Purchasing a new kayak can be a fun but overwhelming experience. Before I bought my first sea kayak, I looked to more experienced paddlers. I noticed there was a popular model the majority of paddlers at my local kayaking club owned. I figured that since these people had more experience than me they had already done the research, weighed the pros and cons and bought the best kayak out there. I later found out that several other club members had the same buying strategy as me, and none of us were happy with what we ended up with. Not a good purchase strategy. Nowadays I recommend paddlers do their own research based on the type of paddling they do as well as ask for recommendations from other paddlers like them. Then go to your local dealer armed with a short list of boats you’re interested in. Once you get there, here’s what to watch out for.
Remaining on shore.
The kayak that’s right for your friend or your instructor may not be right for you. The only way you’ll know for sure is to get in it and go for a paddle. Only buy from dealers that offer this opportunity (or a great return policy). If you get in a kayak and it doesn’t feel right, don’t purchase it. Find a kayak that fits well and performs the way you want it to, and if you happen to be the only person in your kayaking club that paddles that model, so be it.
Focusing on weight.
Modern material innovations mean that kayaks are getting lighter and lighter. While it is important to be able to get your kayak onto the water, once the kayak is floating, a weight difference of five to 10 pounds is no longer much of a factor. Don’t get too hung up on weight or allow the scale to determine the boat you purchase.
A sea kayak should have basic safety features, including a continuous deck line on both the bow and stern, carry toggles that are securely fixed to the kayak, hatches and bulkheads that don’t leak and a back rest that doesn’t protrude above the cockpit (this is important in preventing back injury during surf launches and landings). You don’t need much beyond that. Be wary of being charged for superfluous features. Plus, the more moving parts there are, the higher the risk for equipment failure.
People come in many sizes and shapes, and luckily, so do kayaks. It isn’t uncommon to see a model of kayak in several different lengths and widths. Phrases such as low volume and high volume have become everyday lingo amongst paddlers. If you’ve identified a model you’re interested in, try out all of the different sizes. In store, put your feet on the foot pegs and your thighs under the thigh hooks. You should feel comfortable, yet engaged. Rock back and forth using your hips and determine which size kayak you feel the most comfortable in. If none of the sizes feel right, try a different model. A kayak that fits you well will give you more stability and control than a boat that is too tight or too loose.
Different kayaks are designed for different types of water. There are kayaks specifically designed for rock gardens, surf, flatwater and touring, just to name a few popular disciplines. Where do you paddle most often? Opt for a model that suits the type of paddling you most often do, instead of buying an expedition kayak only suited to bucket-list trips. Beware of sales pitches claiming one boat can do it all. No design excels in all types of water and there’s always trade-offs in performance.
Helen Wilson is internationally known for her rolling and skills instruction.