Login | September 18, 2021

Buying a kayak

Pete’s World

Published: July 26, 2021

Well, I took the plunge, literally, and bought myself a sweet used kayak. And a big part of my decision-making process involved peppering the Cleveland Outpost’s Josh Scott with a plethora of kayak questions.
Josh did such a great job talking about the nuances of kayaking that I invited him to be an Ask the Experts guest.
Josh is a lifelong Clevelander who loves adventure. He’s thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016, and is a very skilled kayaker and outdooring participant/instructor.
Q: What’s the most important question a first time kayak buyer should ask him/herself?
A: Surely the most important question is where you plan on paddling. There are massive differences between the type of kayak you would need for fast-moving rivers and open water/ocean environments. Once we've narrowed down what type of water will be the primary paddling conditions, then you get into more subjective questions such as: Do you plan to paddle for fitness, float with leisure, plan on advancing your skills, or do you think you'll be content in a beginner's kayak for the entirety of your paddling career? In general, if I get the vibe that the paddler genuinely wants to become a skilled, competent and fit paddler, I push them into a kayak that is on the very top of their comfort level, and vice versa for someone who aspires to be a recreational kayaker for life.
 Q: What are the primary varieties of kayaks available, and how do they differ from one another with respect to application?
A: Kayaks are generally separated into touring, whitewater and recreational varieties. Touring kayaks are generally longer, cut through the water better, and have a variety of safety and comfort features that allow for trips of days to weeks at a time in big rivers and lakes - and of course open seas. Whitewater kayaks are short and stout, and made of burly plastic. They're made to take sustained abuse and lock the kayaker in place so as that the kayak can be maneuvered easily in tight, moving water conditions. Recreational kayaks are made for leisure and fun, so they will be wide, stable, and will often allow for comfortable seating, and big objects like coolers and even a dog!
Q: How does the hull’s shape affect the functionality of a kayak?
A: The hull will affect your stability, primarily, but it can also allow for easier turning, better tracking and more. A wider kayak with sharper edges along the side (chines) will give you great initial stability, or the resistance to tipping over. A more rounded hull that is narrower will give you better secondary stability, which is the ability to perform maneuvers and right yourself if your kayak begins to tip. An experienced kayaker will gravitate towards a narrower, more complicated design, whereas a beginner might prefer a wider more initially stable kayak.
Q: Now you sized me for my sea kayak. Is this something every potential kayak buyer should consider, or is it less relevant with respect to leisure-type boaters? 
A: Sizing is critical to controlling your kayak properly, and many people go years with an ill-fitted kayak without knowing what kind of experience they could be having. With touring and whitewater kayaks specifically, outfitting (thigh brace pads, padded seats, hip pads) are all very important to your boat-body control. Beginners are often looking for more space and a comfortable seat, but the more that you advance in your skills, the more contact you'll want with the inside of your kayak's cockpit. 
Q: Talk briefly about the different materials that kayaks are made out of and how these different materials translate into a boat’s performance.
A: Kayaks are made of many different materials but can usually be summed up with plastic, carbon fiber, kevlar, and fiberglass. Each of these materials has its merits, but the type of kayak we're most familiar with in Ohio are plastic models which are created with a rotomolding process. They're durable, and when treated properly should last decades. Fiberglass, carbon and kevlar are more rigid and lightweight materials that are built into the design of high-end sea kayaks. These materials are often shaped by hand, and the personal touches make the process far more expensive. I paddle a rotomolded sea kayak myself, simply because it is much more affordable.
If you’d like to talk to Josh about kayaking––or any kind of used outdoor gear for that matter––you can reach him at contact@clevelandoutpost.com