Friday, November 07, 2008

Choosing a Kayak

How to Choose a Kayak

In today's world there is a kayak designed to fit almost any recreational need. There are kayaks for white water, placid water, ocean waves, sit-in-side kayaks, sit-on-top kayaks, sea/touring kayaks, Olympic racing kayaks, fishing kayaks, marathon kayaks and ocean racing kayaks, kayaks for one person and kayaks for two. Whew! With so many options where does one begin? The best answer is to try before you buy ! Go on a guided tour from a local kayak outfitter, participate in a demo day held by kayak retailers, or visit your local kayak shop and talk about paddling.

In a perfect world all kayaks that are used on open water, ponds, lakes, estuaries, or oceans should have positive flotation in the bow and stern of the kayak. Two of the best ways to ensure positive flotation are with bulkheads, which create watertight compartments at the front and back of the kayak and will keep your kayak floating even if the cockpit is full of water, or with flotation bags that are placed and secured in the front and back of the kayak and perform as bulkheads in keeping the kayak from sinking. The need for positive flotation in a sit–on-top kayak is not essential since they are built as an airtight pontoon and will not sink if you fall off.

Proper outfitting for touring kayaks used in open water should include safety lines around the perimeter of the deck that allow you to grab and stay with the kayak in case you fall out or off. For a sit-in kayak, a crisscrossing arrangement of thick elastic deck lines behind the cockpit is essential since this is where you secure your paddle when performing a paddle float self-rescue in the event of a capsize. A good specialty outdoor paddle shop or outfitter can give instruction in these important safety aspects of kayaking.

Footbraces that are adjustable are an important feature so that you can rest your feet comfortably in the kayak against a proper support. In addition, a good seat and backrest will help you to sit upright when paddling and make you feel and look good on the water. In kayaks that are 12 feet in length or shorter, the backrest is usually very substantial. Kayaks that are longer than 12 feet usually have a lower-lumbar-support backband that allows greater freedom of movement for the paddler.

Most experts in the kayak world agree that a kayak under 12 feet in length does not go in a straight line very well when paddling in open water, so look for a kayak that is known to track well (go in a straight line). These kayaks will almost always be 12 feet long whether they are sit-in kayaks or sit-on-top kayaks. They are usually designed without rudders or skegs and are called recreational kayaks, as opposed to the longer kayaks that are called touring or sea kayaks. Whitewater kayaks are specifically designed to be paddled in rivers with fast currents and whitewater rapids. Whitewater kayaks are not used to paddle coastal areas, large lakes, lazy rivers, or oceans.

Some kayaks are equipped with foot-controlled rudders that assist you in staying on course. These are often found in touring/sea kayaks over 12 feet. A common misconception is that rudders are used for steering a kayak. While rudders can be used for casual steering to the left and right, rudders are actually designed to help keep you going straight when there are currents, wind, and wave action affecting your travel.

A popular activity with touring/sea kayaks is self-sustained travel along coastal areas, oceans, estuaries, or down lazy rivers with no whitewater. These touring/sea kayaks have hatches in the deck that allow for a week or two worth of groceries, fine libations, and all your camping gear. Another popular activity with touring/sea kayaks is fitness paddling and racing. A longer waterline length and a narrow beam (or width) generally means more speed with your double-blade paddle. Kayaking for fitness is exciting, cruising along with dolphins is fun, and you will learn to sprint if you kayak in gator territory.

Fishing kayaks are very popular and allow you to sneak up on your fish with all your favorite rods, bait, and tackle and are much less expensive than a power boat to operate. In the southeast fishing kayaks are usually sit–on-top models that allow you to get in and out easily in shallow water.

Kayaking is a wonderful lifetime sport and can be almost anything you want it to be. You can float down a river leisurely dipping your paddle in and out of the water basking in the sun. Shoot down rapids in Class I to V whitewater. Race long or short distances over the water. Let the miles glide under the hull of your touring kayak as you journey to your next destination. Paddle to your favorite fishing spot and bringing home the "fish for dinner." Some kayaks even make great photo platforms for wildlife photographers, allowing close encounters with wildlife and marine mammals. The point is, there's a great kayaking experience waiting out there for everyone.

Kayaks are made from different materials:

Polyethylene which is an almost indestructible plastic used in all types of kayaks. The major drawback with this material is the heavy weight.

Thermoplastics which are used by some manufacturers in short recreational kayaks and some touring kayaks. This material is lighter than polyethylene but not known for being very durable and is difficult or impossible to repair.

Fiberglass is used in touring/sea kayaks and is lighter than polyethylene, easily repaired, very durable, and gives better performance.

Kevlar is also used in touring/sea kayaks, however not because it is bulletproof, but because it is lighter than fiberglass and has the same durability and is easy to repair.

Carbon Fiber is the ultimate in lightness; an 18-foot-long touring kayak can weigh 36 pounds! This material gives great performance, is very tough, and is easily repaired contrary to widespread rumor that it is difficult to work with.

All kayaks are easily transported on the roof of your car, SUV, or truck. I never leave for a vacation (or a day at work) without my kayak. There are even bicycle trailers for kayaks. Kayaking is fun, healthy, and adventuresome. There's never been a better time to begin kayaking than today.
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