After a year of play with this boat, I feel I’ve had enough experience that I can give some constructive feedback. I wanted a "hard" kayak (fiberglass or ABS) that was light, inexpensive, and for day trips or just a couple of hours on the Deschutes on the way home from work. I was attracted to it because of the cost, weight, and distributer (KayakPro, whose emphasis is on racing kayaks, but started the KayakTrek offshoot as a recreation-oriented line). I quickly found out that the next best product by anyone else was twice the price, so after reading some reviews and looking around a bit, contacted Gray and purchased the boat. He was more helpful that I had expected, answering all of my questions quickly and completely. I would not hesitate to purchase another kayak from him if the occasion arose.
Now about the boat itself. I'm happy with it and would purchase it again, given my needs. Here are my initial overall impressions of it - the good, the bad, and the ugly - based on the last year of “time in the saddle”:
- The boat is initially quite tender, but has good secondary stability. If you have kayaked before it should be no problem, but if you're a beginner it's a little disconcerting and takes getting used to. I had only been kayaking a short while prior to purchasing the boat, and even then only in a very stable recreation boat, so was a bit unnerved on my first trip. I’m much more comfortable with it now.
- It's EASY to paddle and fast. It takes very little effort to get it moving. The bow wave is very quiet too. It rewards you for paddling correctly (like sitting up straight and twisting at the waist), but doesn’t really penalize you too much for just taking it easy.
- It tracks very straight, although to the detriment of being maneuverable. It isn't a quick turning boat - you have to work at it. If you are an experienced kayaker and can edge through your turn, it helps. For lakes and quiet streams or rivers this is ideal. For rapids or constrained areas, look at the other more maneuverable kayak.
- The seat is comfortable (for me anyway), and makes you sit up when paddling, like you're supposed to.
- The cockpit is large enough to slip in and out of (I'm 6ft and with tight hamstrings, so need room for my knees). Lots of foot room too.
- Storage areas seem adequate for day trips, but don't plan on an overnight without a support boat. There's separate floatation glassed in separately in the bow and stern.
- The hull is smooth (good mold), but you get what you pay for with assembly quality, I'm afraid. There are a couple of "hard spots" where they glassed the bulkheads in without trimming them first, so the hull bumps out ever so slightly (we're talking 1/64th or so - enough to see, but not enough to make a difference in the water). The glass/kevlar tape used to bond the hull and deck is not quite as smooth as I would like, but it's a solid bond and, hey, for the price, you shouldn't expect perfection.
- I initially thought the carrying handles were funky, but they make the kayak easy to carry, and I can lock the boat to the carrier rack on the car with a cable lock through them.
- The boat feels as light as they claim. I have a Nissan Xterra, and am able to lift it on without help.
Before I purchased the boat I looked around for a spray skirt, and no one else makes one, so if you do get the Baja, spring for the spray skirt too. In the same vein, I got an adjustable Bending Branches paddle when I ordered the kayak. Unless you're sure about the paddle length you want, I'd suggest the adjustable length paddle. I'm finding that although I've been using 220-230 cm paddles on other kayaks, I've got this paddle down to 215 cm and am wondering if an even shorter one would be better. Each kayak seems to perform differently with various paddle lengths, and it seems like the Baja likes a shorter paddle.
Would I recommend it to someone else? In a minute, if their needs were the same as mine.