From flat water to white water – and even sea-faring adventures – the humble kayak represents a category of incredibly versatile vessels. As a result, kayaking allows people to efficiently get out and explore aquatic environments, relying purely on their muscle power and ability to harness the elements.
Like any other outdoor activity, to have a great time when ‘going kayaking’, it’s best to be prepared for the type of weather and terrain with the best equipment for the job. A large part of this equation is the kayak itself, but there are also a host of other products that may be considered necessary.
This guide breaks down the types of kayaks there are, as well as highlighting key features and what function they’re designed for. You’ll also find basic information on some of the major materials used in fabricating kayaks, followed by information about important accessories and their uses.
But before you worry about all that, the first place to deciding what gear you need is with deciding how you want to use your kayak.
TYPES OF KAYAK
Sit-on-top: As the name suggests, these kayaks are constructed so that the user sits on (rather than in) the vessel. This naturally means the centre of gravity is slightly higher than other kayaks, and so these products are often designed to be wider and a touch less maneuverable to make up for this.
Popular for a mixture of recreational activities, many sit-on-top kayaks are used for fishing and diving, with their sealed nature making them virtually impossible to sink.
Many of these kayaks will include storage compartments, backrests and even foot-operated rudders for advanced control.Kayaks can be classified into a number of groups, with many products offering features for multiple activities. This guide simplifies this category of products into seven major sub-categories, however you may find some products could easily be classified into more than one.
Each of these groups will apply to broad user groups, so if you’ve figured out what kind of kayaking adventures you’re most interested in, then you’ll quickly be able to home in on one of the following sub-categories.
Touring: Ideal for beginner and casual paddlers on flat water, or for more experienced paddlers on multi-day flat water adventures. These kayaks are usually shorter than many other styles, making them easier to handle and carry, and feature large cockpits for easy entry and exit.
Additional width across the vessel means an all-round touring kayak is good for recreational purposes, maintaining greater stability in the water. Some models will include dry storage areas in the rear of the vessel, and this is a critical feature for any considering multi-day adventures.
Inflatable: As you’d expect, the key difference in this sub-category is that the product can be inflated and deflated as required for easy portage. As a result, they tend to be made of extremely strong PVC or Kevlar-based textiles to prevent the likelihood of tears and punctures.
The majority of these kayaks are suitable for flat water and very simple easy rapids, however recent advances in design has meant some high-end, inflatable hybrids are beginning to present as seaworthy. All the same, it’s worth keeping in mind that the additional flexibility that comes with an inflatable usually means sacrificing other benefits (such as durability, speed or handling), that come with choosing a solid, specialty vessel.
Fishing: Like general purpose recreational vessels and sit-on-tops, fishing specialists have a wide cross section to allow for greater stability, while also providing plenty of opportunity for customisation, allowing the user to add rod holders, fish finders and much more besides.
Classifying fishing kayaks on their own may confuse some buyers, as you will find touring, inflatable and sit-on-top vessels that have fishing-specific features. In fact, there’s no such thing as a kayak you can’t successfully fish from, so it’s worth keeping in mind how critical this factor is. We’ve chosen to break this category out on its own due to the overwhelming number of products that cater directly to the fishing market, but as always, it’s best to discuss the nitty-gritty with a Rays staff member to ensure you’re getting the product that’s right for you.
Sea kayaks: Kayaks appear very different when compared with the other vessels mentioned so far, as they focus more on covering the most amount of distance over a straight line. This results in a long, narrow vessel without as much curvature of the hull from nose to tip (described as the rocker).
These kayaks tend to have a number of features specifically aimed at long-distance sea voyages, including multiple internal bulkheads (for floatation and dry storage), upturned bow or stern for wave shedding, and a variety of options for on-deck customisations for additional storage and sails.
Performance: Also described as multisport or racing kayaks, these vessels are commonly made from more lightweight materials and offer a narrower shape than many other common designs. As a result, it’s recommended that performance kayaks are used by proficient paddlers in competition scenarios. These guys are built for speed over handling, and therefore require superior balance and turning skills.
Find Your Kayak
ANATOMY OF A SUP
Breaking down the various elements of a kayak will help you describe what you’re looking for in a vessel, while also gaining insight into how the shape and features impact its use.
The following is a straightforward list on all the major elements of a standard kayak:
Bow: The most forward section of your kayak, which may feature a slightly different shape depending on intended usage. Sharp, narrow noses are generally seen in touring or race-oriented models, while more curved noses perform better in whitewater.
Stern: The rearmost section of the vessel also has an impact on how the board handles in the water, with wider, rounder tails offering better stability but less maneuverability.
Deck: Quite simply, this is the top of your kayak. The deck may be fitted with multiple accessories depending on your preferred activity. These might include fishing rod holders, sailing rigs or even sound systems.
Cockpit: Most kayaks (except for sit-on-tops), have a large hole that offers a place for the paddler to sit, as well as access to internal storage areas. Two-person kayaks will feature two cockpits. Paddlers commonly purchase a spray deck fitted to the size of their cockpit, which prevents water filling the vessel.
Bottom: The bottom of the vessel is designed to be smooth and hard for better movement and protection as it goes through the water, with variations in shape depending on the intended use and maneuverability of the kayak.
Rocker: The rocker describes the general curvature of the bottom or ‘hull’ from bow to stern. Generally speaking, a greater curve to the rocker will increase maneuverability while decreasing speed.
Rudder: Some kayaks, particularly ocean-going models, will feature a rudder for better handling in inclement conditions. These rudders are foot-operated, and can sometimes be adjusted to improve comfort and use for the paddler, usually determined by leg length.
CHOOSING A PADDLE
Having determined what sort of kayak you’re after, you’ll next need to look at getting the right paddle. While there are a few considerations pertaining to style and construction of the paddle, the most important thing to get right is its length.
Paddle size: The length of your ideal paddle is determined by your height and the width of your vessel, except in the case of whitewater kayaks, where the paddler’s height is usually the only factor.
However, experienced paddlers may also make concessions in size based upon their preferred paddling style.
Basic rule of thumb: the wider the vessel, the longer the paddle. The longer the paddler’s torso, the longer the paddle.
Due to the number of variables involved, first-time kayakers are strongly recommended to visit a Rays store prior to making a purchase and spend time discussing options with a friendly Rays staff member.
Adjustability: The ability to change the length of your paddle is handy when moving from a flatwater to whitewater environment. As a result, adjustable paddles are preferred by beginners, however it’s worth noting the adjustable mechanism may introduce an added point of weakness to the product and it thereby may not be expected to last as long as a fixed-length paddle.
Carbon fibre or aluminium: These are the two main materials used to construct paddles. Carbon fibre is the more popular option as they’re considerably lighter for their strength. On the other hand, aluminium paddles are generally more durable if you’re willing to put up with the additional weight.
There are any number of products you may consider purchasing alongside your kayak and paddle, depending on your intended use.
Spray deck: This accessory is worn around the paddler’s waist and drawn over the lip of the cockpit to prevent excess water getting inside the vessel. First-time paddlers may experience a moment of panic the first few times they panic, as you need to unhook your spray deck from the kayak before you’re able to escape. This is usually considered part of any paddling basics course, and all beginners are encouraged to seek this training before going out on their own.
Gloves and other apparel: Paddling gloves are essential to minimise blisters; other apparel to consider includes a hat, wetsuit and water boots.
Helmet: Not a legal necessity, however if you intend on surfing near rocks or paddling in flatwater where there may be submerged debris, a helmet is another item that could save your life.
Life jacket: Depending on where you’re paddling, a life jacket may be a legal requirement for you to wear, however it’s generally considered standard practice to include one in most kayaking adventures regardless.
Deck bag and dry bags: If you’re out for the day or even on a multiday touring adventure, being able to secure a dry bag to the front of your kayak or store items internally can be of enormous benefit. Specialist bags are designed to keep your essentials dry even if you capsize.
Sails and rigs: Certain kayaks are designed to be have a small sail fixed to the deck. Using this set-up adds an additional level of complexity, but also allows people to travel much further without expending the same amount of energy.Roof racks and other carrying equipment – Looking to transport your kayak anywhere? You’ll need some roof racks suited for the job. You may also need to walk some distance from the car to the water, and in this case you’ll find trolleys or portage wheels that allow you to roll your vessel along without threat of damage.
The good news is that kayaking is a sport that’s easy to learn and well-supported in Australia, and there are plenty of generalist products that will allow you to get out there and have fun without having to worry about too many technicalities.
Just remember, no matter how complicated the buying experience can get, you always have your local Rays staff at hand to ask for additional information and advice. And that means there’s no reason you can’t get out and get paddling this summer!