It’s a sad irony that in this hi-tech driven world many beginner or once-only multisporter think composite kayaks are the only way to go.
It is true that a composite boat does offer the athlete an elite boat with superior speed and weight ratios, but always remember that it’s not the boat but the paddler that counts.
An anecdotal example of this is from my early days of paddling. I had a time trial against an old mentor of mine, who was at that stage in the national down river team. Due to a hole in his composite race boat he had to use a “Wavehopper” (a plastic down-river racing boat). After my jokes about kicking his arse over the 5km timetrial, he managed to teach a very young paddler a thing or two about guts and more importantly that it’s the engine not the boat that counts.
Apart from guts there are some sound reasons to choose a plastic sea kayak for multisport.
The first is durability. Who wants to invest in a brand new composite kayak in your first year of river racing where running into rocks is a rule, not the exception. The answer is not me! There are plenty of examples of paddlers doing just this and by the time they have to front up for the big event they either have a boat full of holes or have spent large amounts on repairs. It is on this rational that a plastic boat, being less fragile, may allow a paddler to learn from taking poor lines without the cost of badly damaged gear.
On a side note: this theory is also applicable towards paddles. Whilst a carbon blade may be cool, light and great for experienced river races. The fact that they are fragile may mean that by end of a season of learning on moving water, your fancy wing may resemble a spade. When a new river racer comes in asking for advice I usually suggest graphite plastic wing's, such as the Canoe Sports S2000 Speed Wing. This is the same basic shape that is used in expensive European race paddles but made of plastic. This gives the blade the durability for people training on a river to slam it on rocks again without ruining a more expensive wing paddle. If you decide later on that you like racing and want to invest in a carbon wing, then you can use your old plastic wing as river training blade and therefore save your good blade for race day.
The second reason for considering a sea kayak is what you do when you decide to hang up your race spurs? An investmentin a single purpose race boat may be an asset that does not get much use because of its lack of suitability to paddle in the sea on rough days etc. Whereas boats like the Beachcomber and Elaho are responsive sea kayaks which means at the end of day you can get out in the rough stuff of ocean kayaking or pack up the tent and go island hopping for the weekend and enjoy the sights you can only get to you by boat.
Many people don’t realise plastic kayaks have come along way in design and construction. A lot of the new boats, such as the Beachcomber, take advantage of the latest plastics, that are as light as a composite race boat but have all the durability of a plastic craft. This coupled with plastic sea kayaks being comparable if not cheaper price than a composite race boat, make your choices vast and thought provoking.
So when it's all said and done, composite kayaks are great boats but they do have their limits that a plastic boat may not have. Be it greater range of uses or greater durability. This coupled with the new plastics, manufacturers are using, means that taking sea kayaks in a race is not something to be dismissed easily.