There are three main types of kayaks: recreational, touring and white water. Most of the time a person will purchase a particular kayak type that matches the intended level and type of activity, as well as skill level. Keep in mind, however, that every kayak will respond differently to each paddler based on that paddler's technique and body type. Ideally you should be able to try out a variety of different kayaks, plus develop basic paddling skills by renting or borrowing a kayak, before purchasing your first kayak. Expect to pay under $1,000 for a beginner kayak of almost any type, although prices can range up into the thousands of dollars depending on style, maker and materials.
Recreational kayaks are intended for beginner use or casual paddling in calm fresh water or protected salt water inlets and marshes. They are also suitable for fishing or photography. A recreational kayak can be a single, tandem or tri to fit one, two or three paddlers and usually has larger cockpit openings than other kayak types, making entry and egress easier. They are usually wider, for more stability, and shorter, which limits their cargo capacity and makes them slower, but they are also lighter to lift and easier to maneuver in portages.
Sea kayaks or touring kayaks are longer than recreational or white water kayaks. They are relatively wide and flat, with narrow tips and hard angles at the outside corners of the hull (chines). They sacrifice maneuverability in order to go faster and glide further in a straight line with each stroke. These can typically seat one or two people and may have a ruder to help steer. Sea kayaks come in sit in or sit on top models.
White Water and Surf Kayaks
One-person white water kayaks are shorter and more maneuverable than recreational or touring kayaks, but because of this they have less stability. They are usually about 8 or 9 feet long and have as little surface area in contact with the water as possibly at any given time. This is aided by the relatively blunt, rounded angles on the sides (soft chines) and a relatively steep hull angle on the bottom (minimal flare). They also have a lot of up-sweep at each end of the kayak (a lot of rocker) and are built very sturdily to endure passage through white water rapids. Surf kayaks are a lot like white water kayaks except that they usually have a flat stern, just like a surfboard, right down to the fins.
Article Written By Marie Mulrooney
Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.