By Jerry McBride
With a universal clamp, the Versa-Brella appears made-to-order to fit the modern generation of high-back kayak seat frames, tankwell crates and railings--virtually any round or squared surface up to 1.5 inches in diameter. Indeed, with a single caveat, it provides inexpensive shade to a sport that can leave participants burnt beyond recognition without proper precautions. Simple and efficient in design, the base clamp swivels 360 degrees, and two pivot joints allow for easy height and angle adjustments. Installation takes just seconds, and once deployed, the canopy (rated 50 SPF) is relatively unobtrusive, assuming you prefer sidearm to overhead casting. If that’s not enough, a friend deploys his as an impromptu sailing aid.
Now, about that caveat. Wind. Umbrellas in general don't like wind, and the Sport-Brella is no different. On a hot, breathless summer day, the Sport-Brella can be a day-saver. However, once the breeze kicks up, I found it to be more of a distraction than comfort. Granted, I purposely tested it on a day forecast for 15-20 knots, even though it only briefly reached those levels. Paddling or drifting with the wind, the canopy operated beautifully, leaving me wondering why I bothered to wear my big Tilly hat. A 90-degree turn answered that question. A broadside gust hit the umbrella, and would have carried the attached crate and fishing rods over the side had I not locked it down. Obviously, attaching it to the seatback alleviates that concern, but high winds also caused the clamp to pivot and the canopy to flap excessively. I rolled up the canopy (two simple Velcro straps) and fished without it until the wind laid down.
Despite that limitation, the unit worked as advertised--just take it down when the seabreeze kicks in. The key number here might be 20--not mph, but dollars. Given the right conditions, the Versa-Brella provides a lot of comfort for a few bucks.