this thing's incredible

My Partner and I Paddle Down the River Lea in This Inflatable Kayak


Like most people who grew up in London, I’m very much at one with the city. I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. But I do yearn for stillness, open space and large bodies of water. I’ve explored most wild-swimming options in London — there’s not too many — but felt there had to be more on offer. At the back of my mind, I remembered that I knew someone who had bought an inflatable kayak a few years ago.

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.I knew an inflatable kayak could be carried on a bike or a train easily enough — useful for someone like me who doesn’t own a car. And as I live in a one-bed flat, I could store it easily when it wasn’t in use. I was fixated but still found myself slow to commit. Then, last Christmas, I finally decided that I would buy the kayak as a present to my partner (win-win).

It took me a few hours to research the best model within my price range. When I noticed the maximum weight listed on Decathalon’s two-seater; a key factor in my decision-making then became how much weight the kayak could hold. I’m tall, around five-foot-ten, and my partner is around six feet. I wanted to have the option of a camping kayaking trip, and the Intex Challenger K2 held the most weight, 180 kilograms. (If you are after a one-seater kayak, you shouldn’t have to worry about that, as most models hold 100 kilograms.) The Challenger K2 comes with packable oars, a pump, and a holdall. The holdall is useless for cycling/carrying it farther than two metres, so I bought the Itiwit rucksack, which fits everything, with plenty of room for two life jackets — we bought these ones — and other lifesaving things like snacks.

We waited for warmer weather in spring before taking the kayak out on its first outing. We cycled down to the River Lea in Clapton and began pumping everything up on the edge of the towpath. It took about five to ten minutes, and the instructions for the Intex were easy to follow. After that first tentative step from land to kayak, a soothing tranquility came over me. I found myself transported, even when only a stone’s throw from the gaggling voices on the towpath.The kayak also literally transports you, so you can paddle down to a wild swimming spot that is calm and clean (unlike the Hackney Riviera). Like cycling in the city, an inflatable kayak offers a sense of freedom and a sense of reclaiming space for yourself. It has been an utter delight.

The Intex Challenger K2 itself is not light (17 kilograms), but we haven’t found it to be prohibitively heavy (I’ll admit my partner carries it) and it’s under the weight of a checked suitcase if you wanted to go abroad with it. After each use, I lay it out on the washing line, wash off any dirt, and leave to dry before packing it all up in the rucksack and storing it away, awaiting its next adventure.

Some Kayak Accessories I Recommend:

If you want to be fully kitted out, other recommended buys would be a dry bag — I bought these Ortlieb ones in five litres and 22 litres.

I’ve been using my fingerless cycling gloves when paddling — it turns out you might get blisters if you decide to spend four hours kayaking out of the blue. These ones are machine-washable and nonslip.

From £11

Technically you need a licence to put your kayak out on the water. I don’t think a lot of people realise this, and I’ve also never seen anyone been told off about it. But you can buy your licence from Canal & River Trust, and it supports its work.

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I Paddle Down the River Lea in This Inflatable Kayak