How Kayaking Works

Types of Kayaks

2008 HowStuffWorks

There are several main styles of kayaking, and each one has a craft unique to its purpose. In order to understand more about the boats, give the following terms a look:

  • Stern - rear of the boat
  • Bow - front of the boat
  • Hull - kayak's bottom
  • Chine - the curve between the sides and the bottom
  • Rocker - amount of curve from bow to stern that sits above the waterline
  • Flare - angle of the sides, outward from the hull

Sea kayaks or touring kayaks are long, stable and have plenty of interior and exterior cargo room. They have flat hulls, hard chines and are wide, giving them great flare. This makes them less maneuverable, but fast on a straight line. They also glide further per stroke, so they're more efficient than their short, sporty cousins. They can come in one-seat or two-seat varieties and many have rudders to help steer them. You can sit inside the hull of a sea kayak, or go with one that allows you to sit on top -- more like a canoe.


White-water kayaks are shorter and a little less stable but are far more maneuverable. They're also more durable and built to handle the beating that white-water rapids offer. Typically about 8 to 9 feet long with rounded hulls, they have softer chines and minimal flare. This helps them in performing tricks and rolls because less of the kayak makes contact with the water. They also have a great deal of rocker, once again limiting the contact with the water. All white-water kayaks are "sit inside" vessels, and they never have rudders.

Surf kayaks aren't too different from the white-water models. One major difference is the rocker. Surf kayaks have rocker only on the bow side -- the stern is flat, like a surfboard. Many surf kayaks also have fins like a surfboard.

Steven Meredith in action during the men's Surf Ski race at the National Surf League competition held at Surfers Paradise Beach on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Steven Meredith in action during the men's Surf Ski race at the National Surf League competition held at Surfers Paradise Beach on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Darren England/Getty Images

Kayaks are made from many different materials. Surf kayaks are also almost exclusively fiberglass -- white-water models are often made from plastic. This is because traditional plastics don't offer the light weight and stiffness of fiberglass. Sea kayaks are typically plastic as well, but can also be crafted from wood. Some newer white-water kayaks are made from durable and lightweight Kevlar. The material used has the most impact on the price of the kayak. Plastic is the least expensive, but also the heaviest. Fiberglass is lighter than plastic, but costs about 20 percent more. Kevlar is the lightest and strongest of them all, but costs about twice as much as fiberglass. Weight is something to consider, because unfortunately, you'll spend more time out of the water than in it. This means lugging it around by hand and getting it on and off your car's roof rack.

You can also go with a traditional, soft-sided folding kayak or an inflatable model. Inflatable kayaks are lightweight and more durable than you'd think. Here's a general pricing guideline:

  • Plastic - $250-$1500
  • Fiberglass - $1,000-$3,000
  • Kevlar - up to $4,000
  • Inflatable - $250-$2,000
  • Folding - $1,300-$4,500

[source: kayakonline]

In the next section, we'll look at some other kayaking gear you'll need.