Material: Polyethylene (Whitewater-spec upgrade available)
Length: 15ft (Delphin 150), 15ft 9in (Delphin 155)
Width: 21.6in (Delphin 150), 22.5in (Delphin 155)
Weight: 53.9lbs (Delphin 150), 58.4lbs (Delphin 155)
P&H introduced its “play-the-sea” class of sea kayaks for the 2011 paddling season with the Delphin (polyethylene) and Aries (composite) models. The vision for this class was to fill the gap between sea kayaks and surf/whitewater kayaks to produce a hybrid craft capable of handling rough, ocean and surf conditions. Such a craft would expand the horizons of adventurous paddlers to include those more remote rock gardens and tidal races. These craft were promptly (and appropriately) dubbed “The most exciting thing to happen to sea kayaking in years!” and received a lot of hype. I was so excited that I rushed over to one of the local kayak shops for a demo. My first impressions in one word: WOW!
The P&H Delphin is a very special kayak that’s literally in its own class! It’s a chimera in every sense of the word with a sea kayaking heart and a whitewater soul. At first glance it looks like a strange sea kayak but there are considerable whitewater features in the details. First, the Delphin sports an aggressive amount of rocker and a white water-like “spin disk” (flat spot in the hull under the paddler) to provide exceptional maneuverability in moving water. Second, there’s appreciable volume in the bow which reminds me of the old “duck-billed” surf ski designs. This feature helps to prevent the bow from diving in the surf and aids in resurfacing. Finally, the hard chines on the bow act like the rails on a whitewater kayak to help catch and carve those epic waves. The Delphin is half sea kayak and half whitewater play boat. It looks cool but how does it perform in each of these very unique realms???
Paddling the Delphin on flat water was surprisingly enjoyable! There’s no hiding that the short relative length (15ft), aggressive rocker, and spin disk add up to a general decrease in tracking performance. The high volume bow also invites weather cocking in any appreciable wind. However, I found that the integrated drop skeg (rope control) helped to keep the Delphin on course. This is certainly a required feature for a boat in this unique class. Also, I was surprised to discover that the Delphin wasn’t hurting too bad in the speed department despite its short length. This is probably due to the narrow beam and some subtle hull features like the squared-off stern which helps to trick the boat into behaving like it’s longer than it is. Technicalities aside, the bottom line is that the Delphin is much faster and tracks a whole lot better than any whitewater play boat or traditional surf kayak that I’ve ever paddled. This makes getting out to the rock gardens a lot more enjoyable!
Surfing the Delphin on some light beach-break really brought out the best of this kayak. I was blown away by its stability profile as it was unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced before! The primary stability was great and the secondary stability in a high brace was unbelievable! Furthermore, the transition between primary and secondary stability was very unique. It was almost like the hull had some sort of “righting moment” that acted to flip you back onto primary stability rather than upside down! The Delphin excelled at catching the 2-3ft waves and resisted broaching. To quote a friend: “[The Delphin is] fantastic; does whatever you want. I even flat spun in on a wave going from a reverse surf!” The surfing performance of the Delphin is impressive but certainly it’s not about to out surf a surf kayak on a beach break or out trick a play boat at the local park-and-play wave. Then again, you’ll struggle to get a surf kayak or a play boat out to those distant tidal races…score one for the “play the sea” class!
The cockpit outfitting of the Delphin is superb; talk about wearing a kayak! You really feel like you’re shored up in a whitewater cockpit. That’s because the Delphin is outfitted with the same seat and thigh braces that you’d find in a Pyranha whitewater kayak. This include the Connect back-band, seat, hip pads, and thigh braces. All of these points of contact are padded to the nines for a comfortable and secure fit. Sea Dog foot pedals round-out the detail-oriented outfitting and provide a large purchase area for bracing and the inevitable combat rolls. Furthermore, spacious fore and aft hatches allow for ample day-trip storage while the compact deck pod provides a place to stash your incidentals.
Finally, I’d be amiss if I didn’t discuss the additional features present in the Delphin Surf models. This version takes the “play the sea” performance of the standard Delphin to a whole new level with upgraded materials and cockpit outfitting. The hull of the Delphin Surf is upgraded to whitewater spec plastic which is more resistant to crushing and wear than the standard plastic layup. The Delphin Surf cockpit is designed to better protect the paddler from being compacted by the weight of large waves. Specific features include an integrated hull stiffener under the cockpit and a foam pillar between the legs. The cockpit outfitting of the Delphin Surf is also upgraded to include a full-plate foot brace for added purchase while surfing. In my opinion, the Delphin Surf upgrades make a lot of sense if you’re planning to use this boat to its full potential!
In summary, the P&H Delphin is a very special sea kayak that hangs out in a class of its own. One must appreciate that hybrids are never the best at both worlds. However, the Delphin performs exceptionally well in its “play at sea” niche. We must commend P&H for their vision in this radical design and for the many new adventures that this class opens up to the sea kayaking community. I’m sure that 10 years from now we’ll look back on the Delphin and say: “this is where the ultra-modern kayaking revolution started!” I can’t wait to get an emerald Delphin 150 Surf of my own!
Pros: Excellent stability profile, outfitting, and surf upgrades. Revolutionary design that performs very well in the “play the sea” niche.
Cons: There is no getting around that this is a niche kayak that is best suited for “play the sea” but will not perform as well as a sea kayak on flat water or surf as well as a true surf kayak/whitewater playboat. High price point.
Kayak Dave Rating: