Kayaking has to be one of the most cost-effective, hassle-free ways of getting onto the water ever invented. And, apart from helping you shed accumulated city stress in tranquil, natural environments, it provides a great workout, too. Here’s what you need to know to get paddling this summer.

The old saying “different strokes for different folks” could very well have been coined with kayaking in mind. That’s because it provides just that; a wide variety of activity options for those who enjoy spending quality time on the water. So whether you’re a hardcore athlete, a fishing enthusiast wanting to hook lunch, enjoy exploring inland waterways, or just want to spend quality time with the kids – there’s definitely a kayak design out there for you.

When it comes to cost and convenience, kayaks are hard to beat. They don’t come with any of the hassles and expense of boat ownership. There’s no trailer to maintain and license. You don’t need a slipway, launch or retrieval are simple one-person affairs. Annual maintenance is effectively non-existent and the required storage space is minimal. Even better, after the initial expense on kayak and safety gear you’re basically sorted for life.

Here’s another bonus: just by heading out and concentrating on having fun, you’re automatically improving your core strength and general fitness levels.

Choosing the right one

For a newbie starting out, the wide variety of kayak designs available can literally boggle the mind.

There are many factors to consider before committing to a purchase, advises Chad Andrews from Canoe Concepts. “Most people wanting to enter the sport have no idea what kayak they need, so I always ask a few pertinent questions to help them decide. What do you want to use it for? How often do you intend going paddling? Do you own a holiday home, or will you be travelling with it? And, what do you hope to get out of the experience?”

Once these basic parameters have been established, Andrews moves on to other factors, such as the individual’s size, weight and experience level before recommending a specific design.

The wide variety of kayak designs available makes choosing the right one difficult, but we’re here to help.

Glossy product brochures and online research will only take you so far. Once you’ve identified a few designs you like, it’s time to visit a reputable kayak shop in your area. Go squish your behind into as many designs as possible and shoot the breeze with the sales staff. Chances are, just by having a light conversation while trying out whatever catches your eye, you’ll walk away much better informed.

Sit-ins vs. sit-on-tops

Sit-in kayaks are more suited to dedicated paddlers into long distance touring. That’s because their centre of gravity is much lower than sit-on-tops, making them more stable. Their streamline profiles slice efficiently through water, allowing you to cover more distance with less effort. They can also carry more gear and protect your lower body from the elements.

That said, Andrews is a big fan of sit-on-tops. “Here in SA kayaking is a summer activity, so we never face situations where we paddle large lakes in winter like they do in Europe or America. Can you image how hot you’d get inside a sit-in kayak in a place like Mozambique?” More importantly, he considers sit-on-tops to be the much safer option – mainly as they’re easier to get back on to after you’ve fallen off. You can also simply jump off out of harm’s way if, for example, you’re about to get sucked into a weir, or some twit in a powerboat starts pulling dangerous moves nearby.

Activity-related designs

Kayak designs tend to fall under four general activity categories; recreational, fishing, touring and competition (including marathons, slalom and canoe polo). Below are five examples of available kayaks to help give you an idea what features to look out for.

Kayak Buyer’s Guide

Playing around

As a multi-purpose recreational sit-on-top, the locally-manufactured Fluid Chumani is hard to beat. Ideal for exploring the Orange River, fishing or just knocking about and having fun – its raised bow punches through waves, making it equally happy at the coast as it is on flowing rivers and dams. Featuring a tri-hull design making it super-stable, it also comes with a subtle keel to ensure it tracks well for its length.

Two sealed hatches, one immediately in front of the paddler and the other behind, keep delicate items safe and dry. The recess in the stern is designed to hold most cooler boxes as well as a wide range of dry bags and fishing gear. The open bow compartment can also accommodate dry bags or serve as a seat for a child facing the paddler. Four drain holes put splashes back where they belong. Plus moulded footholds allow it to accommodate a wide range of paddler sizes.

Fluid Chumani Specifications
Length:                        329 cm
Width:                          81 cm
Weight:                        22 kg
Carrying capacity:       130 kg
Price: R6,599.00


Go catch that fish

If you’re into fishing, then Fluid’s Bamba is worth checking out. Its standout feature has to be the large centre compartment that can be used to store either gear or your catch. The rear load bed can accommodate a cooler box, live bait bucket, plastic crate or dive cylinder. And the deck has enough space for you to stash a gaff, net, game fish baton, tackle and lures within easy reach.

It also comes with 3 rod holders, 4 dry hatches and a variety of attachment points. Plus the two hatches behind the seat can be used as either wet or dry compartments, allowing you to use them as live bait wells too.

Performance wise, the Bamba’s no slouch either. Suitable for deep offshore trawling or heading far up river, the hull’s length and pronounced keel help keep it going fast and in a straight line. It also features a peaked foredeck, helping it resurface quickly when punching through moderate surf. These features make it a viable touring option, too.

Fluid Bamba Specifications
Length:                        425 cm
Width:                          80 cm
Weight:                        33 kg
Carrying capacity:       220 kg
Price: R8,799.00


In for the long haul

Paddlers with a bit of experience interested in performance touring and multi-day adventures will appreciate the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145. Suitable for traversing dams, non-rocky rivers and calm seas. This US import features two watertight bulkheads, creating large secure storage compartments up front and in the rear that can swallow enough gear to last you a week.

The Tsunami 145’s spacious cockpit was designed with larger paddlers in mind. It comes with a comfortable, ergonomic Phase 3 AirPro TOUR Seating System that allows for intuitive adjustments. Just as importantly, the footbraces adjust to maximize comfort, too – allowing you adopt an optimal paddling position. Other cool features include a paddle holder that lets you go hands-free when it’s time to grab a camera, ergonomic soft rubber handles to carry it to and from the water and reflective deck rigging.

Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 Specifications
Length:                        442 cm
Width:                          62 cm
Weight:                        25 kg
Carrying capacity:       147 kg
Price: R18,500.00


Push to the max

Novices with racing on their minds should consider the new SET KAYAKS Supernova. Designed by Gauteng-based Chad Andrews, who identified the need for an affordable, locally-produced K1 racing machine suitable for beginners. It boasts a top speed of 15 km/h, making it a great option for newbies aspiring to enter national events such as the Dusi or Berg River canoe marathons.

Made out of glass fibre and resin, it’s built for strength while keeping weight right down. Cleverly designed to stick to the strict K1 racing ethos, it features a wider, more stable hull that’s more forgiving of rookie mistakes. To compensate for the wider hull, it features two cut-outs (or indentations) on either side of the cockpit, allowing you to reach forward properly with your paddle and strive for the perfect stroke. The Supernova has no paddler weight limit and is suitable for all ages.

SET KAYAK Supernova Specifications
Length:                        520 cm
Width:                          54 cm
Weight:                        14 kg
Paddler weight:           No limit
Price: R8,100.00


Hit those rapids

Adrenaline junkies intent on hurling themselves into whitewater chaos should copy the experts and take Fluid’s Donsa for a spin. According to those in the know, it handles just like a real competition slalom kayak – an impressive statement, considering it’s made out of plastic and costs what you’d pay for a mid-range smartphone. 

Granted, its heavier weight means it’ll never make a podium finish at the Olympics, but its tough roto-moulded polyethylene hull can take real abuse – making it ideal for beginner or intermediate slalom kayakers. It’s also a great training platform for experienced paddlers wanting to keep their expensive composite craft safe from unnecessary damage on rocks.

But you don’t have to be a competitive slalom paddler to appreciate the Donsa’s robust design, speed and agility. Those looking for fast downriver play or wanting to experiment with new lines in rapids are sure to get their rush, too.

Fluid Donsa Specifications
Length:                        353 cm
Width:                          60 cm
Weight:                        15.5 kg
Cockpit size:                45 x 78 cm
Paddler weight:           50 – 90 kg
Price: R6,599.00

– (c) 2017 NavWorld

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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