From open ocean crossings to a day on the lake with the kids, kayak manufacturers have come up with a boat for every waterway, making it easier than ever to paddle for a weekend or weeks-on-end. Chances are someone has built the model you need, in a range of sizes, complete with a variety of customized outfitting and accessories to make it your own.
IN THE NEWS
The "transitional touring" market is exploding. These 13-to-16-foot boats, like Perception's Essence or Pelican International's Strait 140, sport sleek sea-kayak lines on more stable, more maneuverable craft for those looking to step up their game, or the length of their trips.
Thinking of buying a boat in 2008? Get a copy of Canoe & Kayak’s 2008 Buyer’s Guide. There are over 1000 kayaks listed in it. Available on newstands or your favorite paddling store.
Kayak fishing continues to grow, and boat technology has followed suit. Models like Emotion's Grand Slam are more than just a sit-on-top with a few built-in rod holders. V-shaped hulls and increased length cut down on the "pushing water" that can scare away skittish fish.
More companies are turning out boats made from plastic scraps off the factory floor. Johnson Outdoors, parent company of Necky, Ocean Kayak, and Old Town, will use 100 percent recycled plastic in six new models in 2008--and contribute 1 percent of gross sales from these boats to Waterkeeper Alliance.
Plush, adjustable outfitting is making it a pleasure to spend all day in your kayak. Legacy Paddlesports leads the way with its First-Class Seating available in most Heritage and Native rec boats--these removable high-back seats moonlight as camp chairs.
BEFORE YOU BUY
Decide where you will use your newly purchased craft--whether on the bayou or the open Pacific--then chat with paddle shop employees or other local paddlers. They can steer you to what works best, or, better yet, rent or lend you a few models to try.
Use these guidelines to narrow down the decision: longer boat means greater speed, while wider in the middle usually translates into more stability. More rocker, or how far the boat is turned up at the ends, means better turning power while a flat hull (with a longer "waterline") will track better in a straight line.
Back to the Future
Feet cramping in the end of his playboat after being blown off yet another Nolichucky River wave, Liquidlogic co-founder Woody Callaway decided it was time kayaking returned to its core. The fast, stable, easy-to-roll Remix hull was born--with cushy, easily adjusted outfitting to match. Available in four sizes, one of which is a narrow, 47-gallon kids' creeker, the boat is designed to get beginners into the game, but don't be fooled--on the surging, catch-on-the-fly waves in Utah's Cataract Canyon, Callaway and the Remix showed a few serious playboaters that in some situations, old school really does rule.
The Essence of Paddling
What is it? That's easy--getting out there. Doing it. Just paddling. Perception makes it easy with the Essence, a stable, predictable and straight-tracking kayak. Available in 15.5- and 16-foot versions, the Essence straddles the sweet spot between speed and maneuverability. A drop-down skeg comes standard, but the Essence also can be fitted with a rudder; it's available in thermoformed Airalite or tough rotomolded plastic.
Billing them as "advanced kayaks for beginners," Necky gave the 13-foot and 14-foot Manitou Selects some of the performance and handling characteristics found in their popular sea kayaks, while adding width for comfort and stability. Starting with the same hull shape as its popular Manitou kayaks, Necky molds the Select Series boats with stiffer, stronger Linear Select plastic and then piles on such features as Comfort Fit thigh braces, reflective deck rigging and, in the 14-footer, a retractable skeg.
People these days are working longer hours and spending less time with their spouses. The solution? According to Delta Kayaks, more couples are buying tandem kayaks as a remedy, and turning the old "divorce boat" maxim on its head. The trend inspired Delta to make the lightest expedition-worthy double on the market. Thanks to thermoforming, Delta's 20-T weighs just 82 pounds, and the company's concept of increased volume in bow and stern means the 20-T has the dry storage of a much longer boat, while retaining its sleek (and speedy) 26.5-inch waistline.
Point 65NSea Cruiser
$1,399 with skeg $1,499 with rudder
Sweden's Point 65N Sea Cruiser can do it all, without making you pay for it all. The rotomolded 17-footer is fast enough to take on any seas, while the slight V-shape hull means that it's playful and suitable for all ability levels. Four dry hatches makes organizing a snap, and the three-layer plastic construction renders the boat tough enough--and inexpensive enough--to outfit the whole family.
Built for Comfort
One thing sets Native Watercraft's Marvel 12 apart from other sit-inside recreation-style kayaks: the outfitting. Native's proprietary high-backed First-class Seating chair is so luxurious, you'll feel compelled to ask fellow boaters for the Grey Poupon. (Yes, the seat slides out of the boat for easy car-topping and, even better, luxurious lunches ashore.) The footbraces are comfortable and easy to adjust, while the plush thigh padding makes for a nice shoulder carry. All this on a versatile 12-foot, 4-inch, stable and maneuverable hull.
Wave SportFuse 35
Wave Sport's new boat combines two trends we're happy to endorse: boats built for all sizes of people, and whitewater kayaks designed for both river-running and play. Wave Sport melded these ideas in spring 2007 with the Fuse 35, a mini-river-runner with ample play potential for kids. This speedy yet loose, bouncy hull had grown-up paddlers salivating all season, so the company is sharing the fun with three sized-up options--at 48, 56, 64 gallons--for 2008.
No Snorkel Required
Ocean Kayak's new Peekaboo is a sit-on-top kayak with a large viewing window that allows paddlers to gawk at the undersea world while staying dry and breathing easily. The Peekaboo is also built for sharing, with a child's jump seat up front. At 11 feet, 10 inches long and a girthy 34 inches wide, the boat is designed for stability--if you wanted to get that close to the fish you'd have bought a dive mask and fins instead.
Fish Fear Me
EmotionGrand Slam Angler
To sneak up on fish, you can't push water, or have your hull slapping it in chop. Emotion Kayaks made their consummate sit-on-top fishing kayak, the Grand Slam Angler, sharper on the ends and gave it a V-hull so the boat wouldn't fall in either of those categories. At 14.5 feet, it's plenty fast so you can get where other fishermen aren't. And when you do, there's the dual-chambered stern tankwell to store everything from dive tanks to livewells.
A Leap in Fish-Savvy Design
Ocean KayakProwler Trident 15
$1,029/$1,259 with rudder www.oceankayak.com
Kayak anglers value a dry ride, solid paddling performance, high carrying
capacity, and a hull that's easy to rig. Ocean Kayak's new Prowler Trident
15 delivers all these and then some. The Trident's innovative Rod Pod
console hatch allows anglers to stash full-sized rods below deck--right
from the comfort of the seat. Up front, there's the Sonar Shield, a
protective covered recess for a fishfinder. Fish don't stand a chance.