Follow these tips to purchase the perfect kayak and gear.

By Joan Drammeh
August 24, 2007
The right boat and equipment make kayaking more enjoyable.
Courtesy of

The word "kayak" literally translates to "hunter's boat," butthis 4,000-year-old vessel has become the favored watercraft forall types of shore fans' coastal recreation. Just as early Eskimosdesigned kayaks to suit their needs, modern designers haveperfected lighter, sturdier, and more-versatile boats. Several newtypes of kayaks give enthusiasts more choices than ever. The marketcan be confusing, especially for beginners, so experts encouragenovices to get firsthand experience on the water before making anypurchases.

Lessons Learned
"I advise beginners not to buy equipment first," says GeorgeGronseth, president and head instructor of the Kayak Academy inIssaquah, Washington. "People who buy their equipment first oftenrealize that they have to sell it after their first lesson."

George says that one class can completely change what peoplelook for. "The kayaks that usually impress beginners are the oneswith tall chair backs and huge cockpits. But these types of kayaksactually work against movement and can make it harder to learnsafety skills, such as getting back into a boat aftercapsizing."

He also discourages kayakers from shopping exclusively forrecreational boats. "You can have a lot of fun in inflatable andfolding kayaks, but there is a tradeoff. Their advantages are beingable to take them on a plane or store them in a garage," he says,but they don't all glide through the water as easily, or maneuveras well, as some more traditional models.

The classic sea kayak is the vessel George recommends to allbeginners. "An all-around sea kayak is great because it facilitatesquicker learning and you can use it even when you are beyond thebeginner stage."

If you're interested in kayaking but don't want to sign up for aclass, you do have other options. Many REI stores let members demoboats for free, and kayak manufacturers have symposiums for testinggear. You can also check with a local paddling club, and askmembers for guidance and instruction.

Sweet Roll
Committed kayakers learn the "Eskimo Roll" as soon aspossible. It's the move that allows a capsized kayaker wearing aspray skirt to right his or her boat quickly and easily. Basically,the kayaker, who is upside down in the water, twists toward thesurface, using a paddle for extra help. Experts perform the roll inone quick motion. "A lot of people believe it is a completelydifferent skill set," George says. "But it is related to all ofyour basic strokes."

Type Cast
To help you decide what kind of boat to test drive, considerwhere and how you plan to use a kayak. Merchants sell three basictypes:

• Sea Touring/Long Distance (more than 12 feet long, 60pounds): The longest and heaviest kayaks offer large cargocapacity, ease of straight-line paddling, and comfort for longjourneys. The cockpit, well-fitted to the kayaker, and the seatmake stretching and position changes possible.

• Recreational (under 12 feet long, light): Large cockpitopening allows for easy entry and exit. A wider beam gives morestability but limits cargo capacity. The wider hull results inslower speed and does not track well.

• River/Whitewater (6 feet long, 30 pounds): Short with acockpit that provides a snug seat, this boat has extrememaneuverability.

Also important―because they relate to the cost,performance and, durability of the kayak―are the materialsand methods used in construction of the boat.

1. Rigid (or hard-shell) boats: Made of plastic, fiberglass,Kevlar, carbon fiber or wood, the rigid kayak is what most peoplethink of when they think of a kayak. Prices run from $500 to$3,500.

2. Folding boats: Boats made of fabric stretched over a wood oraluminum frame for easy portability and storage. Prices run from$1,300 to $5,000.

3. Inflatable boats: Offering terrific portability and ease ofstorage, these are generally the least expensive options. Kayakersshould be conscious of their payload capacity (your weight plusyour gear). Prices run from $250 to $4,000.

The Right Stuff
• Dry Suit: This waterproof suit keeps a kayaker warmand dry. Most have breathable fabric and some have hooks for sprayskirts.

• Spray Skirts: A nylon skirt worn by kayakers that slipsover the edges of a kayak cockpit to creates a watertight seal. Asnug fit is key to performance.

• Dry Bags: Waterproof bags or containers keep stoweditems dry. The PVC/polyester body and storm strips prevent theocean and river from soaking your gear.

• Paddle: The propulsion for your kayak. Look for paddleswith blades that are relatively wide and slightly curved.

• Roleez: A cart specifically designed for easytransportation of touring kayaks.