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Choosing a kayak
We carry kayaks from Old Town, Necky, Prijon, Hurricane, Heritage. We have a huge selection of kayaks, hundreds in stock to choose from, if you feel overwhelmed from our selection of kayaks, our expert staff help get you in the right boat for you. But here is some useful information when looking for a kayak.
But before I start, I want to clear up something. Many want a kayak to do both flat water and white water. This boat does exist, but it is rare. Recreational kayaks are not meant to do both whitewater and flat water. Why? I'll admit the design can handle most class 2 rapids. But the structure cannot. Pinning, yes it can happen in class 1 rapids. Pinning is where a boat gets sideways to a rock, tree, or other obstacle and gets "pinned" against it. Enough pressure is applied to crush a recreational kayak and wrap it around the obstacle, with you in it. Recreational kayaks just don't have the support to take this abuse. There are some kayaks that do have the support, just call and ask. However, if you just want to do rapids once in a blue moon, get a kayak for flat water and rent for the once a year trip to the Guadalupe river. Don't sacrifice the flat water ability of the kayak if flat water is what you do the most.
1st Decision, Touring vs. Recreation (Bicycle vs. Tricycle)
By the simile I use on this, some would feel a touring kayak to be the only way to go, since no one wants to peddle a tricycle. But lets look at the similarities. A bicycle is much faster and uses less energy than a tricycle; a tricycle has more primary stability, but is difficult to lean; in rough conditions (off road), a tricycle is easier to tip, a tricycle is generally cheaper than a bicycle. So why would you want a recreational kayak? Less expensive, smaller, more initial stability, roomier, it is a kayak built for fishing, photography and just going out to lounge around. Why would you want a touring kayak? Easier getting from point a to point b because of the efficiency, storage, stability in rougher conditions (waves, wind...), tracking (goes straighter) and let me say efficiency again since every experienced kayaker appreciated this, usually over all else.
Two myths are around about touring kayaks taking place that I would like to clear up. First, touring kayaks are "tippy". Unless you have a very high center of gravity, a touring kayak will feel "tipsy" for the first several hours you paddle it, and might feel "tipsy" after that for the first few minutes of paddling at the beginning of the paddling season if you haven't been out in your boat for awhile. Mainly, "tippyness" is caused from stiffness, which it takes several hours to start to relax. Second, lately I have heard this one a lot, "I have a small vehicle so I need a small recreation kayak. Let me just say that I used to have a 280 z sports car and I put every kind of paddle craft on it, up to a 25' rowing skull. A 17' kayak will fit on any car. (o.k., maybe not a Mazda miata, but what can you put on top of one of those cars, my son's toy jeep is about the same size as those)
As far as size, longer=faster, usually. Recreation kayaks are more of one size fits all, generally longer will be more efficient in this case. Touring kayaks, again longer = more efficient to a certain extent, get a touring kayak sized for you, come in and we will help you with that.
2nd decision, what manufacture to buy
Design, material, comfort (yes, I recommend in that order)
Design- Choose a design based on what you want to do. I could talk for hours about this, so I will say just ask a lot of questions. Go to a store with a good staff and make sure they know what they are talking about. The design topic will throw a lot of the big box stores that only have a few models, a sales person should know the difference between a hard chine and a soft chine, what a dolphin bow is, what rocker does, dynamics of different hull shapes, benefits of different materials... Read a catalogue and they will tell you how one of the company's models will differ from another of their models, but the salesperson should know much about how one company's models will differ from another company's models. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, it takes a paddler. So again, ask a qualified sales person to put you in the proper design for what you will be doing.
Material-O.K. this gets into some complicated stuff. Molecular weights, patterns of the particles, molding techniques, resistance to heat, memory... And we're just talking plastic here. What does the type of plastic do for you, it determines how long it will take before you flip your boat over to drain water and the bottom of your boat is as wavy as a washboard, or has warped from storing it on its side and you paddle in circles, or just gets soft from being in the sun. Three plastics are available that hold up well from these, super liner, blow molded plastic and the abs fiberglass looking plastics made by Hurricane and Perception (I've never paddled the Perception airlight kayaks but I have not gotten any good responses from them. Most are stating they are not as stable as they should be, and do not track well.) Personally, I would not buy a standard linear kayak, since they don't last nearly as long as the others mentioned here.
Comfort - This is usually the first thing people notice on kayaks, and sometimes the only thing since its the only item on our list you can easily feel in the store. Yes, it is important to be comfy in your kayak, but this is the only item you can change on your boat, and it is easy to change. If you find a boat you think is comfy and you like the design (best for what you are going to do) and the material is very stiff and long lasting, great. But it would be better to buy a boat that is not the most comfy but is going to last a long time and is a good design for you, then spend 30 minutes and $50 on some upgrades to the outfitting and make it the most comfortable kayak for you.
With all this in mind, which companies do we recommend the most? Necky and Prijon, and in some cases Hurricane. Not that the other companies are not producing good kayaks, it is that we believe that These companies are producing the best quality kayaks with the best designs at competitive prices. Come in and see what we are talking about.
Some of these comments are my opinions, all coming from 21 years of paddling and 11 years of helping customers in choosing there boats, and hearing feedback from their choice and their opinions. I am an American Canoe Association certified instructor, so I have seen many people paddle for the first time and have seen them progress. If you do not agree with anything on this writing, please e-mail me.