Kayaking is one of the fastest-growing boating activities in Australia. SCOTT THOMAS paddles through the variety of kayaks currently available…
Kayaks open up a new world of boating that’s more reliant on fitness and skill, rather than expensive engines or demanding crews.
Kayaks also encourage you to slow down. A waterway such as Sydney Harbour can be explored by powerboat in a day. However, a kayak would take weeks... and in doing so the paddler would discover a different harbour.
Not only does a kayak provide access to shallow and otherwise inaccessible areas, you also take in more of your environmnet while moving at a slower speed. The fish and bird life feel less threatened and the experience of being outdoors becomes complete.
Regardless of your skill level, there's a kayak for everybody.
Sea kayaks open up access to our vast, and sometimes unforgiving, coastline and estuaries. A sea kayak is designed to handle these rougher conditions and can be a very versatile craft.
Sea kayaks are generally longer and slimmer than standard ‘recreation’ kayaks. They’re also constructed from different materials depending on their use.
The most common and inexpensive materials are polyethylene and fibreglass. Kevlar and carbon fibre are also available for experienced users who prefer the strength and lightweight advantages of these space-age materials. Many sea kayaks are also used for multi-day trips and are designed to carry heavy loads.
Knowing your limits when kayaking is important, and this is especially true of sea kayaking. Your choice of kayak will generally depend on your skill level and the choice of paddling locations and weather conditions. It can be a dangerous sport, so if you’re unsure, join a sea kayak club or talk to your local kayak shop for the right information before embarking on your first trip.
Most kayak companies make smaller versions of their sea kayaks, which feature a similar hull shape and are ideal for safely paddling around estuaries.
The conditions in estuaries are more forgiving than what you’d experience offshore, so the focus turns to the functionality and fun aspect of the kayak, more than performance.
Referred to as recreation kayaks, these craft can vary in design, shape and construction material. They are also more user friendly and better suited to first-time paddlers.
Beginners generally opt for a stable kayak between 3.70m and 4.50m long. Anything smaller than this could slow your paddling too much, making it more difficult than it needs to be.
FRESHWATER RIVERS AND WHITE WATER
The same type of kayak suitable for estuaries is equally at home paddling a freshwater river or lake. Bearing in mind some freshwater rivers have small rapids, a tough polyethylene kayak is the best choice to avoid damage.
A traditional Canadian canoe is also an option here and is a great way to carry two or three people and loads of gear for multi-day trips.
Freshwater is also the home of the white water kayak. Although at the opposite end of the spectrum to sea kayaking, white water kayaking is also a specialist sport (and an Olympic sport) and requires a certain level of skill before taking the plunge. White water kayaks are generally shorter and tougher. The short length helps in manoeuvring the kayak through the white water – a design characteristic that takes precedent over longer, faster kayaks. Again, if this type of kayaking interests you, it’s best to approach a club or visit a kayak shop and ask for the right advice.
Kayak fishing (or ’yak fishing) is one of the fastest-growing segments of the sport… and it's easy to see why. Purpose-built fishing kayaks allow almost the same experience as fishing from a power boat, but for a fraction of the price.
For other people, it’s the simplicity that lures them to kayak fishing. All you need is a lightweight kayak, a paddle and some fishing gear and you're ready to go fishing.
Most people use purpose-built kayaks for fishing. These are generally more stable and often feature extra accessories such as rod holders and compartments designed for holding gear. Increasing in popularity are foot-propelled kayaks such as those from Hobie, which are designed to leave your hands free for fishing.
SIT-IN OR SIT-ON-TOP?
There are two main types of kayaks available – sit-in and sit-on-top.
A sit-in means the paddler sits below the deck or inside the kayak. Most sea kayaks and all white water kayaks are sit-in designs. This allows a spray deck to be fitted for keeping out water, making the kayak capable of handling some incredible conditions – big seas and big rapids! However, sit-in kayaks can fill-up with water and capsize if you’re not careful. It's then matter of ‘righting’ the kayak, climbing back inside and removing the water. Easier said than done.
Sit-on-top kayaks allow the paddler to sit on the deck and feature scupper holes, which mean the kayak is self draining. If you capsize, the kayak won’t fill with water, so it’s easier to jump back onboard and paddle away. However, the sit-on-top configuration leaves the paddler more exposed to the elements such as sun and water, and often don’t offer as much storage. Many recreation and fishing kayaks are sit-on-top.
SAFETY ON THE WATER
Kayaking can be a very safe and enjoyable pasttime if you follow a few simple rules.
Know your limits. Don’t think because you have a shiny new sea kayak this means you can paddle miles offshore. Seek some advice from a local sea kayaking club or retailer. It’s also best for beginners not to paddle alone.
Wear a lifejacket – always! Laws in most states require kayak users to wear lifejackets if paddling a certain distance from shore. Never underestimate how difficult is it to climb back onboard a kayak. A lifejacket will at least help you stay afloat until help arrives or will assist you getting back onboard. Talk to your local kayak shop about other safety equipment specific to your type of kayaking, and importantly, know how to use it.
Whether you want to paddle along the coastline, shoot some rapids, catch a fish or simply paddle around with the family, kayaking is a fun, inexpensive and healthy way of enjoying the water… and very addictive!