Kayaking is a great way to relax, have fun and enjoy nature up close. Kayaks enable paddlers to go into narrow creeks and shallow coves, observe the water lapping on the shore, hear the birds sing and watch marine life swim. Kayakers usually return from their trips talking about the wildlife they saw and the beautiful scenery they enjoyed. But to have a truly exhilarating and memorable kayaking experience, you need to choose a kayak that is right for you. Ideally, the right kayak is one that suits your frame, paddling style and conditions you mostly want to paddle.
Basics of selecting a kayak
To pick the right kayak, you need to first determine the type of paddling you intend to do. Will you be spending a whole week kayak touring or engage in short day trips? What activities would you like to participate in during your trips? Will you paddle lakes, rivers or estuaries? Will you be exploring faster, open rivers or surfing and fishing in sheltered coastal water? Are you into a paddling competition or in multisport racing? Will you be paddling solo, with your partner or with your friends and family including small children? And how much money would you like to spend on your kayak? While there is no one-size-fits-all kayak and no single kayak can do it all, choosing a kayak with the design and features that meet your specific situation will help you achieve the best experience.
Broad range of kayak models
There are several kayak models with unique designs and features offering their own advantages for different ways of paddling. The models are grouped into sea kayaks, recreational (touring) kayaks, sit-on-top kayaks, fishing kayaks, hybrid (inflatable) kayaks, multisport (racing) kayaks, and whitewater (surf) kayaks.
(1) Sea Kayaks
If you want to go on long distance or more exposed open trips, then sea kayaks have the best design, materials, sizes and features to meet your paddling needs in all waters. Sea kayaks have a relatively longer waterline length, reduced rocker, good edging characteristics, rudders (skegs) for enhanced straight-line tracking, and such features as stern profiles and upturned bows for wave shedding. Modern sea kayaks also have two or more internal bulkheads to supply watertight internal below-the-deck storage sections, ensuring waterproof storage and flotation in rescue situations. When choosing a sea kayak, consider the right length, width, stability, tracking, cockpit size, hull design, cargo capacity and intended use.
(2) Recreational (Touring) Kayaks
Tailored for casual paddlers who enjoy relaxed, fun paddling on calm lakes, rivers and sheltered coastal areas, recreational kayaks are user friendly and optimized for use in protected coastal and inland waters. They are shorter than all kayaks in the other categories, are easier to handle both in and out of water, and offer amazing comfort. Touring kayaks have larger cockpits for seamless entry and exit, integrated thigh braces for better bracing and control, strong stern profiles for positive tracking, dry storage compartment for packing enough gear for paddling trips and wider cross-section shapes for maximum stability. These kayaks also have a higher and more supportive backrest for enhanced comfort and have foot-operated rudders to assist with straight tracking in choppy or high wind conditions. You can buy a recreational kayak for activities such as exploration, fishing or bird watching.
(3) Sit-on-top Kayaks
These kayaks are massively popular for surfing, fishing, diving and touring as they allow users to enter and exit easily, switch seating positions and effortlessly access hatches and storage wells. Designed so that users sit in a molded-in depression on top instead of sitting inside a kayak, sit-on-top kayaks have seats that are slightly above water level, making the center of gravity of the paddler higher than when in a traditional kayak. However, a sit-on-top kayak is wider than a traditional kayak of the same length, compensating for the higher center of gravity. Sit-on-top kayaks are wider enough to enable people with long legs, large body types or limited flexibility to paddle with utmost comfort. Other common features of sit-on-tops are an open deck for self-rescue if the boat tips over, adjustable foot operated rudder system for excellent rough-water directional control, larger storage capacity for extra diving or fishing equipment, backrest for comfortable seating, and thigh braces and back support for stability. Sit-on-top kayaks typically come in single and double paddler designs, but a few may have three paddlers.
(4) Fishing Kayaks
These are kayaks designed to allow for sleek and efficient paddling to and from locations that bigger boats can’t access, such as kelp beds, mangrove shallows, reefs and bombies, coastal cliff-lines and lakes and rivers with inaccessible shores. Most fishing kayaks are similar in design to touring sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks, but are wider and more supportive than standard kayaks in order to allow for lateral stability when fishing. The kayaks can be used in both fresh and salt water and in a wide range of conditions. To tailor fishing kayaks for various conditions, they are often outfitted with electronic fish finders, integrated rod holders, GPS, fish tanks, electric bait buckets, trolling motors, solar panels and other accessories useful in the intended fishing environment and for the fish species pursued.
(5) Inflatable (Hybrid) Kayaks
Made of durable 15 or 20-ounce double ripstop PVC (or alternatively Kevlar and nylon knitted fabrics), hybrid kayaks can be transported by hand in a carry bag and inflated with hand, foot or electric pumps within a few minutes. Each model has a bladder interior for easy repair and an exterior heavy-duty fabric to withstand the rigors of day to day use. Inflatable kayaks are lightweight, portable, stable, easy to master and come with a compact storage size. They have multiple inflation compartments to ensure water safety, use low pressure air (typically below 3 psi) and are generally non-rigid boats perfectly suited for calm bay conditions and advanced rivers, though recently some manufacturers have produced seaworthy inflatable kayaks.
(6) Multisport (Racing) Kayaks
Multisport (Racing) kayaks are generally more lightweight and narrower than all other kayak designs. They are tailored for competition racing but can also be used for fitness and recreational pursuits. They are typically very long and narrow to minimize the overall wetted surface area, reduce drag and increase speed through the water. Because of their length, the kayaks maintain exceptional tracking. They have foot controlled rudders to allow for swift turns and small corrections. There are highly specialized variants of multisport kayaks for flat water racing which have an enclosed cockpit and a longer waterline length. Nevertheless, all racing kayaks require a high level of paddling skill and balance to operate, and are extremely fast when paddled by proficient users.
(7) Whitewater (Surf) Kayaks
Generally built with rigid, high-impact plastic (usually polyethylene), whitewater kayaks are shorter than all other types of kayaks, very maneuverable and ideal for fast running rivers with large rapids. Whitewater kayaking means paddling a kayak on a flowing/moving body of water and can range from carefree, fun, float trip to a tricky, adrenaline-filled sport. Depending on the level of navigation difficulty, rivers are classified into an International Scale of River Difficulty such that Class/Grade I is a flat slightly flowing river while Class/Grade VI is the most difficult to navigate (the limit of possibility). Owing to this classification, kayaks for whitewater usage are divided into 4 categories, namely, river-running kayaks, creeking (hucking) kayaks, playboating (freestyle) kayaks, and surfing kayaks.
(a) River Running Kayaks: These are kayaks used to tour down rivers, enjoying the scenery and the challenge of the whitewater. River running may be a short day trip or a longer multi-day trip. Kayaks for multi-day trips usually have gear-trotting rafts.
(b) Creeking (Hucking) Kayaks: These are kayaks suited for higher gradient, very technical and really difficult rapids usually in the class IV to VI range, consisting of running ledges, waterfalls or slides. Creeking kayaks have a higher volume and more rounded stern and bow to provide safety against pinning and to resurface quickly and be easily controlled when coming off larger drops.
(c) Playboating (Freestyle) Kayaks: These are kayaks suitable for a wide variety of gymnastic and artistic moves, such as spinning, surfing, aerial moves and various vertical moves (loops, cartwheels, blunts and more). Playboaters usually stick to one point in the river such as a pourover, hole or wave where they work with and against the forces of the river, performing various maneuvers. Freestyle kayaks have a relatively low bow and stern volume, allowing paddlers to submerge ends of their kayaks with ease.
(d) Surf Kayaks: These kayaks are flat from side to side (plaining hull) with sharper rails (edges) to enter into a wave face and enable quick directional changes. The models are generally lightweight and typically made of fiberglass or Kevlar. The plaining hull ensures faster take-off speed when catching waves and allows a paddler to increase speed while on a wave, delivering a performance like that of a surfboard.
Purchasing your kayak
Now that you know the various model options to consider, it is time to make your decision. Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy has a broad collection of kayaks to choose from. You will get any kayak you need at a competitive price. When making your choice, remember to test various models for ease of paddling, stability, maneuvering and tracking before you make a decision. If you have trouble with making a choice or just have questions you want answered before you buy your kayak, contact our knowledgeable and professional staff for help. For more information, visit the site ‘Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy’.
- Sea Kayak Explorer. (2016). The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Kayak. Retrieved from https://seakayakexplorer.com/buying-guides/#tab-con-30