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Kayaking is an intimate way to run a river, float a lake, or fish a cove. Your muscles power the kayak and you’ll only go as fast as you are strong. This is why I’m partial to kayaks and most human-powered machines: There is no “conquering” of nature or gravity. A couple of years ago I was invited on my first kayak duck hunt, and now I can’t pass someone kayaking without an envious glance. Hopefully, you will one day find the same rush of whitewater, the thrill of the fish hooked, and the calm of the meandering river float.
There are many different types of kayaks, including sea, touring, whitewater, sit on top, and inflatable. Each of these have subcategories and different capabilities that are as endless as every other sport — and you can use them for different purposes. I like to fish from a sit-on-top kayak, do some recreational floating, and occasionally hit some whitewater in an inflatable kayak.
I was introduced to the recreational kayak by the Admiral (he owns a few of them) for kayak duck hunting. In general, these are about 10 feet long and seat one person. The leg room is pretty good and maneuverability and stability are good. You sit slightly below water line and paddling is easy. These are very versatile kayaks. We have used them for island camping trips, the duck runs, playing around in lakes, and crabbing. If you are looking for a kayak that you can fish from, hunt from, camp from, and just plain paddle around recreational kayaks are a good buy. Overall, this is an excellent single rider choice.
I opted to buy the sit-on-top style of kayak, a Lifetime Sport Fisher model — read my full review here. These kayaks raise you up out of the water and have a different design to help stabilize that extra height. They are also more comfortable for fishing. The sit-on-top allows for two adults, or in my case, an adult and two kids. You can mount a trolling motor to the back for some lake fishing. It comes with three fishing pole holders but when we tested it only two people could fish comfortably. Perhaps more importantly, it comes with three cup holders and a sail mount if you want to try a little sailing. Since you are a little higher out of the water, paddling is a bit more difficult but barely noticeable. The turning is very easy — I found that the person in the back has to pay more attention to what the front paddler is doing because they can turn the craft with a single strong stroke. Sit-on-top kayaks are also the easiest to launch and land. Overall, this is an excellent and more comfortable option for families that plan to use the kayak for different activities.
Inflatable kayaks have some excellent benefits. They are easy to store, they are light, most inflate/deflate quickly, and they glide across the water. In general they are a little less expensive as well. Because they are more flexible, they also seem a bit less stable, but the high sides make up for it if you have kids aboard. While you can fish from an inflatable kayak, it can be harder because you’re seated lower relative to the water. If you plan to fish, taking along a seat cushion can give you a little extra height for better casting and visibility. Inflatables are an excellent option if you want most of the benefits of a hard-shell kayak but have limited storage or vehicle space.
When you get ready to buy a kayak, answer a few key questions first:
How are you going to use the kayak?
Who is going to use the kayak, and how big are they relative to the size of kayak you’re considering?
How strong are you? Can you lift a 10-foot kayak to a car roof rack by yourself?
It’s hard to go wrong with a kayak for recreational use because, even though there are variations, they all do similar things on the water. (For white water kayaking you need to take a class or find an experienced mentor first, and the same goes for sea kayaking.)
If you’re willing to miss out on the spring and summer season, you can often find great deals on used kayaks on Craigslist or at yard sales, but if you want to make the most out of this summer, it’s probably worth the investment. Personally, I enjoy kayaking more than boating because I like the physical and intimate nature of kayaks: You’re right next to the water, and with a dip of your paddle, you can explore reeds, banks, logs, lily pads — and all the critters in between.