Since the 1970s when the first roto-moulded kayaks were introduced there has been an explosion of styles and designs to suit every purpose and every need imaginable.
The main categories available are white-water or river, sea, surf, racing and recreational. In some regions a kayak is also referred to as a canoe however there are three distinct areas where a canoe differs from a kayak. They are more flat bottomed, do not have a cockpit and are typically paddled with a single blade from kneeling position or from slightly elevated seats.
Generally these types of boats are small and trade off speed for stability and are also highly maneuverable. They include short stubbed kayaks for weir play.
Normally designed for single paddlers and encompassing the recreational element of kayakers for sedate river journeys.
Sea kayaks are often long with a thin beam and designed to paddle on open water by one or two paddlers. They have plenty of storage facilities for any kayak accessories.
Sit on top
The sit on top is gaining considerable popularity in recent years. The hull is sealed making it unsinkable. They have scupper holes around the cockpit area to allow for water to drain away. The sit on top makes an ideal fishing boat as typically the beam of the sit on top is wide lending to the boats stability and allowing the fisherman or diver to exit and re-enter the boat easily.
This is generally a smaller craft with a lot of rocker to the bow. They are made from a variety of plastics ranging from very tough to fragile. Surf kayaks are rated in two classes, high performance and international class with the later being at least three meters long. Derivatives of the surf kayak are the wave ski or the surf ski and certain sit on top kayaks. They generally have no space for any kayak accessories and are also designed for recreational surf play much similar to traditional surfboarding.
There are two types of wooden kayak, stitch & glue and strip built. Stitch and glue are made from marine grade plywood and copper wire. Once the frame has been built the copper wire is removed and the boat is covered with fiberglass to fortify the boat and provide a waterproof seal.
Strip built wooden kayaks are built using pine, redwood and cedar. They are considerably harder to build than their stitch & glue counterparts and as such can be expensive to buy off the shelf.
Inflatable sales have increased considerably in recent years as they make excellent entry level kayaks. An inflatable can easily be transported and stored. A good inflatable should not be confused with cheap blow up toys available from most department stores. An inflatable kayak is easily pumped up manually in a matter of minutes. It is best suited for river journeys and calm seas. Typically an inflatable kayak will not perform as well as a traditional plastic kayak. They are made from toughened PVC and sometimes come with a canvas or polyester jacket to protect the boat from splits and punctures. Normally designed for recreational purposes most inflatable kayaks have plenty of storage for any kayak accessories.
The fishing kayak has also gained in popularity resulting in many designs being altered and modified to suit this expanding sport. You can buy it with a twin hull or outrigger which increases stability allowing the fisherman to stand while fishing. A fishing kayak will quite often resemble a sit on top kayak.
Professional kayaks for racing purposes in the Olympic Games and world championships are designed for specifically for flat water racing. They are classed the K1, K2 and K4 representing the amount of paddlers respectively. They are extremely lightweight, unstable and expensive but they are, very fast.