Want to know which kayak to purchase? It’s the one that fits your body and your purpose the best. Notice I did not say the cheapest. It may be better to save up for the right kayak than to spend what you have now on one that you won’t be happy with for many years.
A bit of knowledge may help you in your kayak quest. First, the Eskimos have a lot of experience with kayaks – not just paddling them, but making them, too. The Eskimo found it challenging to hike over to True Value to pick up a tape measure. So they used their own body measurements to build their kayak. To get optimum performance, which means ease of moving the boat through the water with the least amount of effort, they built their kayaks to three times their height and allowed no more than their own hand-width between their hip and the hull.
Many people don’t feel comfortable buying a 16 to 18 foot kayak right off the bat, and most say they want a “stable” boat (wide). That said, the closer you can come to those Eskimo standards, the better the kayak will fit you, and that translates to ease of paddling.
The more stability you give up, the easier the kayak will be to paddle over the long term, or distance. It is much more fun to be in the kayak that everyone wants to keep up with and seems to be so easy to paddle. As with riding a bike, your body will become accustomed to the stability; remember to keep your hips nice and loose, because “loose hips save ships”! It is much harder to learn to ride a bike because your center of balance is higher off the surface you’re riding on (not to mention the landings are rougher), but you wouldn’t want the training wheels welded onto your bike – your body learns the balance! Same with the kayak but much shorter learning curve and much softer landings. Truly the times you will fall out of your boat are when your butt is not in the seat – like when you’re getting in and getting out.
It’s a good idea to “try on” the kayak before you buy it. This means sitting in it on the showroom floor or wherever you are looking at it, on a hard surface. Adjustable foot pegs are a must because they assist you in maintaining the brace you need to make and keep your body “ONE” with the kayak. When you paddle you need to move both as one unit. Flopping around in the seat will waste energy. Comfortable thigh hooks or pads also help with the brace, as you will spread your knees out to the hull. You want a good lumbar support, not a high seat back – when you paddle you should be leaning slightly forward – this will strengthen your back muscles, and if you want to sit and fish or enjoy your beverage or book you can loosen it and lean back. Bulkheads are also important. Yes, they provide basically dry storage for the rear and/or front of the kayak but they are the partition behind the seat and in front of the passenger compartment that cause your kayak to float level if it is inverted. You may want to learn to roll or wet exit, and if you do, your kayak will take water only in the passenger compartment and will be easier to dump it out. Hatches to these compartments can be accessed by other paddlers but typically, unless you are a contortionist, cannot be accessed by you while you are in the kayak. A day hatch is a feature of some kayaks and you can access it while you are on the water.
Weight of the kayak can also be an issue, especially if you are going to put it on your vehicle by yourself. Plastic kayaks are less expensive than fiberglass or carbon, but are heavier. If you are going to keep it on the water, this will not be an issue.
All kayaks are not created equal. Make sure if you spend any money at all on one, it will be the right one for you to enjoy for many years to come.