There is something about gliding across the surface of a lake in a long, thin, sleek kayak that is different from any other form of watercraft.
Kayaks are quieter, faster, and, take it from me, a lot easier on the back. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that I’m any sort of authority on kayaking, but, as it was explained to me when I first started looking around to buy my first kayak, there are a few things you should know before you hand over your hard-earned money.
First, you need to figure out what kind of paddling you want to do (long distance, short day trips, just paddling around having fun, etc.) and then, determine what kind of water you are most like to do it on (the ocean, lakes, rivers, fast water, still waters, etc.). You should also ask yourself if can you lift a kayak by yourself? Where will you be storing your kayak when not in use or over the off-seaon months? What kind of money are you willing to spend? Remember that the kayak is only the initial investment. You will need a paddle and a lifejacket, as well as a water pump, flotation device and rope – all of which are required by law.
Kayaks come in two basic design types: ones where you sit inside and others where you sit on top. Both are equally suited to a freshwater paddling. Ocean paddling is another thing altogether.
Today’s modern lightweight, plastic composite kayaks are almost indestructible. They are well- suited to short day trips and recreational paddling, and, are certainly much easier to pack over rough terrain or carry down to the water’s edge.
They also tend to be a lot less expensive than the kevlar and Fiberglass touring kayaks that look so nice when you see them on somebody’s roof rack in the mall parking lot. Ocean kayaks are highly specialized, longer, harder to handle on dry land and generally much more expensive. They require a skill level that befits the risks of paddling out on the ocean where there are things like tides and ocean squalls to take into consideration.
Because of their narrow design, storage in/on a kayak is a precious commodity. And, although there are a whole whack of accessories that a person can buy to rig out a kayak, I like to keep things simple. Having said that, a paddle holder or lanyard will keep your paddle from drifting out of reach should you let it slip from your grip. The less there is to get in the way, the better as far as I’m concerned.
If you only plan to carry a minimum of gear, most reputable kayak dealers will probably talk you into buying a kayak of at least 12 to 14 feet in length. If you are a larger persons or need to carry a lot of gear and require extra carrying capacity, you are better to purchase a kayak of 16 feet or more. In my humble opinion, it is easier to stay dry in a sit-in style kayak as apposed to the sit-on-top style that is quickly becoming all the rage. When choosing a kayak, base your choice on comfort, how much gear you plan to bring along and what kind of water you will most often be paddling. Then go to kayak shop that specializes in kayaking, as opposed to a sports shop that may handle kayaks but is staffed by salespeople who do not necessarily know much about kayaking or paddling. When you think you may have found the kayak of your choice, take your shoes off and sit in/on it right there in the store. Move around in it – imagine you are on the water.
If I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be to never choose a kayak that you have not paddled in the water. After all, you would never buy a pair of shoes without trying them on, so ask to try out/rent/borrow a kayak before you even consider handing over your hard-earned money.