Before you buy a kayak, take some time to learn about the different kinds and their purpose. Doing this in advance will not only save you some confusion and money – it’ll also save it from becoming a garage ornament!
Where will you use your kayak?
Calm or moving water?
How often will you use it?
Every week, now and then or once a year?
Who will paddle with you? A partner or family activity?
These answers are a smart start to understanding how to buy a kayak. You may want to consider renting as an inexpensive way to “get the feel” of the various types or practice basic paddling before you buy a kayak.
When to Buy . . . Off season is the best time of the year to buy a kayak for price, however, it’s also when the selection is limited. In July or August retailers want to clear their current stock to make room for the new models for next year.
About Type . . . Now this can get pretty confusing – I find that the ads or descriptions for kayaks are written for those who were somehow born knowing all about kayaks! It’s not so apparent for someone new to the sport. To clear away some of that confusion – you need to understand two distinctions . . .
Brand is simply the name or style of a kayak – of which there are hundreds. More importantly, you need to understand type. Type describes the body or hull of the kayak . . . (not your body type – that come into play later). More specifically, the shape and characteristics for the kind of paddling it’s intended for.
A very important tip …I have found that designs that locate the seat in or nearest to the center of the kayak (between the front and back) track (move) and turn more efficiently compared to seats located more aft (to the back) of the kayak. In my experience, centering the weight gives the kayak better balance – so you may want to take note of seat location before you buy a kayak.
About Size . . . Your height and weight determines the length – it’s that simple (almost). Consider your weight plus a margin to accommodate other paddlers or gear. Other weight considerations depend on how you plan on using your kayak. For instance, if you plan on an overnight trip – you’re going to stop and camp and then return. You’ll have additional gear and that’s weight … and space to consider. Your height also determines the cockpit opening – this is a serious consideration. For those who are tall, a more open cockpit is easier getting in and out of.
The width (or beam) of the kayak determines how much paddle effort will be needed and how stable it is. A longer kayak will glide smoother with less effort but it will not maneuver as easily. A shorter and wider kayak will be more stable and handle waves better than a longer, narrower one.