If you’re looking for a beginner kayak, you need it to do a handful of things.
Ideally, you need it to be more stable than you are, to keep you in or on it for the whole length of your adventure.
You need it to be strong enough to take you in safety through whatever you encounter. The Sun Dolphin Bali 10 SS is a highly popular choice for a lot of beginners. But does it live up to the hype?
Let’s start with some basics. The Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10 is 10 feet long overall, with a width of 30 inches.
While weighing only 44 pounds for hauling to the water and back, it can safely carry up to 250 pounds of kayaker and kit.
So right off the bat, depending on your weight, you have a reasonably strong kayak, and the 10 feet length gives you a solid distribution that should – in theory, at least – make for good stability when you get it out on the water.
It’s made of a high density polyethylene too, so things on the water would need to be pretty hard and sharp to scratch it, let alone pierce or hole the kayak.
In its essentials then, the Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10 looks like it should be comforting to new kayakers. It goes pretty far out of its way to build confidence in the new kayaker.
OK, so much for its basics and the confidence they inspire.
Nobody wants to sit in or on the safest kayak in the world if their hips are out of line, their knees are numb and there’s less legroom than you get on a puddle-hopping plane.
That plus occasional showers of brimstone is what Hell is like. So what does the Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10 offer in terms of comfort? Can you maybe enjoy yourself in it?
The signs are pretty good. It has adjustable foot braces, so you’re not stuck in the position of someone who’s 6 feet if you’re just 5 feet 6 – or vice versa.
By making those braces adjustable, you get additional stability, additional comfort, and a lack of the otherwise inevitable cramp that if you’re a newcomer to kayaking you won’t have had.
More experienced kayakers will tell you stories about that cramp that freezes your calves in burning ice when the braces are trying to either put you on the rack or crunch you down to Hobbit size.
Remember to look sympathetic when they say all this, rather than smug in your well-adjusted, practically personalized foot braces. Number #1, it’s just polite.
Number #2, it’s not smart to make an enemy of someone who’s kayaked a lot more than you have – you may well need them to come and rescue you at some point, and the calls of “Who’s comfortable now?” will ring hollowly in your ears.
As well as the highly commendable adjustable foot braces, you also get some thigh braces in the Bali SS 10, which you might think is practically pregnant with overkill. It isn’t. It’s another feature you’ll be glad of after a while on your kayak.
You get some extra comfort in the seat of the Bali SS 10 too, with a padded backrest that lets you paddle your own can- erm, we mean kayak - for hours at a time without getting a stiff spine or a shoulder stoop.
The seat also comes with straps (yes, it’s quite strap-heavy, the Bali SS 10, like Fifty Shades of Sun Dolphin), that you can adjust to your own size, like strapping into a race car.
So much for the kayaker. What about the kit we mentioned?
Well, this is where the Bali rather surprises. It’s fairly compact in its design, and just 10 feet from end to end. But despite that, it has the sort of storage space airlines would charge you extra for.
First of all, in the rear cargo area, it comes with something called a Portable Accessory Carrier or P.A.C. That has a sealed hatch built into it, where all your potentially vital items can be kept safe, like your keys, phone, wallet, compass, maps, flare gun, prayer beads (all depending on quite how nervous a new kayaker you are).
You can, if you want to, take the whole P.A.C. out, and carry it separately – it comes with a carry handle precisely to make this easy for you.
If you take the P.A.C. out and, for instance, leave it at home, you’re left with a larger storage space in the tank well with a bungee cord.
The potential downside of this is if, somehow, you manage to capsize, or even if your paddling splashes water about with the joyous abandon of a newly-fledged duck, anything you store in the well will absolutely obey the laws of physics and get wet.
The point of the P.A.C. is to protect all your important things, especially electronics, from an unscheduled swim.
So is that all she wrote on storage in the Bali SS 10?
Not at all – you also get a second closed hatch at the front of the seat. Again, the idea is that all your essentials are safe from the water, and in this case, they’re right there, close at hand.
And while it’s possible that some kayaking gurus will tell you you’re on the water to de-stress, chill out, get with nature and all that good happy stuff, Sun Dolphin knows human beings.
Which is why the Bali, in quite a classy wink to your needs, comes with a cup holder, because everybody knows it’s a lot easier to get your zen calm on if you’re properly caffeinated and not at all jittery.
There’s also a storage well (complete with bungee cord) to stow all your camping gear, or a change of clothes in case you need one.
Though, just for the record, that change of clothes is in the same kayak as you are. We’re not saying it will absolutely get soaking wet if you do, but…
OK fine, so you’re probably quite stable, you’re reasonably comfortable. What are we talking about in terms of obedience here?
Will the Bali 10 SS treat you like a Roman galley slave, demanding you pump up your shoulder and core muscles before it will do as you want it to?
Meh – not so much. Its 10 feet of hull length and the 44 pounds of its weight means that bottom line, it’s probably easier for you to maneuver the Bali through the water than it would be for you to maneuver yourself through the water without it.
We’d say watch out for some friskiness and bad behavior in stronger winds, because that’s when the lightness might start to work against you, but for the most part, you’re looking at a kayak that has been designed to make you love kayaking from very early on.
So what are we saying here? The sun shines out of the Bali’s bow, everybody should just run out and buy one?
Wellll, not quite. We’re saying it’s probably a great buy overall if you’re new to the art of kayaking, but it’s by no means as perfect as it could be.
For all you get some good back padding in the seat, there’s no cushion on the bottom of the seat.
So unless you buy and bring your own padding, your legs may be comfortable, your back may be fine, but your kiester may well wish you’d left it at home.
It would of course be… erm… beneath us to say that this can make the Bali a pain in the butt, but it’s worth remembering if you’re going to be paddling for more than a few hours at a time.
Go Fish – From A Different Kayak
Also, if you’re looking for a kayak from which to fish, the Bali SS 10 is not your best friend. Why not? No fishing rod holders. Not a one.
So if that’s your plan, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a mostly-comfortable, highly stable beginner kayak without breaking your bank, though, the Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10 is a highly viable choice.
Light enough to carry and transport, strong enough to be safe in the water, and, wind permitting, easy enough for beginners to maneuver with confidence and ease, it does a lot of the things new kayakers will want it to do.
It’s good for kayakers up to 6 feet tall – if you’re taller than that, you might well want to think about investing in an extra few inches of kayak length for comfort.
It’s reasonably easy for a beginner to get to grips with, and easier to maneuver than many that are heavier.
You may well need to buy at least some seat bottom padding before you take it out on the water, and a handful of scupper plugs would be a good investment too, so that you can drain water from the kayak as needed.
And remember – there are no fishing rod holders, so keep that in mind.
The Bali SS 10 is really not suitable for anyone who wants to get a kayak to take fishing – it simply doesn’t have the necessary equipment, and other, equally well-priced kayaks exist for that purpose.
So, is the Sun Dolphin Bali 10 SS kayak for you?
- It’s lightweight, so you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to use it as your introduction to kayaking
- It’s made of hardwearing polyethylene, so it will keep you safe in the water if you’re uncertain in that environment
- It has adjustable straps for your legs, thighs, and back, so it’s suitable for a wide range of novice kayakers – up to 6 feet tall
- It has comfortable back support to save you some aches and pains
- It’s easy to maneuver so long as you keep it out of wild water and strong winds
- It’s also priced to appeal to newcomers who don’t need advanced design or speed maneuvering
- It comes with no seat bottom padding, so you either need a hard butt or you need to allow for extra spending on padding
- It is absolutely not suitable for use as a fishing kayak, lacking the necessary fishing rod holders to make it practical in those circumstances
- If you’re taller than 6 feet, you will probably want to look at a kayak that is at least 12 feet in length, to ensure legroom and comfort
- If you’re more experienced as a kayaker, and want one that you can take into rougher water or more “all-terrain” kayaking
Where you come on this spectrum is individual to you. There’s no argument that the Sun Dolphin Bali SS 10 is a great, flexible, affordable and mostly comfortable kayak for non-fishing beginners.
If you’re more experienced, there are kayaks that are more suited to your needs.
And if you’re looking for a fishing kayak, likewise there are kayaks on the market that will be more suited to your needs without costing you a great deal more than you’ll pay for the Bali.
But for beginners getting their first taste of kayaking, the Bali SS 10 offers a lot of positives – the light weight makes it easily transportable, the removable P.A.C. helps keep the essentials you can’t leave behind safe and dry, and you can maneuver it easily even from your first time on the water.