Kayaking is a unique and fascinating personal endeavor, that transports one into a realm of relaxation. Choosing the right kayak is a big decision and is based on many factors. So whether you are new to the sport or a veteran of the waters, buying a kayak that is right for you, makes all the difference. I know it's not that easy when you are standing bewildered in the shop, trying to choose from the hundreds of kayaks on display.
There are certain considerations that have to be kept in mind while buying a kayak. While the first factor pertains to what do you want to do with your kayak, the second question is how do you go about selecting the kayak with the features, performance, and fit that you want. Once you have the answer to these questions, you know you have found that perfect kayak for yourself.
Understanding the Purpose
The first step in buying a kayak is understanding the purpose for owning a kayak. Based on the use of the kayak, it is divided into four main categories.
Touring kayaks: Designed for extended trips, these kayaks are stable and have good carrying capacity. The advantage of this type of kayak, is that it can hold supplies needed for a long trip and can track well or move in a straight line at faster speeds, due to its extended space. A major disadvantage is that its extended length makes it difficult to turn. To remedy this, there are versions introduced for light touring. Although these kayaks have lesser space, the lesser bulk makes them easier to handle.
Whitewater kayaks: Whitewater kayaking is an extreme sport that is full of thrill and adrenaline. If you want to take the kayak churning down river, in white water rapids, then the whitewater kayak with its exceptional maneuverability, is your answer. Shorter, with rounded bottoms or flat planing hulls, these whitewater kayaks are designed with upturned ends to deal with waves. Their inability to move in a straight line makes them unsuitable as a touring kayak.
Recreational kayaks: Built to suit beginners, these kayaks can be used the year round, for mild river trips and casual use in ponds and bays. Relatively shorter than the other types of kayaks, they have greater width to provide buoyancy and great initial stability while paddling the back waters and gentle streams. With their large cockpits, entry and exit is easier in recreational kayaks, which makes it a good choice for beginners and children.
Downriver kayaks: The long and narrow design of downriver kayaks allows them to travel quickly and smoothly over water. Used more often for racing, the straight keel allows the kayaks to track quickly. However, their narrow design makes them unstable, thus, restricting their use for first time paddlers.
Features of the Kayak
Size of the Kayak: The dimensions of the kayak are an important consideration while buying one. While longer kayaks have a number of advantages, namely that they are usually easier to paddle, more stable, and are capable of carrying heavier loads with less loss of performance. Along with this, they can also track better, move faster, and glide farther with each stroke, thus allowing greater efficiency with less effort. In contrast to that, a shorter kayak is less expensive and is easier to handle and transport around. Their short hull makes them a boon for taking shorter turns, when paddling in streams. Along with the length, the width of the kayak plays a major role in the stability of the boat. Although a wider kayak does add to the carrying capacity, it does not work well in the currents, requiring a great deal of effort while paddling.
Hulls: The principal of determining the hulls which suit your purpose, is quite simple. So while hulls with flat bottoms, hard chines (sharp, nearly right-angled edges where the bottom and the sides meet) and greater flare (curvature of the sides outward) have greater stability, the round hulls with soft chines (a gradual curve where bottom and sides meet) and less flare have less stability. The latter are more nimble and easier to roll, should they tip over.
Symmetry: There are symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes of kayaks which determine the efficiency of the boat as it moves through water as well as its ability to turn. While symmetrical boats have similar shaped front and back parts, making them easier to maneuver in small streams or speedy waters, asymmetrical boats provide more directional control while sacrificing turning ability.
If you are still confused, then it is best to try a kayak before you buy it. This would ensure that you test your comfort and also whether you can handle the particular model in different water conditions, before a final purchase. Also, check the rudder and the skegs while trying the kayak, to see whether the rudder moves well or not. Buying a kayak is a major decision, so make an informed decision while choosing one.