Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak Review

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak Review Who doesn’t like getting a great deal on something fun? Here at Gear Report we get excited and happy when great deals come along. […]

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak Review

Who doesn’t like getting a great deal on something fun?

Here at Gear Report we get excited and happy when great deals come along. So, imagine my unexpected joy when I stumbled on this Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak (Amazon link) at a local big box sporting goods store for $99.99 last Black Friday! It just so happened that our fleet of Ocean Kayak sit on top kayaks was one seat shy of what we needed. I had thought about adding a small, light kayak so that the entire family could paddle at the same time.  In the video I team up with Gear Girl to give you a quick look at this cheap kayak from Sundolphin (full line of products @ Amazon). More review and pictures below the video.

Steer clear of knock-offs

I have owned more kayaks than most people. Back when Gear Report was just getting started and was known as “Jeff’s Kayak Reviews” I bought a LOT of kayaks to test (check out our kayak reviews here). I have observed that “you get what you pay for” is generally true in the plastic kayak market. I generally advise that anyone thinking of getting into kayaking steer clear of the cheap, knock-off brands in the big box stores and stick with a name brand like Wilderness Systems, Emotion, Perception, Eddyline, Dagger, Heritage, etc. I have found that the cheaper, knock-offs tend to be much less durable and have far less refined handling characteristics.

In fact, I generally recommend that you start with kayaks from an experienced outdoor shop that can coach you on which model might be the best fit for you. Shops like:

  • REI… one of the world’s most trusted outdoor gear shops.
  • NRS is a paddle sports retailer with decades of experience.
Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS with Ocian Kayaks

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS with Ocian Kayaks

Why buy a cheap kayak?

However, if you have a specific use in mind, where the compromises of a cheap kayak might make sense, then I see no reason not to consider them. We often use our kayaks as little shuttle craft when out on our big boat. They let us take Buddha the Boxer to shore to do his business, as well as being great fun for the kids to play on and the whole family to take out exploring around the lake. We settled on three Ocean Kayak sit on top kayaks. They are fantastic. Notice I didn’t say “they are cheap”. We have had them since 2009 and couldn’t be happier with the durability of their thick plastic hulls.

A heavy decision…

However, with the extra thick, durable plastic comes weight. We store our three Ocean Kayaks stacked on the swim platform at the back of the Mother Ship. Buddha’s boarding ramp fits perfectly on top of the kayaks, so there wasn’t room for another heavy sit on top kayak. If we were to get another kayak it would have to be light, as it would be stored on TOP of the aft deck hard top on the Mother Ship.  With three obscenely stable Ocean Kayaks it wouldn’t hurt any of us to have one less stable kayak in the mix to help us work on our balance. Assuming that such a cheap kayak would not be as stable, we agreed that whoever paddles the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak would just have to deal with it. Having a 5th kayak seat so that all five of us could paddle at the same time was worth the hassle of dealing with a less stable kayak.

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS behind the Mother Ship

The Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS kayak is stored on top of the aft deck hard top

Where to buy a cheap kayak

Amazon has a wide variety of kayaks, including the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak.

Whoa! This thing is tippy!

With the logic described above we bought the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak, having never paddled one before. I generally don’t advise this. Good kayaks tend to be expensive enough that I prefer to try before I buy. The Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak was on sale for $99.99 though, so that rule of thumb went out the window. R-man was the brave soul that volunteered to be the first to try the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak. He immediately regretted it. I will withhold the pictures and video to avoid further embarrassment, but I’ll at least tell this much… he was in the water before he even got seated. Spoiled by growing up on the uber-stable Ocean Kayaks, R-man knew that one must be VERY careful when getting in and out of a sit-in kayak, else it will tip… but he underestimated exactly how tippy the little Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak would be. It proved a great test of the kayak’s ability to float while full of water though. 🙂 The rest of the crew appreciates R-man’s sacrifice in being the test dummy and have all learned from his mistake. We haven’t had any further tips, although I came close the first time I tried the little kayak.

Made in USAMade in USA!

This surprised me. I grew up in the 70s and 80s where pretty much anything made of plastic was assumed to have been made in China or Taiwan. If I were Sundolphin I would put a big Made in USA American flag Sticker right on the bow of the kayak so it was VERY visible to shoppers. To the whole Gear Report team, buying products that are made in America is important.

How does it paddle?

Well… like an 8 foot kayak.

It reminds me a lot of the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 100 kayak (click here for review). Even thought rather wide, both felt rather tippy to me. As relatively short kayaks, neither are speedsters and both require the paddler to use proper strokes to keep the kayak tracking straight. New kayakers often don’t realize that longer kayaks are easier to get up to speed. Short kayaks like the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak aren’t likely to win any races. An additional handicap is the lack of any sort of foot brace system. It can be rather difficult to paddle hard with no bracing for your feet. Otherwise, I have no complaints on how this cheap kayak handles under paddle power.

I have paddled the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak with the Carlisle Day tripper (click for review) paddle and the Harmony Adventure TAP paddle (review). The kids like using the Werner Sprite kids kayak paddle (review) with it.

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak Features

Just the basics here folks, as you would expect in the cheap kayak category.

  • front and rear plastic carry handles
  • small indentations in along the top of the cockpit wall that they call “paddle holders”
  • padded, adjustable back rest
  • small sealed hatch behind cockpit
  • small recessed area at aft of kayak with bungee cord’
  • styrofoam in the aft section for flotation when swamped
Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS partly in the shade

Does it come with cookies?

My first thought when I touched the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak was that it felt like it was made from a milk jug, therefore it should come with cookies. Sadly, it appears I am the only one that had this thought. Some research revealed that it is, in fact, made from High Density Polyethylene… the same plastic as your common milk jug in the US. Is this a good or bad thing? A bit of an aside to help understand… I tend to be a bit “thrifty”. When I misplaced my CamelBak water bottle last year I just know that if I rushed out and bought a new one, then the old one would turn up. So, I rinsed out a Walmart distilled water jug (same as a milk jug) and used it as my interim “water bottle”. I figured it would only be a few days before the CamelBak water bottle resurfaced. Fast forward 6 months and that HDPE jug had finally suffered a leak after lots of around the house use and very frequent bleach water soakings. The durability of the HDPE jug impressed me. I had expected the thin plastic to leak after a week or two. When it leaked it was from a small crack in a crease in the plastic where I had set the jug down too hard and the plastic buckled.
Anyone that has used HDPE milk jugs has probably already experienced that thin HDPE is pretty tough, but when it fails, it will likely be at a crease or a puncture.  I’ll note here that Ocean Kayak, maker of obscenely durable kayaks, uses MDPE… Medium Density Polyethylene… since it is a bit more flexible, so  less prone to cracking. On the other hand, the venerable Wilderness Systems also uses HDPE… although a good bit thicker than what we find in the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak.

What does a milk just story have to do with the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak?

Sund olphin Aruba 8 SS with the fleet

Sund olphin Aruba 8 SS with the fleet

That is a fair question. Being made of the same material it should be reasonable to assume some similarities in how the plastic might be expected to perform, right?
Maybe. I can think of two things that change this equation: different usage and different formulation. In the case of a small, light, sit-in kayak, the HDPE has a similar task to a milk jug. They both hold liquid. The jug holds it in, the kayak holds it out. They both slide across things… the milk jug across the racks and shelves, the kayak across the bottom when you run it aground, as is common when you launch and recover from a beach or shore area. As I started writing this paragraph the usage seemed quite different. The more I think about it, them more they look the same. The other aspect, formulation, may be the more important one. As a thrifty guy I also change my own oil in my vehicles and store the old oil in HDPE jugs until I have enough that it is worth a trip to the oil recycling center. I learned the hard way that leaving HDPE jugs out in the sun for a few months will cause them to break down. Thankfully the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak has UV stabilizers added to the HDPE to slow the effects of the sun on the kayak.

Overall

We try to evaluate products for their inherent, overall performance vs other options, as well as relative to the price. Against some of the more expensive brands, the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak doesn’t rate so well. It is too thin and likely to have a much shorter lifespan. However, when price is considered it can become a reasonable deal for someone that is going to use the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak within it’s limitations. For example, if you want a river kayak, then the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak is the wrong general design… so why would consider it anyway… and way too thin to be sufficiently durable against rocks. BUT if, like me, you just need an inexpensive, light kayak that they kids can play with on a calm lake, then the Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS Kayak just might be the right choice for you.

Gear Score
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The Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS is a great little cheap kayak for a small lake or pond as long as it is used appropriately and with it's limitations in mind.

How Sundolphin describes the Aruba 8 SS:

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS stock photo

Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS stock photo

FEATURES

  • Great for rivers and lakes
  • Adjustable, padded seat back
  • Storage compartment
  • On-board storage with shock cord deck rigging
  • Spray deflector/collar
  • Recessed drink holder
  • Carrying handles fore/aft
  • Convenient molded-in paddle holder
  • Rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex® High Density Polyethylene
  • Lightweight, easy to carry
  • Tracks and paddles with ease while offering maximum stability

SPECIFICATIONS

Length: 8′ / 244cm
Width: 28″ / 71cm
Height: 16″ / 41cm
Weight: 27 lbs. / 12kg
Capacity: 260 lbs. / 118kg
Cockpit Size: 19″ W x 37″L / 48cm x 94cm

About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps http://MGECOM.com acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.