Expert’s Guide to Buying/Building a Kayak

Expert’s already know what they want in a kayak and only read stuff like this to see if it agrees with their preconceived notions so as to stroke their ego. If you truly are an expert, you probably want to own several sea kayaks not just one general purpose kayak. You'll have a long kayak for expeditions and fast day trips. A short maneuverable kayak for rough water play (e.g. tide races and high wind). A roto-molded play kayak for rock gardening and surfing. And maybe a Greenland kayak for doing all the Greenland style rolls. And maybe a surfski for racing and a surf kayak just for surfing. Focus your kayak testing to the short list of boats that fit you reasonably well right out of the box and are of the type you want in terms of performance (speed vs. maneuverability, etc.). Get them out in the conditions you want them for, then trust your instincts about which kayak works better for you (don't just buy what all your friends own, they're not you). You can add foam etc. to modify a kayak to fit you better, but it is best to start with a kayak that is in the right ballpark for your size - then customize its fit for more performance. The more you care about your kayak's performance, the more critical it is that the kayak is the right size for you to start with. You can easily pad the knee and braces to tighten their fit, but you can't lower a rear deck etc. If you find a kayak that feels better or handles better than what you've got, buy it now -- don't wait another season. You never hear experts saying, "I wish I'd waited longer before buying this kayak." If next year you find an even better kayak, you can sell your old one and upgrade again. High end kayaks keep their resale value well, and there's always a market for good used kayaks. If kayaking is your passion, then life is too short to wait to upgrade your gear. At the expert level, the gear really does make a difference, and the longer you put off getting the best kayak for you and your needs, the longer you will be stuck on your current plateau.

All kayaks have flaws, but some flaws are easy to fix while others can't be fixed at all. To an expert, there's no kayak that is so good it can't be improved upon. So even with the best boats available, experts often replace the foot braces with ones they prefer, unbolt or saw-out the seat and replace it with their own hand-carved custom foam seats, replace the stock back-rests with an after market back band that works better for them, build up more extreme knee and hip braces, change the deck rigging lay-out, add fiberglass reinforcements to the decks and keels, etc. before using a kayak on a serious expedition. To an expert, these improvements are little things -- so don't base your kayak purchase decision on things you can fix or have fixed (like foot braces which can easily be replaced with whatever model you prefer) -- go with the best fitting and best handling kayak that meets your needs then customize it. There's only a couple problems with kayaks that can't be fixed. You can't make a heavy kayak lighter or an excessively stiff tracking kayak more maneuverable. Lastly, remember there is no one boat that will do everything well. So if you want a kayak that is fast, maneuverable, with a low rear deck for rolling, and yet has enough volume to hull food for that 2 year self-supported expedition you dream about -- you need more than one kayak. It's okay to own multiple kayaks (as long as each one fills a different niche).

For expert paddlers it should go without saying, but our experience tells us otherwise -- Kayaks come in different sizes to fit different sized people. One of the most important things about choosing a kayak is finding one that fits your body well. Don't buy a "high volume" kayak because you plan to go on a long expedition. Buy a kayak that is sized to fit your body and then learn to pack your gear so it fits in the kayak. If you have trouble fitting your camping gear into a kayak that is right for you, you may need to upgrade your camping gear. Camping gear has become a lot smaller, lighter, and more comfortable in recent years.

The most common mistake experts make in buying a kayak is they wait too long to do it. For any given size paddler and genre of kayak (i.e. fast touring sea kayak or maneuverable ocean play sea kayak), there is -- at most -- a half-dozen kayaks worth testing. Don't waste your time demo'ing kayaks that don't fit your body or your needs. Once you've tested the few kayaks that might be right for you, if you find one that feels or performs even just a little bit better than what you have now, buy it. If you are an expert, then you are passionate about kayaking. If kayaking is your passion, then don't waste another day of paddling in a kayak that isn't the best one for you.

There's no better place to buy your next kayak than the Kayak Academy. We don't just sell boats, we inspect them, tune them, give them our free dealer prep and put a little bit of the Kayak Academy into every kayak we sell. So a kayak from the Kayak Academy is the best of the best. We carry the best retractable skeg type sea kayaks from several leading manufacturers including Current Designs, P&H Sea Kayaks, Tiderace, Valley. Call us to come pick up your new kayak. (206) 527-1825 or e-mail

Remember it's not what you buy that matters, it's where you buy your kayak. A good specialty kayak shop that cares about it's customers and will want you to buy a kayak that is the right size and type for your needs. And even the same model kayak won't be the same if you buy it from a store that is all about the bottom line.

Need more information, back up a level or two in the experience levels in this article.

We do not offer kayak demos from Nov. 1st to Feb. 28th.

Kayak prices and specifications are on our Kayak Store web page.