Not sure how to choose the right kayak for you? It’s easy to get caught up in all the different choices and styles of kayak. Here is a breakdown of the main categories. It’s important to know what kind of paddling you want to do, and how you want to prioritize things like price, weight, comfort, safety, and performance. We have all of these options in our rental fleet and our Shop, so come visit us if you want to learn more or try anything out.
What kind of paddling do you want to do:
Recreational kayaks are designed for calm, flat water lakes and rivers. They are stable with large open cockpits. You should look for a boat with a comfortable seat and room for the cooler or dog. Most recreational kayaks are 10-13′ long. The longer the boat is the better it will track, or paddle in a straight line. Shorter boats are less efficient to paddle because they want to turn more after every stroke. Instead of sitting inside of a cockpit, Sit on Top Kayaks are another good option, especially for novice ocean paddlers. They are affordable, stable and safe, if your kayak flips, you can just hop back on. The down sides to Sit on Tops are that you’re definitely going to get wet, and they generally don’t have any dry storage.
Light Touring kayaks are best for the paddler who is looking for a little more performance out of their boat, they are faster and narrower (and a little less stable) than recreational kayaks and are ideal for calmer ocean paddling or longer distances on flat water. Light touring kayaks are usually about 13-15′ long and have a tighter cockpit. The smaller cockpit allows for better control of the boat: the more contact your body has with the seat, from your feet, thighs, and rear end, the better the power from your paddle stroke moves through the boat. They may also have a skeg or rudder.
Any boat with front and rear bulkheads can be considered a sea kayak. Bulkheads provide dry storage, but they also partition the boat so if you capsize, only the cockpit area will fill with water, making it easier to flip over and get back into the boat in deep water. Designed for efficiency in wind and swell, sea kayaks are generally 14-18′ long and have narrow hulls and tight cockpits. A skeg or rudder is super desirable to help control your boat in strong wind and current. Another important variable is rocker, where the kayak is shaped a little like a banana, with the bow and stern coming up out of the water. More rocker will make a boat more maneuverable and less rocker will help a boat track better. People looking to play in dynamic water like surf, current, or rock gardens probably want a slightly shorter boat with more rocker. For long distance touring, a longer boat with less rocker will be most efficient.
At a minimum, you are looking for a stable kayak with plenty of room for all your gear, most recreational kayaks will work. You can also install rod holders, anchors, and everything else you need aftermarket. They make some pretty sweet kayaks designed specifically for fishing that are stable enough to stand up in, loaded with rod holders, and even pedal drives and rudders so you can paddle hands free while holding a rod!
All kinds of kayaks can give you a good workout, so you don’t have to buy anything special. However, if you are looking to get into racing or just want to go really fast, you want something narrow (less stable) and long, with no rocker. Surfskis are fancy sit on tops designed for racing, they are really lightweight and fast. Additionally, racers tend to prefer kayaks with rudders so they can steer with their feet and focus their hands on efficient forward paddling.
All of the above boat styles come made in different materials. Polyethylene plastic is affordable and durable, but heavy in the water and on top of your car. Thermoformed plastic (like Eddyline and Hurricane) is lighter than Polyethylene and less expensive than other options. Carbon, Kevlar, and Fiberglass composite options are a little less durable, but they are lightweight and glide nicely in the water.