If I had a nickel for every time I was asked: "What kind of kayak should I buy?" I would be making $.25 a week. That is significantly more money than my blog generates, but it led me to finally tackle this topic. One I have been avoiding for quite some time. Now you ask, why could that possibly be a topic to be avoided? Well, not surprisingly, this topic tends to turn into a "my opinion is better than yours" pissing contest. Is it that sea kayakers are snobs? Male bravado? Maybe. I tend to think that people don't like to hear the $1,000 rec kayak package that they have just bought, being down talked by some weekend warrior.
Here is my attempt at explaining my experience buying a kayak, and the (many) lessons learned along the way. Before I dive in, here is the most important picture that will be posted in this blog post.
My story is similar to just about everyone who discovers kayaking as an adult. I had been a "kayaker" when I was a young teenager, and by that, I mean I used one every time I went to camp or to visit a cottage. I sure did love it, it was so much fun. Then, a funny thing happened, I turned 16 and bought a car. I don't think I said the work kayak again for years. One day I realized, hey, I am an adult. I can have a fun and cool hobby and I have some spare money to pay for it. So what did I do? I bet you guessed wrong, I bought a sailboat.
When I was at the pinnacle of male brain function and logic (25) I started looking. I wanted a boat that was good for sailing, camping, motoring, flying and partying. Oh boy did I ever find it. Behold the MacGregor 26X. My first lesson in how to not buy a boat.
It's pros: It sleeps 10, it has a "bathroom", a "kitchen", a "king sized bed", you can tow a water skier, you can wakeboard, you can have a dance party at the dock.
Yup, you read that right. A sailboat that isn't much for sailing. I had a blast with my friends on the weekends using and it wasn't a total loss but I never did get that damn thing to sail. And yes, I did try and so did my poor wallet.
NOTE: These boats do have a cultish weird following and people do some crazy things to them, but ask any sailor about them and watch for the facepalm.
So back to kayaking. Like just about everyone who starts kayaking as an adult. I bought a recreational kayak when I started. Do I regret it? Nope. Best decision (sports wise) I have ever made in my life. Did I kayak in a Great Lake? Also a big negatory.
Recreational kayaking is awesome. You can take those things up creeks, over rocks, pack a lunch and eat on a island, put your dog in it and use it to toboggan. Here's the thing, been there and done that 50 times. Some people may wonder, is there more to this sport than this? The answer is a resounding yes. Amazingly, no matter how intimidating it looks from the outside, the dirty secret of sea kayaking is, the learning curve is steep. Maybe the steepest of any sport I have even been in. I mean this in the sense that you will progress quickly.
Hockey and sailing are life long pursuits. Only the gifted few will ever be able to push the boundaries of the sport and its becoming more true for both sports that it is only the gifted and wealthy.
Without a doubt I am going to get a flood of feedback about what follows from here. Don't worry, I can take it.
Going back to the sailboat, the lesson learned is, decide what you want to do with your boat. Pick the major use and then select a boat that excels at that. If you buy a Swiss Army Knife, you will definitely get your ass dusted when you go surfing, expedition paddling or just camping and you will long for that specialty kayak that other jackass know it all seems to have.
So what are the options? Ok, on to the fun part.
Before we go on, watch these. I am sure one will speak to you. Remember which one.
Video #1: This video shows many things, the standout being the surf conditions on the East coast. If if this is the video that stood out for you, you are going to need a full blown British style sea kayak. Here are some examples across the price range.
Video #2: This video shows Greenland kayaking at its finest. The kayaks that you would select for this would typically have a lower deck and they are designed to roll.
Video #3: I was trying to show how rewarding flatwater paddling can be. If you want to go camping, see nature and leave surfing and Greenland to others, this is you. Bonus, you can probably get away with a much less expensive kayak. More on this later but, this is the range that you will typically see rudders over skegs.
Video 4: This is Rockgardening, or the whitewater of sea kayaking. In all honesty, this is the area you need to have some serious sea time behind you and some skilled friends before you go. However, if its what you aspire to become. You definitely want a boat designed specifically for that purpose.
Video 5: This is me playing around in some small rapids with a local kayak club in my rec kayak. No egos were harmed in the filming of that video. If that is already more than you think you'd ever want. That being, paddling the creeks and local rivers. You need not make any further moves. Enjoy your kayak, just please wear that PFD.
Conclusion: Don't rush out and buy a kayak. Take some time and look into the places it will take you. Take some lessons, they may seem pricey, but you can use them to ask questions, try other kayaks and have the instructors demonstrate some of the topics above. Find the style you are most interested in and buy something to maximize that.
1. All of the kayaks above are great for paddling in a group. Some will be faster (Explorer) than others (Stratos).
2. GO TO A REAL KAYAK STORE. They are owned by passionate kayakers. I have never met an outfitter who would put you in the wrong kayak. They may have brand allegiances, but they will select the correct style from the manufacturers that they represent. They will also help you pick one that fits your body. Yes, that is a real consideration.
3. Should you get a skeg or a rudder? This is also hotly debated. Here is my take: In theory a rudder should be a performance upgrade to a skeg. It is. That is all fine in theory but in practice, they are difficult to maintain, they break easily and they get in your way when you are towing, doing a self rescue or rolling. I would go with a skeg. It is going to give you most of the performance but way less hassle.
4. Kayaks are not that cheap. But they can be if you find a used one.
5. Yes, some kayaks are good at more than one thing. Example the Explorer is a good rough water boat and you can pack a kitchen sink into it.