These days the term
"recreational kayak" has become a catch-all phrase, much like "organic" or "SUV." Its definition has come to include transitional touring kayaks, sea kayaks, expedition kayaks, kayaks that look like canoes, kayaks that look like river rafts, even surf skis. Whew. For all practical purposes, "recreational" refers to boats a few feet shorter and a few inches wider than the average sea touring kayak—a maneuverable craft without the long water lines one looks for on say, expedition-length tours. And their model-designs range from hulls that wouldn't withstand the swells your infant creates in the bathtub to the most sea-worthy crafts. Whether a seasoned paddler or newbie to the sport, the following review can help you wade through the technical jargon, match a boat to your skill set and get out on the water. Read, shop and shove off.
Perception Carolina 14
• Length: 14′ • Width: 24.5”
• Weight: 55 lbs • Material: Plastic
• www.kayaker.com • Price: $1000
Comfortable and stable, the Carolina 14 offers something for paddlers of all abilities. Padded thigh braces attach to the cockpit lip, which looks and feels good, but could wear out over time. The Carolina 14 has a plastic seat with a plush padded cover reminiscent of grandpa's favorite armchair. Perception went a little, um, overboard with the ratcheting, though—less could be more in this bulky system.
A wide, slightly V-shaped hull and soft chines give the Carolina 14 good initial stability and a very solid feel. Though designed for a novice paddler, the boat responded smoothly to a range of expert strokes.
Bow and stern bulkhead hatches, rear and fore deck riggings and a perimeter deck line offer limitless load possibilities, making the Carolina 14 suitable for day trips or light multi-day travel. Weighing more than 50 pounds, transport is easiest by wheeling or double carrying.
UPSIDE: Luxurious outfitting.
DOWNSIDE: Heavy and unwieldy to carry and store.
• Length: 14′ • Width: 25”
• Weight: 36 lbs • Material: Kevlar
• www.sedakayak.com • Price: $2290
Light and nimble, the Vida proved to be the sophisticate of the test group. Its sleek, clean deck still has all the requisite outfitting for extended tours—bow and stern hatches, a deck line and bungee riggings.
Constructed from ultra-strong, lightweight Kevlar, it is maneuverable on the water and easy to carry unassisted.
It tracks well on its own but can also enlist the help of a retractable skeg. With good initial stability, the advanced paddler is not afraid to hang it all out there in a powerful
J-lean, especially while getting good purchase off the
sturdy thigh braces.
Seda knows any good paddler will want custom outfitting on their seat, and omitted it, but added a comfy backrest and padded thigh braces. The stable Vida was well-suited
for a beginner but would not disappoint even the saltiest sea kayaker.
UPSIDE: Super lightweight and durable with a classy appearance and snappy color choices.
DOWNSIDE: The jaw-dropping cost might price some paddlers into the fiberglass ($1790) or hybrid ($2040) market.
• Length: 12′ • Width: 47”
• Weight: 28 lbs • Material: Rotomolded Polyethylene
• www.riotkayaks.com • Price: $799
Created with the angling paddler in mind, Riot's Endeavor features a fishing pole holder on the rear deck. That's about the only feature testers would call innovative, however, but at under $800 who's complaining? With good initial stability and slalom-like turning capability, the Endeavor wins the best affordable, all-around recreational boat award. Aggressive chines add some secondary stability but don't hope to hold the two-foot-wide deck on edge for too long. A drop skeg keeps the Endeavor on course in choppy water.
The boat's plastic seat is foam-padded with a backrest. Two storage bulkheads and front deck rigging carry plenty of gear but still leave room for a foam block between the legs for added rigidity. One wonders why Riot drilled two drain holes, one in the stern and one behind the seat, but overall the Endeavor appeals to a variety of recreational paddlers.
UPSIDE: Great quality for the price.
DOWNSIDE: A bit heavy to carry solo.
• Length: 10’10” • Width: 25”
• Weight: 40 lbs • Material: Super Linear Polyethylene
• www.emotionkayaks.com • Price: $499
The attention to detail on the Bliss's clean, sharp lines translates into performance on the water. Stable and fast, Emotion's newest boat was quick and responsive to a variety of strokes but also has a feature other companies could take a cue from—handy mesh pockets that line the cockpit sides for safely stowing sunglasses, water bottles and other paddling necessities to keep them from rolling around your feet. The hatchless Bliss has foam blocks under the bow and stern decks for flotation. Semi-hard chines and distinct keel lines make the boat track so straight you expect to see mechanical Eskimos singing "It's A Small World" on the shoreline.
With a fully outfitted seat, backrest and foam lining at the feet, the Bliss lives up to its name in comfort—it's designed to sit with knees bent, rather than splayed under side thigh braces. True to rec kayak design, there's ample room in the cockpit with a large keyhole. The wide hull design makes it extremely stable, ensuring you'll get to enjoy that comfort all day long.
UPSIDE: Ergonomic as an Aeron chair.
DOWNSIDE: No storage for bigger items.
• Length: 10′ • Width: 28.5”
• Weight: 40 lbs • Material: Thermo-formed plastic
• www.seawardkayaks.com • Price: $1075
With its roomy cockpit and ease in paddling and carrying, Seaward's no-frills Intrigue is the perfect beginner vessel with one of the coolest features on the market—a clear plastic panel in the hull for a view of the deep below, ala tourist trap glass-bottom boat tours. The boat tracks well due to a keel-like bow and stern construction. The wide hull and hard chines provide stability and at just over 10 feet long, the Intrigue switches directions faster than Ms. PacMan.
Besides the nifty window, the inside of the Intrigue leaves a little outfitting to be desired. You'll want to break out the foam and duct tape, but it does include a padded, adjustable backrest. The wide seat area allows the paddler to sit with legs splayed and pop one cramped leg out if necessary.
A foam wedge adds rigidity to the bow but sucks up storage space. The Intrigue does have some fore deck rigging and a rear hatch big enough to store an extra layer and a picnic lunch. Seaward kept it simple by omitting a stern or rudder, unnecessary on a boat with its arrow-straight tracking ability.
UPSIDE: A great beginner boat.
DOWNSIDE: Lacks storage and outfitting for extended trips.