For Beginners: Tips For Selecting a Kayak
by Joseph Dowdy
Picking out a kayak that is best suited for you may seem like a
daunting task. After all, there are tons of different makes, models, sizes,
styles and materials to choose from. But despite the sometimes staggering
selection you can make it easier on yourself by considering a few factors in
your purchase decision. Start by making the simple decisions:
Sit Inside or Sit On Top? The most basic
way to classify different kayaks starts in the cockpit area. Sit Insides have an enclosed cockpit
versus a Sit On Top (SOT) which offers seating on the kayak’s ‘deck’. SOT’s
also have scupper tubes which allow water to drain (and enter) the deck area,
making them virtually impossible to sink. Both types are popular for
recreational use but you’ll find that Sit Insides, which can be more protective
against harsher elements, are more popular for whitewater and touring use while
SOT’s, which are more customizable and easier to enter/exit, are more commonly
used for fishing, diving and general recreation.
Solo or Tandem? When you’re buying with
more than yourself in mind, a tandem kayak is something you’ll want to
consider. Single kayaks are great for their flexibility, but when a family
member or even just a close friend becomes a factor, the space and money saved
by a two-seater could be your best option. More and more commonly, tandems are
made with the option to remove a seat and slide the other into the middle of
the ‘yak to make it usable as a single.
What’s the best Hull Shape? The shape
of a kayak’s hull will very much determine how it performs in terms of
stability, speed and maneuverability. Without getting too complicated in the
explanation, there are really three basic types: rounded (fast and maneuverable),
v-shape (fast and better for straight line paddling) & flat (slower but
more stable). More recently, pontoon shaped hulls have begun to sprout up which
sacrifice turning ability for even greater stability compared to flat bottomed
How long and how wide? Choosing the
right size for you can be done following this simple rule of thumb. Longer
kayaks translate into faster, more efficient, better straight line paddling but
more difficult maneuverability. Wider kayaks sacrifice speed, efficiency and
maneuverability for stability. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but
this seems to most often the case.
What material should you buy? Most
commonly, kayaks are made of a very durable plastic and if you’re looking for
your first kayak and don’t want to spend a lot of extra cash, plastic is
probably the kind you want. But for performance minded paddlers with a larger
budget, kayaks made from Thermoformed ABS or other composite materials like
fiberglass or kevlar are lighter and can provide more ‘glide’ on the water
leading to better efficiency and speed.
Once you answer these basic questions, you’ll be well on your way
to selecting the best kayak for your needs. Still confused? Check out this neat
application built by Austin Canoe and Kayak that will
help you narrow down your choices by answering a series of questions.
About the Author
Joseph is an avid kayaker based out of the central Texas area. He
has paddled many of central Texas’ waterways and has attended and/or
participated in many kayak fishing tournaments, races and paddling festivals.
He’s currently employed at Austin Canoe and Kayak (ACK) and loves that he gets
to spend time working with his favorite toys.