Recreational kayaking is the basic kayaking that is seen on well protected lakes and other safe bodies of water. Their primary purpose is to have fun on the water. They are the boats often used in rental fleets and are ideal for individuals looking for a low impact recreational experience.
A touring kayak is intended to be small and easy to handle, comfortable, stable and not requiring much skill. A touring kayak provides the ideal craft for poking around, watching wildlife, or just floating care-free on a small lake or stream. They tend to be shorter than a sea kayak because a short waterline helps make the kayak more maneuverable which is nice for poking into little coves and streams. Short kayaks are also easier to transport as they can fit on the back of a pickup truck. These kayaks tend to be relatively wide. This is in part due to the fact that since they are short, they need extra width to give them buoyancy. However, wider kayaks tend to be more stable, and the added width helps give more room for comfortable seating.
While sea kayaks were originally designed for use on the ocean, they are at home on any large body of water or in situations where you want more efficiently for a long distance. These kayaks are often narrow and fairly long. This helps them move efficiently through the water even when the wind blows and the waves get large. Thus they are well suited for any body of water where the conditions may get rough or if you just want to be able to go a long distance with a minimum of effort. Sea kayaks are typically designed with a cockpit small enough to accept a spray skirt. This helps keep water out of the cockpit. They also often are equipped with bulkheads and hatches that provide additional safety and a dry place for storing gear. Due to their length sea kayaks are typically heavier than recreational or touring kayaks.
Traditionally kayaks were solo kayaks, but a tandem or double kayak is a great way for two paddlers to get out on the water together. Working together in one kayak two people can typically go faster than each would go alone. This is especially useful if one paddler is less experienced or not as strong a paddler as the other. Multi person kayaks can either have one large cockpit or a separate cockpit for each paddler. A single large cockpit can be handy if you want to paddle the kayak solo as it lets you position yourself in the middle to balance the kayak. The separate cockpits allow the use of individual spray skirts and generally just do a better job of keeping water out of the kayak. Tandems kayaks tend to be longer and wider than solo kayaks. This accommodates the need to carry more weight. The added width also provides more stability which is nice when two individuals are each doing their own thing.
There are a lot of different kinds of racing kayaks, but almost all have the characteristic of being fast. There are two main things
that contribute to speed.
(1) Length: In general, longer kayaks can go faster than shorter kayaks. This does not mean that they are automatically faster, just that a longer kayak starts losing efficiency at a higher speed than a short kayak.
(2) Wetted surface area: This is the surface area of the kayak that is in the water. This is important because as you move through the water, the water must slide across the surface of the kayak. The more surface there is to slide against, the more friction there will be and the slower the kayak will go. The easiest way to reduce the wetted surface area is to make the kayak narrower.
The other consideration in a racing kayak is stroke mechanics. Despite kayak designers best efforts to make a fast kayak, in the end there are really only fast paddlers. In order to go fast, the person paddling a kayak needs to be strong and have good technique. The design of the kayak will often include features that help the paddler maintain a good and strong paddle stroke.
White Water Kayaks
White water kayaking is done in rivers, streams, and creeks where rapids, or white water, is present. All white-water kayaks are "sit inside" vessels, and they do not have rudders. They are shorter, typically in the range of 8 to 9 feet long. They have rounded hulls, softer chines, minimal flare, a great deal of rocker and are often a little less stable but far more maneuverable than other kayaks. These features helps them when performing tricks and rolls because less of the kayak makes contact with the water. They are often made from plastic but high end models can be made from Kevlar. White water kayaking can be a dangerous genre of paddling and requires special instruction and training.
Surf kayaking takes place in the ocean but uses kayaks similarly shaped to whitewater boats. It is basically surfing, but instead of using a surfboard the paddler sits in a kayak. Surf kayaking like white water kayaking can be a dangerous genre of paddling and requires special instruction and training.