Four Thousand Years Old, Getting Better Every Day

The kayak may be one of the world’s oldest watercrafts, but the latest designs show a lot of fresh thinking.
Kayaking is one of today’s fastest growing recreational activities, but the kayak is not a new concept. The first kayaks were built over 4,000 years ago by some of the first inhabitants of North America — indigenous residents of the Arctic region. Made of animal skins and driftwood, these early boats were ideal transportation for a hunter who wished to navigate frigid waterways in search of dinner.
A wide variety of kayaks are available today, and thanks to many years of development and advanced design techniques, the venerable watercraft is now a superb way for one or more adventurers to explore the world’s waters.
Recreational Kayaking
While kayaks are still used for fishing or hunting, recreational paddling has become the most popular activity of kayak enthusiasts, and boats designed specifically for that role are widely available. Recreational kayaks provide go-anywhere freedom, and because they move almost silently, they are a comfortable fit in a wilderness environment.
According to Mark Palinsky of Old Town Kayaks, today’s recreational kayaks are engineered with plenty of stability and gear capacity. Made of tough space-age plastics and easy to control, recreational kayaks are well suited to leisurely exploration of lakes and rivers. Because modern kayaks are roomy and provide easy entry and exit, the sport imposes no boundaries. Kayaking is enjoyed by young and old alike, and unlike most recreational activities, men and women participate in equal numbers.
The most common type of recreational kayak is the 10- to 14-foot sit-in design, where a single occupant sits in a comfortable padded seat that is positioned below the kayak’s deck. According to Lisa Senecal of Pelican International, sit-in kayaks are more popular than sit-on-top designs, because the paddler is better protected from spray. That makes a difference when the water is uncomfortably cold.
Today’s better recreational kayaks are equipped with a number of hatches for stowing equipment,  bulkheads that can help keep compartments dry, handles for carrying the kayak, adjustable foot braces, thigh pads, and perhaps even a cup holder for your favorite beverage.
Variations on a Theme
While recreational kayaks are today’s best sellers, other types are available as well.
Whitewater kayaks are specialized watercraft, and you’ve probably seen them shooting the rapids on television.Short and maneuverable, they work best when pushed by a fast-moving stream. Because whitewater kayaking can be challenging, it requires training and preparation.
Touring kayaks are another configuration. Very long and less maneuverable than a recreational kayak, they are capable of higher speed on open water. Touring kayaks are usually about 16 feet or more in length and can rapidly cover a lot of water, so they’re a great choice for a long trip across a bay or large lake. Many are designed for two or three occupants and include plenty of gear-stowage room. Some touring kayaks have rudders to assist in control and an upturned bow to deflect waves. At rest, they are generally not as stable as recreational kayaks.
Kayaks designed for fishing are lightweight and extremely stable. They can include features like rod holders, mounts for electronic gear, a means of securing the paddle, and an anchor system.
Sit-on-top kayaks are exactly what the name suggests. Rather than sitting within the hull, the paddler sits on top of the hull. Because this raises the center of gravity, sit-on-top kayaks are wider than traditional kayaks in order to gain stability. They are popular with scuba divers who want to easily get in and out of the water. They are also the choice of some fishermen, who like the freedom of movement that this kayak provides. The latest designs are almost unsinkable and are a great choice for those who want to play on and in the water.
Inflatable Kayaks are usually made of hypalon, polyvinyl chloride, or polyurethane-coated cloth. Because they can be deflated and folded, they are easily carried to a destination. A pump is required for inflation. Electric pumps that connect to a vehicle’s electrical system are a common choice.
What’s New?
“The kayak market is beginning to see the emergence of recreational kayaks that are slightly modified so that they can be used as touring kayaks for longer trips,” said Pelican’s Lisa Senecal. She added that people are increasingly looking for increased comfort in the way of padded ergonomically designed seats, dry storage and bulkheads that form watertight compartments.
Old Town’s Palinsky said that improved water-resistant hatches are featured on some newer kayaks. For example, his company recently introduced a Quick Seal hatch design on its Dirigo series kayaks. The hatch features gasket technology that is very resistant to water.
Kayaking Paddles
Kayak paddles are made in a variety of styles and of various materials, including aluminum, plastic, fiberglass and carbon fiber. Aluminum paddle shafts with plastic blades are light and inexpensive, and are a popular choice. Carbon fiber paddles are rigid and lightweight, but they are expensive. While not as light or rigid as carbon paddles, fiberglass paddles are also very high quality, and they can be more affordable.
Many paddles offer blade-angle adjustment. Varying the angle can change the amount of effort required to pull the blade through the water.
Kayaking Accessories
As the popularity of kayaking grew, the list of accessories expanded, but some are more necessary than others. For example, a personal flotation device, or PFD, is an absolute requirement. In addition, most kayakers don’t want to be without a dry bag — a watertight sack that protects your cargo if water enters the hatch. Fishing-related accessories are quite popular. Among these are swivel rod holders and anchor kits that will adapt a recreational kayak for angling.  Other available extras include carry straps, seat cushions, tie-down devices, worktables and more.
Paddle to that Special Place
It doesn’t take a large investment or a lot of skill to enjoy kayaking. Perhaps that’s why the sport has grown so rapidly. A kayak on your favorite lake or stream gives you freedom to wander that most other types of watercraft can’t match. So strap those kayaks to the roof of your car and head off to the great outdoors. That special place awaits you.
-Paddle Bum
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