Guide 3 – Choosing the right Kayak for you

It’s an important decision when choosing the right boat for your paddling style. Just like bikes, boats are carefully designed to work in certain environments for particular weight ranges. When choosing a boat it is important to select one that suits you. The major point to consider is what are you going to use the boat for?

Ask yourself the following questions:- 
Where are you going to use it? 
What kind of paddling do you enjoy?
What conditions does it need to cope with?
What will you take with you?
What will you do in the future?

There are many disciplines within paddle sports, all demanding very different kayaks. By answering I raised above above, you’ll be able to refine the type of kayak that will be best suited to you and your paddling.

A very popular choice, sit-on-tops are named after the position you paddle them from. Excellent for families getting into the sport, they allow you to feel safe without a cockpit. They are ideal on slow moving rivers or estuaries, lakes, harbours and exploring the coast on very calm days. Some have storage built in, and others have elastic straps to secure equipment on top. In recent years they have become very popular to fish from with rod holders and bait boxes built in, even fish finder attachments, electric trolling motors and many more gadgets.

Touring Kayaks
Touring kayaks could be considered as a bridge between sea kayaks and white water kayaks, often described as all rounders. With an average length of around 10-12 foot, they are great for exploring and undertaking short journeys on rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries, harbours and on the sea. When we do venture onto the sea in a touring kayak, it’s important to remember the boat will not handle well in the wind or waves. This style of kayak will not have a V shaped hull or bow to help with waves and chop. They have hatches for storage, and sometimes have fixed rudders or skegs to help with control. Some will have bulk heads dividing up the hull in to water tight sections. These kayaks are usually widet with the focus being on comfort and stability. Touring boats offer a wide choice for different sizes of paddler, as well as different budgets. 

Sea Kayaks
A long narrow boat around 15 to 17 foot long, these boats are perfect for longer journeys on open water and multi-day adventures. The design has been developed over hundreds of years for travel and expeditions at sea. In a sea kayak you can travel quickly and the kayak will handle the waves and wind very well. They have lots of useful hatches with bulk heads to keep kit dry and deck lines to secure equipment or grab when we fall in. Some have a rudder fitted that you control with your feet inside the boat. Sea Kayaks should have a skeg which is used to help control the boat in wind. With a V shaped bottom (hull) they are great at tracking in a straight line, but do require a bit of extra skill to turn.

Within Sea kayaking there is a massive range of boats and manufactures to choose from, with different materials from Plastic, Kevlar and Carbon Fibre to all consider. Prices can range from £500 – £4000+.

I currently have a Perception Expression 15 Kayak, read my review of this great kayak here:

White Water Kayaks  
These boats are great at running rapids, waterfalls and are very manoeuvrable to dodge rock and logs in the water. The flat hull allows you to skid and turn easily. Tracking in a straight line can be tricky for the beginner. All white water kayaks are designed to be sturdy so bashing into a few rocks should not damage the boat, only scratch it. These kayaks should all have strong foot blocks, grab handles, attachment points for ropes, integral buoyancy (either foam blocks or airbags) and a positive seating position. It’s a good idea to make sure that you include your kit when thinking about how heavy your setup will be when paddling. Possibly add some extra air bags for ease of rescue. Within white water kayaking there is a massive range of boats and manufactures to choose from, with different materials plastic, Kevlar, Carbon to all consider.

Traditional Canoes
Canoes or Canadian Canoes originate from the Native American Indians. They would use these boats to hunt and travel, moving with their whole families and belongings up and down rivers and lakes. They are now popular to paddle in a wide range of locations similar to touring kayaks; canals, rivers, lakes and estuaries. Unlike the kayak, Canadian canoes have an open top and are paddled with a single ended paddle in a kneeling position for maximum control. The average length is about 14 to 16 foot and they can be difficult to handle in the wind. With such a big boat it is possible to fit up to three seats in them, and they are a great way to get very young children into the sport.

It’s an important decision when choosing the right boat for your paddling style.

White Water Canoes
Like the Canadian canoe, these boats are paddled with a single blade, but are shorter and more manoeuvrable. Designed to be paddled solo (one person) they can be very tippy for a beginner. Like a white water kayak, these are ideal for turning quickly, running rapids and avoiding obstacles. They have a raised front and back (bow and stern) to crash though waves and rapids. It is really important that these boats are fitted with air bags, as it is very likely they will end up with water splashing over the sides and swamping the boat. Some have a saddle style seat with straps, to increase the control and fit for the paddler.

Play/Freestyle Kayaks
Very short boats, designed to skid and slide over the water. Once you have developed the skills, you can bounce, flip, jump and cartwheel our way down the rivers. Being so small it will give you lots of control over the boat, but they do move very slowly and get thrown around by the water. These boats are often used on standing waves or holes, features we find on many rivers and weirs around the UK. A roll is a vital skill in a play boat.

Surf Kayaks
Originating from surf boards, these boats have been designed to plane and go as quickly as possible on a wave. They are narrow and have fins for grip with a very high bow to reduce it catching as you fly down a wave. They will carve from left to right, and in the hands of the expert can perform most of the tricks you’d do on a surf board. These boats are designed to use on waves and it’s very uncomfortable to paddle these on the flat as the boat won’t feel as if it has enough buoyancy to float.

In a Slalom competition the aim is to paddle down a set course through the slalom poles (gates) in the shortest time possible. Points are deducted as time penalties for missing or touching the gates. There are events around the UK ranging from gentle rivers to raging torrents. Slalom boats are designed to accelerate quickly and carve turns to keep the speed throughout the course. Both ends of the boat are slicy so they can cut through the water during a tight turn.

Kayak Polo is a five aside ball game with each team aiming to score as many goals as possible. Each goal is suspended above the water and teams constantly make substitutions. Any player in possession can be tackled by being pushed over on the shoulder or back, players may only have the ball in their possession for a maximum of five seconds. As a result of this the boats are extremely manoeuvrable and fast. The bottoms are rounded and have scooped front and back (bow and stern) to dive under the water. They are considered to be ‘tippier’ than white water boats, so are easier to roll. And most importantly, they have big bumpers made of foam at either end to reduce injuries as collisions are extremely frequent.

Go to guide no 4. – What to consider when looking for a paddle?