Kayaks may have a long history—Alaskan seal hunters were using them more than 4,000 years ago—but only in the last decade have they begun to challenge canoes for supremacy among America’s recreational paddlers. That changing popularity gap is partly due to vacationers, who appreciate kayaks’ ability to silently sneak up on wildlife, and partly to athletes, who are drawn to them for their emphasis on upper-body strength. It also helps that the fiberglass or plastic vessels sit low to the water and tend to be more stable and easy to maneuver than canoes. But before you hop into the water, some kayak basics are in order. Paddle The double-bladed paddles that propel kayaks come in a range of styles: feathered blades cut down on wind resistance during a stroke, curved blades increase stroke power, and flat blades direct the water around the surface upon contact.HullWhitewater kayaks, with short, rounded hulls and soft chines (that is, the curve of the sides) enable pilots to execute tricks and rolls in rough water. Surf kayaks are similar, but their front ends curve up more sharply for better maneuverability in high waves. Used in coastal waters, such as those off the shores of Hawaii, sea-touring kayaks possess flat hulls and sharp chines to stay upright in choppy waters.CockpitMany kayaks have enclosed cockpits, which allow the pilot to roll upright when capsized—a maneuver that takes a while to master but can be a major asset when negotiating rapids. Alternatively, sit-on-top kayaks leave paddlers exposed but free to exercise greater mobility, preferable for gently cruising calm waters.Related ReadsHeading Out to Sea? We Ask a Sailor Which Boat You Should Captain
Read More