What To Look For
Once you decide on the type of kayak you want, such as a river kayak, you're on your way toward finding the right one. The next thing to look at is the style, as kayaks come in a sit-on-top variety, where you literally sit on top of the kayak, and basic kayaks, with a cockpit inside. Another thing to look at is a tandem kayak, which allows two people to fit inside the kayak at once. Then you need to look at size. Kayaks easily reach 15 feet and longer and the size you pick is related to your height. Longer kayaks provide more stability, but are harder to turn or steer and shorter kayaks are better for racing.
Before you decide on a river kayak, check that it's made for river floating or racing, as some river kayaks are labeled as racing kayaks. Then look at the differences between symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes. Asymmetrical kayaks move through the water faster, but don't give you as much control. Symmetrical kayaks are easier to control, but move much slower. If you buy the wrong type of kayak, you may experience problems such as not being able to race against competitors because the boat is too slow.
Where To Buy
Many sporting goods stores offer river kayaks for sale and outdoor shops also stock kayaks. These are the best places to start shopping because the savvy staff will know the basics of choosing a kayak and can help you find the right one. Most shops also let you try out kayaks by sitting inside, which lets you check the size of the cockpit against your own body. If you find a kayak that you like but the store doesn't carry that model, most stores can special-order for you. This is also helpful if you want to customize the kayak and change the colors or order a special size.
River kayaks aren't cheap, and as of 2010 even the most basic models cost around $250 brand new. The larger the kayak and the better the quality, the more you'll pay. Expect to pay up to $1,000 or more for a top-line racing kayak made for river use. Perception, Wilderness Systems and Dagger are the three major manufacturers and one makes some cheaper models besides top-line kayaks.