Having the correct equipment can make or break your kayaking experience. There are so many things to consider-models, makes, and fit. This series will provide tips for women on how to select two of the most important pieces of equipment your Kayak and Paddle and most importantly how to ensure a good fit with both. We will also talk about the never ending challenge of putting your kayak on top of your car.
Part 1 Selecting a Kayak
Over the years I have had a lot of people ask me what kayak I would recommend to them, or whether I thought a particular kayak was a good one to buy. At first I would spend time talking about the latest in makes and models or the various features of the kayak they were interested in. But I quickly learned that the most important response to these questions is another question: “what kind of kayaking do you plan to do?” Quickly followed by, “Where do you plan to kayak?”
I usually get a sort of confused look. Then they kinda smile. Finally, when they realize I’m serious and actually waiting for a reply, I usually get, “well, you know around here.” or “what do you mean what kind of kayaking do I plan to do?” And then the conversation begins.
There are four important considerations when selecting a kayak: the type of paddling you will be doing; the material of the kayak – plastic or composite; fit (probably the most important frankly), and budget.
What type of paddling you plan to do
Before opening a catalog or visiting a website or stopping in at outfitter to look at kayaks, seriously think about the kind of kayaking you want to do — where are you most likely to spend your time paddling? what conditions are you likely to encounter on this waterway? And if you choose to venture beyond your home waters, what kind of water will you visit? Do you want to surf, race, tour, expedition, roll, rock garden, paddle on quiet lakes or the back bays of our estuaries? Or do it all?
The answer to these questions will begin to focus your search. For example, a great rolling kayak is a Tahe Marine Greenlander. A great racing kayak is an Epic. A wonderful surf kayak is a Delphin, and a great expedition kayak is an NDK Explorer. Knowing the kind of kayaking you do or want to do leads you toward a specific type of kayak that is suitable to your needs.
Composite or Plastic
A plastic sea kayak (not those bathtubs they sell at Dick’s or Target) are a great alternative to a glass boat. While they may not be as fast and can be heavy, they are durable, resist cracking and punctures and depending on length, have enough room for camping. Some are even designed for surfing like the Delphin. I have a Current Design Squamish RM that I love for rock gardening and river running.
The best part about a plastic kayak is that you don’t need to treat it like an orchard. Having said that, it’s best not to keep them in the sun when not in use or tightly strapped down on a rack for an extended period. I have friends who have done this and unfortunately, serious depressions occurred in the plastic. While there are techniques to remove these “holes”, in reality it’s pretty difficult to reshape the plastic once the damage has been done.
My first kayak was made of Kevlar. It was an Impex Mystic. I bought the boat largely because it was light and I wanted to lift and carry the boat unassisted. If you can afford Kevlar, it’s a dream from a weight perspective and boy do they glide across the water. But I wouldn’t recommend a Kevlar boat for rocky or rough landings or launch sites. Damage to kevlar is difficult and costly to repair.
Most of the people I paddle with have fiberglass boats. Me too. Fiberglass seems to me the best of all worlds. While it isn’t as durable as plastic or light as Kevlar or carbon, it is easily repaired for the most part; its smooth surface allows it to glide across the water much like Kevlar and carbon, and it’s fast. I have an NDK Pilgrim Expedition. It’s fiberglass boat and I use it in all water types—surf, flat water, rocky shores, rock gardening, touring and camping. It’s my go to boat and I love it. But I have learned (the hard way) it’s best to go plastic when I rock garden.
I compare the fit of a kayak to be much like the fit of a good pair of jeans. You want it to fit your shape and size, respond to your every move, feel comfortable and look awesome. To ensure such a fit, there are three points of contact that a paddler must have in their kayak – feet to the foot pegs or bulk head; thighs at the thigh braces, and back in contact with the back rest. It is important that each of these three points are a snug fit without being too tight. A snug fit will give you control over your boat and you will be able to execute a strong and efficient forward stroke, roll easily and manage your kayak in wind and other conditions. If it is too tight a fit you will be miserable and all your skills will go out the window. If the fit is loose, the kayak will control you and you will have trouble with your strokes, managing the wind and forget about rolling. One additional critical point about fit is to check the manufacturer’s weight range for a particular boat. If you are above or below the range, that kayak is not best suited for you.
Buying a new kayak can be a huge investment, so if new is what you want, start saving your pennies. A new fiberglass sea kayak usually runs between $3,000 – $4,000. Sticker shock usually directs most people to a plastic kayak of some type. But even a good new plastic sea kayak can cost between $1,000-$2,000.
You can find really great used fiberglass and plastic kayaks for much less on Craig’s list or better yet on many kayak club websites. Paddling.net also has some great deals on used kayaks. However, no matter what your budget is or whether you decide to go new or used, never buy a kayak until you have figured out what make and model fits you best. Sit in it and better yet paddle it. Remember, like a good fitting pair of jeans, you need to try it on before you know if it’s right for you.
— Kerry Pflugh