The Different Types of Kayaks – Explained

Kayaks have come an exceptionally long way since their conception by the Inuit perhaps as much as 4000 years ago. The initial function of a kayak was to enable hunting of marine mammals such as whales, narwhals and seals in the Arctic Circle, but as time has progressed hand in hand with technology, motorized boats soon took charge of this. Hunting is still a primary use of kayaks in some remote Inuit colonies, in the original sense. However, kayaks have become more recreational in purpose in recent years, being used for sports such as white water racing, surfing and general racing. To achieve this, modern kayaks had to branch away from the traditional design to new materials, precision engineered details to optimize each kayak for its desired function. Needless to say, the traditional material of sealskin stretched over a whalebone skeleton is not going to cut it in the intensely competitive world of kayak racing.

Kayaks have been tweaked and modified for use in scenarios varying from surfing to military use, so it’s important to educate yourself on how each type differs before making a purchase. Throughout this article we look to bring your attention to the different types of kayak that are available, how their materials and consequently cost differ, and which type of kayak will best suit your needs.

White Water vs. Sea Kayaks

white-waterThe most common kayaks purchased by your average Joe are either white water or sea kayaks. Each of these types is fundamentally different, with the only real thing in common being the fact they are both used on water. The reasons behind their differences are simple, with a white water kayak; maneuverability is key, where as in sea kayaks, stability and speed are more desirable traits. Therefore, white water kayaks are shorter in length, usually between eight and nine feet long. The also have rounded hulls and minimal chines. This is purposefully designed to make rolling easier, as the kayak has less contact with the water. Less contact also means a smaller surface area to manoeuvre making it easier to adjust to the fast flowing powerful environment of white waters.

Sea kayaks take a different approach, in fact aiming for almost the opposite set of characteristics. They have a much flatter hull than their white water counterparts, to increase stability due to ocean wave action looking to knock you off balance. Also, they are much longer with harder chines. Because of these features, sea kayaks tend to be less maneuverable but are faster, more stable and give you more distance per stroke as tend to be used to covering greater distances.

Surf Kayaks

surf-kayakAlthough used on the sea, surf kayaks are deserving of a category of their own. They have a few additional features to hone them to the job or catching waves. Where other kayaks cut across the surface of the water due to their hull and rocker cutting in, surf kayaks have designated fin clusters at their rear similar to those found on a surfboard. Combine this with their hard edges and flat bottom, and simply put you have a long board that you can sit in.

Surf kayaks are further split into two sub categories, High Performance and International Class. High Performance sets are designed for high speed dynamic movement, to allow easy cutting in on waves, and come equipped with a cluster of four fins. In International Class, fins are not allowed, but they offer a smoother more flowing ride. International Class kayaks are the closest you’ll come to a surfing longboard. So can be very effective when the swell is a little smaller than the ideal.

Fishing Kayaks

fish-on-kayakWhere they are used much less frequently for hunting the kind of animals they were designed to hunt, kayak fishing is becoming increasingly popular as a recreational activity. Compared to motorboats, fishing kayaks are inexpensive and low maintenance. They are characterised by their wide beams that are over a metre in length. These beams increase lateral stability and decreased the chance of capsizing. In a bid to add yet more stability, a lot of fishing kayaks give you the option of adding outriggers.

To put it simply, outriggers are basically stabilizers for boats. They attach to either side of the kayak, increasing the surface area in contact with the water, thus increasing stability. In terms of fishing, outriggers can also be quipped with series of poles that give the ability of more lines to be in the water at the same time. Many fishing kayaks can also be rigged for various other improvements and customizations.


As mentioned previously, the world’s first kayak was constructed from the materials available at the time. In this case, it was stretched sealskin over a whalebone skeleton. These materials differ greatly to the modern kayak, where this a sizable scope for variation in materials used. The material your kayak is made from, usually dictates the price. Firstly, you have rotomold plastic kayaks, which are the base of the price range, coming in at between $250 and $1500. Buoyant and lightweight, the plastic kayak is great for beginners looking to get a taste of what kayaking is all about.

Next come fiberglass kayaks, which the majority of professional kayakers use. Lightweight and relatively sturdy, fiberglass kayaks start at roughly $1000, but can fetch up to three times that price. If you are a serious kayaker, the durability and longevity of a fiberglass kayak is likely to be the right choice for you.

The third major build of kayak, is the inflatable kayak. Famous for its portability, an inflatable kayak can be transported in as little as a rucksack. Inflatable kayaks start at as little as $250 and range up to $2000. Ideal for the recreational kayaker, the inflatable kayak has a small turning circle and is easy to master. They are commonly used for fishing and general transport across the world.

The best way to decide on the kayak for you is to test as many as you can. If you settle on a build material and style that works best for you, you’ve found the your kayak. By sampling as many as possible you’ll get a feel for the positives and negatives of each, enabling you to make an informed choice on your vessel. What are you waiting for?

One Response

  1. Ron Locey

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