek Airhead TK-1 inflatable kayak.
I purchased the TK-1 as a first kayak. I had never paddled a kayak at all before. I really wanted something that was going to get me back out onto the water after a few years worth of absence. I researched quite a bit online and found the TK-1 late one night while searching around some different websites. I was having trouble finding information about it because it was listed as an "Airhead TK-1." It took me a bit of searching to determine that it sometimes was called a "Kwik Tek TK-1." I navigated here to paddling.net and found some favorable reviews and a few favorable posts in the message board and decided to give it a go. I got mine for a GREAT price on clearance at a big box store. Look around and you can find one for well under the MSRP.
I got the boat home and wanted to set it up right away. I took the TK-1 out of the box, unrolled it, and inspected it. Right off the bat I was fairly impressed by the build of the boat. It had really nice fabric covering the tubes that hold the air, and a really heavy duty looking hull. The hull really impressed me. It really looked like it would be able to stand up to quite a beating without any kind of downside. The D-rings seemed well made, all of the seams were sewn together well, the seat seemed really nice. The overall impression I got upon initial inspection was great. The ONLY issue I had was one of the skeg fins on the bottom of the boat was a bit bent. I figured it was like that after being packaged in the box. I later found out that an easy fix for this is to take the boat and leave it out in the sun bottom up for about 15 minutes. I did that and the fin flexed itself back into it's normal position... problem fixed, for free!!!
I grabbed my electric pump and hooked it up to the TK-1. The Boston Valves with the boat seemed to be pretty good quality. They screwed in very tightly and seemed better made than some other Boston Valves I had looked at. I started pumping the boat up. The TK-1 is wanting you to pump it up to 2 PSI. I quickly discovered that my electric pump wasn't up to the task. I couldn't get the boat very firm at all. I resigned myself to just putting it all together to see what it looked like. I hooked the seat up and was really impressed at how nice the boat looked. It looked like something that would really hold up well. I tore the boat down and ordered a bellows foot pump online. Luckily for me the pump came in just a few days so I was ready to get out on the water.
After the pump showed up, I took the boat to a local lake just to make sure that it would work at all. The TK-1 has a posted capacity of 300 lbs. I weigh about 240 or so on a good day, and I was a bit worried that the boat might not hold me. When I got to the lake I got the boat all set up. With the bellows foot pump the boat inflated extremely quickly. I had it all pumped up and ready to go in less than five minutes. I attached the seat and grabbed my paddle.
Now, keep in mind this is my first kayak and my first time IN a kayak. With the boat in the water, as I was standing next to it I felt that it didn't seem very sturdy. It wobbled and rocked as I was walking it out to about knee deep in the water. I really was worried that the boat would flip over when I tried to get into it. My fears of that were soon dismissed, however, because as soon as I sat in the boat it immediately became rock solid. The weight in the boat caused the rocking to stop and the boat floated very well. My 240 pounds didn't even cause a kink in the side tubes, and the boat was floating very well. My initial fears that the boat might not support my weight turned out to be unfounded.
I began to paddle the boat, and it was going where I wanted it to. It was working. That trip was very short. I really just wanted to make sure that the boat would support my weight, so after about 10 minutes I packed it up and came home. A week later I went for another paddle, this being the first true trip in the boat. I have to say that the boat exceeded my expectations in several ways.
First off, I felt that the boat moved along at a pretty decent speed. I have nothing to compare it to, but I didn't feel like I was going slow. With that said, I didn't feel that I was going "fast" either.
Next, the boat was extremely stable in the water. Even going over waves and wake from boats I never once felt like I was anywhere near tipping. I believe that you would have to try pretty hard to get the TK-1 to tip over with you in it.
Next, the boat tracked well... or didn't... depending on your definition of tracking, which I'm getting a bit confused on myself. The boat went in a straight line pretty well as long as I was paddling it. It kind of slightly zig-zagged across the water as I paddled, but for the most part it went in the direction I wanted it to and got where I meant to go. This could be partly due to my lack of knowledge on paddling, but I believe that the boat went pretty straight. I've watched quite a few videos of inflatable kayaks online, and I felt that mine wasn't wagging back and forth anymore than any of the others that I have watched. Now, where I would say the tracking is bad, however, is that as soon as I stopped paddling the boat quickly wanted to "skid" to the side. It would start turning in circles. The small skeg fins didn't seem to make much of a difference for this, and I felt a bit let down that it did this almost immediately after I stopped paddling. I let a bit of air out of the floor panel at this point, and it seemed to help the issue a bit.
On returning to shore I noticed that my floor bladder wasn't centered, and I contributed at least a little of the skidding action to the fact that the bladder wasn't centered. With that said, I believe I am going to add a bigger fin or skeg of some type to try and help it go straighter when I'm not paddling.
Also, the seat was extremely comfortable. I thought it provided excellent back support and felt good on my backside with the inflated seat bottom. The foot brace also was nice, as I found myself using it almost naturally. I think it might be odd to try and paddle without one. The entire boat, actually, was quite comfortable. I felt that I could be out for several hours without any real issues.
Last observation was that it didn't leak in any water. The small amount of water that was in the boat was easily attributed to the paddle splashing some water in. All in all I stayed VERY dry inside the boat, which is nice. After paddling for probably about 2 kilometers I finally made it back to my starting point. The boat tears down quickly and easily. In less than 5 minutes I had the boat completely broken down and was throwing it back in my trunk.
When I got it home I set out to get the TK-1 dry. I had read that some kayaks with the bladders inside of the fabric covering can be hard to dry. I had no issues with this, and this is how I did it. I first take the boat out to the back deck and set it on it's bottom, uninflated. Mind you, this is NOT in direct sunlight. I let it sit like that for several hours, then go out and flip it over. I let it sit like that for several hours. After that, I take it into my garage and hang it from the ceiling. I leave it like that overnight. Each time I have used the TK-1 this has been my method of drying, and within 24 hours the boat seems completely dry to me.
All in all, I am EXTREMELY happy with my TK-1. It seems to be a great little boat for the money that I spent on it. I think that for about $20 and some home engineering I can make it track quite a bit better, as well. I have some ideas to fix that, none of which are extremely complicated. I think it's great to be able to throw the boat in the trunk and go to the lake and be out on the water in 10 minutes or less. It's also nice when I go to store it that I can just toss it in a closet.
The TK-1 has gotten me hooked on kayaks, and convinced me that inflatable will be the way to go for me. I have already begun researching my next inflatable, as I would like something a bit larger to do some camping with. But for now my TK-1 is doing great and giving me lots of fun. I would highly recommend this kayak to anyone looking for an inexpensive inflatable that is also pretty well made.