How To Buy A Kayak For The First Time – Everything A Newbie Should Know


You want to explore the water in a comfortable manner, enjoy water-related activities and invest in a kayak. It sounds easy, yet the procedure can be pretty complex. There are so many criteria out there that two kayaks will almost never be the same. Besides, different people come with different requirements and expectations, hence the necessity of some research.

So, what do you look for when learning how to buy a kayak for the first time?

Defining Your Kayaking Expectations

The most important question to ask yourself – what kind of kayaking do you plan to do? There are more types of kayaking out there, as well as specialized kayaks for these activities. Identifying your personal requirements is a must. Are you interested in rapid rivers? How about a racing kayak to have fun with your friends? Going for some long rides? What’s your available budget? Do you plan to go kayaking often?

Knowing the answers to these questions will narrow your options a bit and can guide you in the right direction.

Most Common Types of Kayaks

There are more types of kayaks out there. Some of them are quite specialized, yet there are a few major categories.

Recreational Kayaks

Ideal for newbies and average kayak enthusiasts, this model is an all-around boat. You can take it everywhere – from ponds and bays to decent rivers. They’re quite easy to control, not to mention maintaining balance due to their width.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are self-explanatory. They’re ideal for long trips. They’re stable and good for high speeds, but most importantly, they have plenty of storage. Since you use these models for long rides, you don’t need too much turning, hence the poor control.

Downriver Kayaks

Downriver kayaks go fast – it’s their main requirement. They’re ideal for rivers, but not limited. You can also take a downriver kayak to the ocean. It’s speedy and great for racing – all because of its narrow and long shape. For this reason, stability is not the best, so they’re not so good for beginners.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are all about control and direction. They’re great for rapid rivers, hence the necessity of such features. The extra control is given by the short length. While you do have maneuverability, you’ll have to compromise on straight paddling – quite challenging.

Sizing Standards


In terms of length, kayaks vary widely. Long kayaks are excellent for stability, but they also provide more storage space. Paddling is not so hard because you literally glide through the water. They’re speedy and allow long distance riding.

On another hand, short kayaks are clearly lighter and cheaper. Moving them from one place to another is piece of cake. Their short profile makes them easy to control and maneuver, so turning will never be an issue. But then, paddling in a straight line will ask for more effort.


The width is directly responsible over balance and handling. Obviously, the wider a kayak is, the easier it is to maintain stability. That’s why many kayaks for newbies are a bit wider. However, extra width implies less control, so handling will be harder. The hull will have to go through larger amounts of water. Your arms will have to compensate for this aspect.

On another positive note, extra width will give you more room for storage.

Considering the Hull

The hull will influence your kayaking experience. There are a few general rules though. If you want good stability, you’ll have to look for hard chines (sharp edges by the sides and bottom), a flat bottom and a top flare (side curves). On the same note, soft chines and round bottoms provide less stability, but they do have a few benefits as well – nimble and quick to roll if somehow you tip over.

Now, imagine a long narrow kayak with a sharp bow. When the bow looks like a sharp V, the kayak will literally cut through water, hence the amazing speed. Water won’t pile up in front of it. As for the opposite, you’ll probably be able to get more storage room, but your kayak won’t be too quick.

Simply put, you can’t have everything, so you need to compromise with every small decision you make. Take a look at this Dreamguides article on the best kayak brands for different kind of scenarios.

Symmetry and Asymmetry

Symmetrical kayaks share the same shape and size for both the front half and the back half. When they don’t, they’re known as being asymmetrical.

Symmetry is responsible for more aspects related to the kayak, but especially the maneuverability and speed. For example, symmetrical kayaks are easy to handle and turn, which means they’re ideal for fast rivers and whitewater kayaking. On the other hand, the asymmetrical variety usually comes with a long bow. They can glide through water more efficiently and provide good directional control. Turning is not so simple though.

Asymmetrical kayaks can be Swedeform (extra volume on the back) or fishform (more volume ahead).

What to Know about the Rocker

The rocker is the curvature of the hull seen from one side. Kayaks with plenty of rocker are deeper in the water, so they can turn much easier. They lack tracking power. Those with less rocker will track easily because they resist winds and current. Turning will be more challenging though, even when you actually lean.

Deciding on the Volume

The volume is often overlooked by newbies. It’s normally given in liters or gallons. It tells you how much space you have inside the boat. There are many volume calculators to figure the right sizing for you. However, it won’t make such a big difference in new kayakers.


Bottom line, your options are quite varied when it comes to kayaks. Most of these features relate to the actual design, which will influence your actual experience. There are two major standards to consider – control and speed. It’s hard to have both of them, so at some point, you’ll need to make a compromise or find a middle solution.

With time, those who dig this activity end up buying more kayaks for different activities.


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