Helmets - Gath - Brain Buckets with Style
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Most sea kayaking does not call for a helmet. It just isn’t that likely that your head will fetch up on something hard. But if you are paddling about in the surge around the rocks, or riding a big wave into the beach, you might appreciate a little protection if things go badly.
|So the job of a proper helmet is to be unnoticed the majority of the time until that brief moment when you really need it – then it better be tough and capable. Those are opposing objectives – strong but light, good fit but comfortable, safe but “cool”. The use of exotic materials and good design helps.|
Gath Helmets from our friends in Western Australia, where southern oceans blow up some mean waves, have a line of helmet systems for those who like to push the envelope, sometimes a little too far. For twenty years they have been making helmets. They have models for sky diving, surfing, wind surfing, water skiing, kite boarding, white water and sea kayaking. Slight differences in design and accessories accommodate the peculiarities of each sport.
The helmets come in two basic styles, full cut covering the ears and high cut with removable ear pieces. All helmets are made of UV stable components, ABS plastic for the body, nylon for the peaks and polycarbonate for the visors. Peaks and visors are interchangeable shatterproof accessories.
For years I have paddled with a Protec full coverage helmet. It was inexpensive and adequate, but the fit was sloppy. It sat high on my head and seriously increased my wind drag profile. The wind whistled in the ear holes. The chin strap was small and rough and tended to chafe.
So I was looking forward to an opportunity to try out two models from Gath – their classic Gedi and the newer Surf Convertible.
Gath Surf Convertible
There were no resellers in my state so I contacted the distributor in California. Normally Gath recommends going to a reseller who can make sure that you get the helmet fitted properly. Gath has four helmet sizes and two different sizes of fitting strips that will allow a fully customized fit. The Gedi fit is a little looser than the Surf Convertible, exactly as I was advised.
The helmet comes in its own carry bag. Each accessory visor also has its own bag. Taking the Gedi out of the box I immediately noticed how much lighter it was than my old helmet. I put it on. The fit was close, with only the slightest of movement. I easily closed the nylon snap chin strap with one hand, the little pad settling comfortably under my chin. I grabbed the top of the helmet and pushed back hard. My eyes popped open and my double chin disappeared like a movie star after the third plastic surgery. It was clear this helmet was going to stay put under some serious abuse.
The helmet drops down in the back of the neck to fully cover the cranium. It stops just short of constraining neck movement when the head is tilted fully back. The front is cut high enough so that it can not be seen, leaving a full field of vision. The full foam liner cradled my head with no apparent pressure points.
I turned my attention to the accessories. The smoked glass visor looked really cool so I went for it first. After several false starts I finally consulted the instruction booklet to get the plastic ratchets properly mounted on the sides of the helmet and the retractable visor in place. However, I was immediately disappointed to find that the visor is cut too close for use with spectacles. Those who use corrective lenses will not be able to take advantage of the UV and glare protection of the very convenient smoke colored visor. I am told by a friend that you do not need to close your eyes in heavy spray to protect your contacts from washing out when this visor is installed. I did find that the visor was well ventilated and did not fog easily. There is an opening between the visor and the helmet front which allows water to drip down the inside of the visor when the action gets really heavy, impairing the vision somewhat as the salt builds on the inside of the visor. If you are buying the helmet with visor for wind driven or wave driven spray protection, the Gath RV is probably the better choice as that visor tucks under the helmet top.
I installed the peaked visor. It provides just enough shade to keep the glare off the glasses and out of the eyes. The helmet fit is so tight that wearing a hat under the helmet is not really an option with the Gath like with the Protec. The foam liner covers the entire inside of the helmet. It is not just strips of cushioning. For those of you in cold climes and water this is good and it will probably be all the insulation you will need for your brain. But that poses a problem for warmer climates as the helmet is hot. There are no vent holes in the plastic cover or the liner. So frequent dunking is the only cooling option. The little water that enters the small channels in the liner drains out the back without cascading down the face after a roll.
I then turned my attention to the ear pads. These are usually needed by those whose sports involve high speed over the water, not in kayaking. But I like ear pads as they can muffle out the noise of the wind on long open passages. These have little ports that can be opened or closed so that one can hear conversation. I like to close the windward one and leave the lee side open for communication. Unfortunately they are almost impossible to manipulate with one hand, the only complaint that I had. The ear pads connect securely to the helmet with a clever use of the chin strap that totally eluded me until I went back to the manual. They are very comfortable and warm, which again can be good or bad.
The Surf Convertible is even lighter and more closely cut than the Gedi. It has the same accessories and size options as its older brother. My size selection must have been a little too small as after wearing it for three hours of surfing in a current race, I felt like an eagle had landed on my head. A few minutes with it off brought complete relief, but it certainly demonstrated that a fitting by a knowledgeable Gath dealer is a good idea.
These helmets are serious pieces of well thought out equipment. They not only look great but they have the pedigree, design and certifications that assure that they will perform.