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    Blog — Whitewater

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: Length, Width, and Hull Shape

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: Length, Width, and Hull Shape

    So you've decided you want a recreational kayak--a well-rounded, approachable boat for laid back days on flat water (if you haven't decided that yet, take a look at our first three Kayak Buying Guide installments here). The first factor you’ll want to look at when choosing a recreational flat water kayak is how it will move through the water. Some boats are faster or slower, more stable or less stable, easier or harder to control. These differences come down to hull shape—the length, width, and shape of the boat’s shell. Hull shape is a topic that could (and probably will eventually) get its own blog installment, but here's a quick and dirty set of four basic points to look for.

    1. Length: As a rule of thumb, longer boats are faster and shorter boats are slower. This happens because longer kayaks tend to have better tracking ability, or the ability to go in a straight line from point A to point B instead of sweeping from side to side with every paddle stroke. Most recreational kayaks fall in the 9-12 foot range. 9 or 10 foot kayaks will want to turn from side to side more easily and will consequently be slower. However, they are easier to maneuver, and you’ll be able to change direction quickly when you need to. They’re also lighter, easier to transport on land, and take less storage space. 12 foot boats are the most popular length for adults, as they hit a good balance of speed and turning ability.
    2. Width: Wider boats are usually more stable, while narrower boats can feel more tippy. The wider the kayak, the more work you will have to do to move it through the water, and the harder it will be to plant consistent, vertical paddle strokes that move the boat straight forward instead of side to side. Wider decks will offer more initial stability and room for more substantial seats. Narrow boats, on the other hand, are less stable, but usually slice through the water quite efficiently and offer the paddler a high degree of control.
    3. Hull shape: Modern hull shapes are harder to pin down than they used to be, but in a nutshell, you’ll want to look for a rounded, flat, or combination hull in most recreational kayaks. There are four main categories of hull shapes, and we’ve provided example photos of each one below for reference. The main takeaway here is that V-shaped hulls are fast and tippy, W-shaped hulls are stable and slow, and rounded or flat (planing) hulls usually find a good balance of the two for recreational kayakers. Very few kayaks have hulls that are strictly one type anymore—rather, you’ll find your best options combine two or three elements into an easy all-around shape that offers versatile performance. For example, it's very hard to find a pure V hull anymore, so the example we've provided here is is a V/round hybrid. 
    4. Rocker: The last element of hull design to pay attention to is rocker, or how much the ends of the boat swoop up from the middle. A large amount of rocker helps a boat to get up and over chop, waves, and small rapids, and makes the kayak much more maneuverable when you need to change direction fast. Little or no rocker helps a boat track fast and straight, makes turning harder, and performs best in completely flat water. Most recreational kayaks have either no rocker or a small amount that is suitable for moving current and easy rapids up to class I or II.

    With a good idea of what hull varieties to look for, we usually turn to comfort next. In the next installment of the Kayak Buying Guide, we’ll dive into seats and outfitting and how to find the right balance for you.

    Kayak Buying Guide: Sit Inside vs Sit on Top

    Kayak Buying Guide: Sit Inside vs Sit on Top

    If you've never even heard of a sit on top kayak, you're not alone. These kayaks are relatively new to the market, but they've taken it by storm over the past decade. They were originally conceived for ocean paddlers--in fact, they were once simply known as "ocean kayaks". Despite their seafaring roots, they have become incredibly popular with recreational and fishing paddlers, and in this installment of the Kayak Buying Guide, we'll walk you through the differences between sit on top designs and traditional sit inside kayaks, so you can choose which might be right for you. 

    Sit inside kayaks are the classic and iconic image of a kayak. A web search for kayak clip art or kayak stock photos brings up thousands of sit inside kayaks, and they seem to be the first thing most folks think of. Sit inside kayaks have several advantages over their top-deck counterparts:

    • Control and stability: Since the paddler sits very low to the water line in a sit inside kayak, the center of gravity is more optimized for greater control, maneuverability, and stability. The same level of stability in a sit on top kayak would require either a wider boat or a more stabilized hull shape (we will cover hull shapes in another installment of this guide). 
    • Light weight: Since sit inside boats are usually slimmer and don't require the material to make an entire top deck, a sit inside kayak will usually weigh about 10-15 pounds less than a similar sit on top model. If weight is your chief concern, look to a sit inside boat first.
    • Warm and dry: A paddler in a sit inside kayak will be less exposed to splash, drip, and wind, resulting in a dryer and warmer ride.
    • Accommodation for spray skirts: For offshore paddlers or whitewater boaters, sit inside models often allow for the addition of a spray skirt, which is a neoprene or nylon garment that is worn around the paddler's waist and extends over the entire rim of the kayak's cockpit. Skirts seal a kayak against water and allow more advanced paddlers to roll the kayak upright after a flip.

    While sit inside boats have many attributes, paddlers should think about a few considerations before choosing this style.

    • Comfort: Sit inside models can feel less comfortable to some paddlers, as they don't allow for seats that are quite as large and supportive as those on some sit on top kayaks. As the seats are lower to the water, those with knee injuries or limited mobility may find them more difficult to get in and out of. Sit inside boats also feel confining to some folks because you often cannot see your legs or where you're putting your feet. Many modern sit inside kayaks offer large, open cockpit designs that help mitigate the confinement factor that some individuals experience. 
    • Manual bailing: In the event that you flip your sit inside kayak, it will fill with water that must be removed before you can re-enter. Most folks who are close to shore just pull the kayak to the beach and drain it there, but some also carry bilge pumps or sponges. Remember that water is heavy, and it may take more than one person to drain a large sit inside boat.

    Sit on top kayaks can feel more convenient and, in some conditions, safer than their more classic sit inside counterparts. A sit on top model offers the following advantages:

    • Self bailing: Sit on top kayaks can be safer for offshore paddlers because of the inclusion of scupper holes. These holes go all the way from the top deck to the bottom of the hull and drain water off the deck. If you flip your sit on top boat, the deck will automatically drain water once you flip it back over.
    • Sun and splash: Many individuals prefer sit on tops simply because they are more open to the sun. If your main goal is to get out on nice summer days and enjoy the spray and the sun, sit on tops should be among your first choices.
    • Nicer seats: Although some sit on tops have very basic seats, many offer increasingly supportive and cushioned options. Because they don't have to fit inside a small cockpit, seats on sit on top boats tend to sit up higher and offer a lot of adjustment and back support. These are especially helpful to those who find it difficult to lower themselves into and stand up out of sit inside boats.
    • Easy exit: Sit inside kayaks are actually very easy to exit in the event of a flip, but some people still feel uncomfortable with idea that they might get stuck inside a boat. While this is actually very rare, and has more to do with improper gear and safety precautions, some folks just feel more comfortable in a sit on top kayak. Greater range of motion and the ability to see one's legs can feel very freeing to anyone who experiences a little claustrophobia in traditional kayaks. 

    It's easy to see what's made sit on top kayaks so popular, but consider these potential drawbacks before making your choice:

    • Heavy: Since sit on tops need to be wider to achieve stability and also require more material to cover the top deck, they generally weigh a little more than an equivalent sit inside model. On the other hand, they will require less strength when recovering from a flip, because you won't need to deal with the weight of water.
    • Less control: As the paddler sits higher, a loss of control is inevitable. Some paddlers find the extra effort to control direction and gain speed to be a major disadvantage in sit on top kayaks. 
    • Exposed to the elements: Sit on tops offer no protection from wind, drip, or waves. If you plan to paddle in shoulder season or chilly water, consider how you will stay dry.
    We hope this quick guide answers some of the most frequent question we get about the differences between these two types of kayaks, and as always, if you have any questions just give us a call!

    Kayak Buying Guide: Materials

    Kayak Buying Guide: Materials

    Once you’ve got some idea of what type of kayak to look for, the next big decision is what it should be made from. Every class of kayak that we've covered is offered in a variety of materials, each with a unique set of strengths and drawbacks. Here we’ll look at some of the most common materials you’ll find on the market.

    Fiberglass: Fiberglass isn’t as common today as it was in the late 20th century. When kayaks and canoes were first mass produced in the 70s, fiberglass was one of the only efficient ways to make them. It is lightweight and creates a very stiff-hulled boat, which is quite efficient in flat water. One of the biggest reasons for the wane of fiberglass’s popularity is that it isn’t the strongest material out there anymore when it comes to impact and abrasion. When you find fiberglass canoes and kayaks today, they are usually combined with a gel coat or some other material technology to make a more durable craft than pure fiberglass alone. You’ll still find a lot of older pure fiberglass boats on the used market.

    Carbon Fiber: Most of what we’ve said about fiberglass is also true for carbon fiber, except that carbon is more expensive and more brittle than fiberglass. It is the lightest material on the market, but usually is only found in specialty craft.

    Wood: It’s been a long time since Appomattox River Company has carried a wooden canoe or kayak. Wooden craft are mostly produced by specialty shops and craftsmen today because they are some of the most expensive boats on the market. Wood kayaks are usually made to order, or you can buy plans and kits and make one in your garage if you’re handy and have a few years to spare. Few boaters would argue that wood isn't still the most classically beautiful material in the industry, but it does require exhaustive maintenance and a large up-front cost, which is why it’s not easy to come by anymore.

    Inflatables: Ideal for those with limited storage space or transport options, inflatable kayaks conveniently pack down when they’re not on the water. Since their lines tend to be less precise, they are usually a little slower and less maneuverable than rigid kayaks, but they do offer an improved ride and stability in chop or whitewater due to their natural buoyancy and high volume. We don’t carry many inflatable kayaks at Appomattox River Company, but if you do think they are right for you, look for a model constructed with drop-stitch technology and reinforced rails. These will be safer and more durable than those constructed without these features.

    Thermoformed Plastic: Thermoformed plastics are used to manufacture a very wide array of kayaks. These can be some of the cheapest or the most expensive plastic boats on the market. At its simplest, the thermoforming process involves taking a sheet of thin plastic, heating it, and vacuuming it to a mold until it sets in its new shape. This process can’t make a whole boat at once, so the top and bottom of the kayak are molded separately and then joined together. This creates a seam right at the waterline, which can be one of the most vulnerable spots on the boat if not done well.

    The most budget-friendly kayaks you’ll find are made using this process. They’re often thinner, less durable, and sealed with a simple glue that is prone to leaks. These boats are great for getting a beginner out on flat water, but should never be used offshore or in swift or white water.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find some of the highest-quality lightweight plastic boats made in a similar manner, using more advanced plastics and a meticulous manufacturing process. They can last a long time if properly cared for but are similar to fiberglass in their resistance to abrasion and impact. Some of these are made for offshore paddling, but you won’t find whitewater kayaks made from thermoformed materials.  

    Rotomolded Plastic: Rotomolded boats are made by pouring plastic powder into a mold. The mold is then turned while it’s heated and pops out a whole kayak in one piece when it’s done. This creates a boat with no center seam to go bad, and can also make thicker plastic than a thermoformed sheet mold. Rotomolded boats are sturdy and durable and provide an excellent balance of price and performance. Rotomolded plastic is especially prevalent in whitewater boats, because it is extremely resistant to impact and abrasion, which makes it ideal for use in rapids. Because it is thicker, rotomolded plastic tends to be one of the heaviest choices on the market. The lightest rotomolded boat we carry weighs about 35 pounds, but they can go all the way up to 150 pounds. Rotational molding is used for all shapes, sizes, and types of kayaks, so there is a huge variety to choose from in this material. Rotomolded boats are extremely easy to care for, and last a long time when properly looked after. We sell more rotomolded kayaks at Appomattox River Company than all other materials combined.

    Kayak Buying Guide: Basic Kayak Types

    Kayak Buying Guide: Basic Kayak Types

    When we started selling canoes in the 70s, there was no such thing as online ordering. Customers came to Farmville and walked through our warehouse, and our staff found and loaded the perfect boat. Over forty years later, we still love to do that, but with a global pandemic, a nationwide customer base, and an increasing amount of online orders, we realized we need to put some of that information in an easy place, where you can start narrowing down your choices from the comfort of your living room.

    We're starting a blog series called the Kayak Buying Guide. In these posts, we'll take apart the process of choosing a kayak and break it down into small, individual topics to help you find your perfect boat. With that said, the people who help you in-store are the same folks who answer our phones (yay, small business!), so if you still have any questions or need recommendations, don't hesitate to give us a call and one of our experts will be happy to help! 

    In this first post of the Kayak Buying Guide, we go through the first and most basic questions: why are there so many different kinds of kayaks, and what's the difference? Which one will be best for me?

    Well, there are so many kinds of kayaks because there are so many kinds of water and so many kinds of paddlers. Kayaks are usually separated into categories based on what kind of water or activity they are best for. 

    Recreational Kayaks: These are the most popular kayaks on the market because they're versatile, easy to use, and usually good for beginners. Recreational, or rec kayaks, are well suited to calm, flat water, like lakes, ponds, and slow rivers. They vary widely in design and features, but they're usually somewhere between nine and twelve feet long, and in the range of 25-35 inches wide, although some are a little narrower. Most rec kayaks weigh between 35 and 70 lbs, so they can be very easy to carry and transport.

    They can be sit-inside or sit-on-top style kayaks, and some can can accommodate a spray skirt, which we'll talk about more in the context of whitewater and touring kayaks. Recreational boats are not suitable for whitewater or offshore use. Rec kayaks are excellent for a relaxing day on the water, but don't usually offer exceptional speed, stability, or maneuverability. They're the happy medium that blends comfort and ease of use.

    Whitewater Kayaks: Whitewater kayaks are usually short, sturdily-built, and very maneuverable. They're designed to be paddled down rapids ranging from class I to class V, so they're made of thick, heavy plastic and have safety features like positive floatation, bulkheads, and customizable outfitting (we'll talk about all those terms in another guide). You'll usually find a whitewater kayak somewhere between seven and nine feet, although some twelve foot models are popular for racing. Almost all are sit-inside, but a few sit-on-top models are made for class I-II rapids.

    Whitewater kayaks have snug cockpits (the part of the boat where you sit) and low backbands so that they can be fitted with neoprene spray skirts. Skirts keep water out of a boat, and enable the paddler to roll the boat after a flip, although this is a skill that takes instruction and practice. Whitewater boats are also outfitted with hip pads, thigh braces, and adjustable bulkheads to give the paddler the most possible contact and control over the hull. They are meant to be nimble so that the paddler can pick between rocks easily, but that means that they are also very slow on flat water and don't hold a straight line well. Even though they're so small, they tend to be heavier than some rec boats because they are thicker and have heavier-duty outfitting. 

    Touring Kayaks: Touring kayaks are used for multi-day open-water trips. They're almost always sit-inside and usually somewhere between fourteen and seventeen feet, and the longer the kayak, the longer trips it's capable of. These kayaks are very speedy and efficient, but are designed more for performance and safety than for comfort. Like whitewater boats, a touring kayak usually has a small cockpit, a low backband, and thigh braces, so the paddler can control, steer, and roll the kayak. These boats are also meant to be outfitted with spray skirts. Some touring kayaks feature drop-down rudders or skegs, two varieties of steering mechanisms that make kayaks more efficient. A touring kayak usually has a deep V-shaped hull, which often rounds out on the edges, and sharp bow and stern, and you often find a keel (raised ridge) running from front to back, or at least at the ends. 

    Fishing Kayaks: Fishing kayaks are exactly what they sound like. They usually offer very supportive frame seats and other comfort features for folks who will be out on the water for a while. Most fishing kayaks are sit-on-top styles between twelve and fourteen feet long, and are designed to be very stable. In fact, you can stand up in most modern fishing kayaks. They are usually wider than recreational kayaks, and have a more pontoonized, or W-shaped hull design. In addition to comfort and stability, fishing kayaks usually feature high weight limits, lots of storage space, and fishing-specific accessories like rod holders, gear tracks, tackle box pockets, and transducer mounts. While they are incredibly stable, more stability usually means a slower and heavier kayak. Some of these fishing kayaks can weigh over 100 pounds. They are the best options for people who will spend a lot of time sitting and waiting for a fish and need the features and accessories to build the ultimate angling rig. 

    Crossover Kayaks: Crossovers are more of a miscellaneous category, because there are just so many different types. Some crossovers offer good performance in both flatwater and moderate whitewater, and some are kayak/canoe or kayak/paddleboard hybrids. Manufacturers are coming up with a lot of great hybrid designs these days, so if you can't decide what you'll be doing, or you live by a river that's 70% flat but with a few class II rapids, look to a crossover kayak to find the right mix of features.

    ARC Holiday Gift Guide: Whitewater Boaters

    ARC Holiday Gift Guide: Whitewater Boaters

    Whether the whitewater paddler in your life is a beginner or a pro river guide, we’ve got the perfect gift ideas. We have suggestions here for whitewater boaters of any type, but as always, feel free to shoot us an email or call us at 800-442-4837 for recommendations, sizing info, or any gear questions you might have. Happy holidays from the ARC crew!

    Dagger Phantom : $1259

    For those who like to go fast, the Dagger Phantom perfectly blends speed and volume. A well-rounded contribution to the fast creeker category, the Phantom performs beautifully on big, pushy water and maneuvers deftly on edge. The Phantom comes in one universal size, so it’s an uncomplicated gift for someone getting into racing.

     

    Pyranha Machno: $1429

    Perfect for beginners who want a boat that grows with them, the redesigned Machno is a dream to paddle from class II to class V. With softer edges and enough volume to reassure beginners, the Machno will easily become a designated big water boat once you’ve graduated to something a little more playful. Plenty of rocker in the bow and stern and predictable chines make this boat a creek conqueror that will earn its place in any paddler’s quiver for years to come. Machno? Mach-yes.

     

    Werner Powerhouse: Starting at $260

    For maximum power and optimized swing weight and durability, the Werner Powerhouse is the final word in river running paddles. Ideal for stronger paddlers who want the most control out of every stroke, the Powerhouse offers 720 sq cm of surface area but weighs only 34 oz. For those who need extra wrist support, the Powerhouse also comes in an ergonomic bent shaft version.

    And, for the giftee who already has everything, consider a 4-piece breakdown model ideal for backup. There are few things worse than finding oneself up a creek without a paddle, so set them up with a solid plan B.

     

    Kokatat HustleR: $229

    For the river guide in your life, a new rescue vest can never go amiss. Constructed from 500 denier Cordura® nylon and PVC-free Gaia® foam, the HustleR blends bomber durability with supreme comfort. Curved panels form gently to the torso, and the foam is seriously soft. Complete with a quick-release belt for towing, the HustleR is one of the most comfortable yet functional vests we’ve tried on.

     

    Kokatat’s Icon: Starting at $1270

    Dry wear isn’t just about comfort- it’s also one of the most important safety tools in any whitewater paddler’s kit. Cold water kills, and for those looking to extend their season with high quality dry wear, you can’t go wrong with Kokatat’s Icon series. A comfortable back entry and breathable Gore-Tex® construction make this suit lightweight and easy to move in. The women’s version features a full drop seat relief zipper for when nature calls.

    Shred Ready Zeta: $169.95

    A perfect first helmet, the Shred Ready Zeta will complete any new paddler’s safety kit. The Zeta features graded sizing, and the fit is tailored with the easy-to-use BOA retention system, which only requires one hand to adjust. The wide brim is perfect for west-east flowing rivers where the sun is often in your eyes. Comfy fit pads and cool two-tone colors round out this helmet for any boater who needs durable protection.

     

    Thermo Hood: $25.00

    The .5 mm neoprene Thermo Hood from Immersion Research keeps your noggin toasty in chilly water. It’s low-profile enough to fit under a helmet, covers the ears, and stays put with the built-in chin strap. What more could your year-round boater friends ask for?

     

     

    Fox 40 Whistle: $6.95

    The Fox 40 Whistle is the stocking stuffer that might just save a life. Super loud and designed to work in the harshest of conditions, the Fox 40 is the gold standard of boating whistles.

    Note: colors are assorted and whistles come with a lanyard.

     

    Rumpl Nanoloft Puffy: $179

    Ideal for everything from river trips to road trips, the Rumpl Nanoloft Puffy is the perfect partner for wanderlust-inspired journeys. Each Rumpl Puffy is constructed from recycled materials, treated with a DWR coating, and equipped with a Cape Clip and corner loops for ultimate versatility. It’s equally at home snuggled on the couch or rigged up as a hammock under quilt. The Nanoloft is Rumpl’s warmest synthetic blanket, which means it's the perfect sub for a sleeping bag in mild weather, and it rolls up small enough to fit in a whitewater boat’s stern for overnight trips.

     

    Rumpl Beer Blanket: $8.00

    As the puffy blanket's (much) littler cousin, the Rumpl Beer Blanket keeps hands warm and drinks cold, and stuffs into its own tiny little pocket when you’re done. It’s the ultimate stocking stuffer for any beer drinking paddler, and packs down so small and light that it’ll earn a place in even the most compact camp kitchen set.

     

    NRS Co-Pilot Knife: $49.95

    A river knife can save a life. Ropes, branches, and tangled clothing all represent significant entrapment hazards, and the best way to prepare for such a situation is with a high quality, easily accessible river knife. The NRS Co-Pilot Knife is the perfect size to stay out of the way, and features a safety tip, oxygen tank valve wrench, and bottle opener for the takeout. It locks into any standard PFD lash tab, so it’s there when you need it, even if you never expect to.