Choosing Your Next Kayak

For most of us buying a kayak is a pretty big purchase, but how do you know which one to get? There are so many options out there. There are kayaks that are very specialized for one thing and others that are more versatile. To make things even more confusing some boats were designed with one thing in mind and just end up being really great for something else. Here are a few things to think about when looking for your next kayak that will help you know that you found the right boat for you.

First, what kind of kayaking are you looking to do? If you’re planning to fall off water falls you probably don’t want a flat water rec boat. If you’re headed out to the lake for a relaxing afternoon, you probably don’t need a creek boat. For the purposes of this article let’s assume you’re looking for a white water kayak. How do you decide if you should be paddling a creek boat or a river runner? Should you be paddling a freestyle kayak or a river play kayak?

I’m sure you’ve read reviews for the latest kayaks. Dozens of people paddle the latest boats and write about them and make videos about them. Your friends have told you which boats they love and which they hate. The manufacturers have filled the internet with video talking about all the great things their new kayaks can do. Try not to let this input affect your decisions too much. The truth is paddling styles are as diverse as the paddlers themselves and the boat that your friend thought was terrible might be just the boat you have been looking for. It’ll be easier to find the perfect boat if you take the time to get to know some boats for yourself. We often hear people say “this boat boofs, rolls, spins, loops, etc. really well.”  Kayaks don’t do any of these things, but kayakers do. You want to find the kayak that works best with your style and the best way to do that is to take some out on the water.

Have you looked up a boat on the manufacturers website to see the specs? How long is it? How many Gallons? What’s the weight range? Stop looking at those specs. These are just than a loose guideline. These are not hard fast rules. If your last boat was 80 gallons and that felt good that doesn’t necessarily mean that your next 80 gallon boat is going to work just as well. Bigger does not equal better for creek boats. More rocker can be good for some things but bad for others. Everything is a trade off. Adding rocker to the bow of a kayak tends to make it easier to keep the bow up over drops, but it will also decrease the boats hull speed. If you are not paddling that many drops and you do like to surf the small waves along the river, more rocker is probably not going to be ideal for you.

You probably want to find something that fits you well and is comfortable to sit in. If you’re comfortable in your kayak you are more likely to want to spend the day in it. That said we all choose how much comfort we are willing to sacrifice for performance. I play boat a lot and I am an inconvenient size for a play boater. I’m typically just barely too tall for medium play boats but I’m only 180 lbs so I tend not to have enough mass to move the bigger boats the way I want. I paddle medium play boats because that’s where I get optimum performance and I’m willing to sacrifice comfort. This is a decision you’ll have to make for yourself. If you’re in between sizes like me, try spending a good amount of time in both before making your decision.

By now you may have picked up on a recurring theme. TRY AS MANY BOATS AS YOU CAN. I have met so many people who have bought a kayak with out ever trying it just because it was the hot new thing only to later find that it really isn’t working out for them. Talk to your local retailer about demos. Borrow boats from your friends, or find manufacturer reps in your area that can get you in some demos. I recommend taking out different boats whenever you can even if you’re not looking for something new. This will improve your understanding of kayak design and how various features combine to determine performance. It is also a great way to build your kayaking skills. Being in different boats that handle differently forces you to pay attention to your technique and adapt to the kayak you’re in. This will make you a more well rounded paddler. The most important thing is to have fun. If you take a boat out several times and notice a trend of having even more fun than usual when you’re in that boat, you may have found the one. Having fun on the water is the most important part. It’s why we do what we do, so get out there and try some boats. Even if you’re happy with the kayak you’re already paddling you never know what you might be missing. I hope this is helpful in your next kayak search, and of course if you have any questions or want to start trying out some different kayaks stop by the River Store and check out their demo fleet. SYOTR




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