Kayak Descriptions

by Tessa Cooper

So, you are looking into buying a boat or simply scoping out kayaking as a possible hobby. Here are some useful basics to know about kayaks. There are generally five categories of kayaks: recreational, transition, river runner, creek, and play boat. Each type of kayak performs the best under certain conditions.

Recreational kayaks are the boat of choice for a relaxing paddle down slow-moving water or lakes. They generally have a well-defined keel which makes it easy to go straight, but tougher to turn quickly. They are often very stable and great for beginner kayakers. Some specialized recreational kayaks include touring kayaks (for long trips) and fishing kayaks.

The best car/transportation equivalent of a recreational kayak would be a barge, because the kayaks are large and stable.

Transition kayaks, also known as crossovers, are good boats for boating on light whitewater and/or slow-moving water and lakes. These kayaks are a cross between a whitewater boat and a recreational kayak. This boat is better able to turn than recreational boats, while still being relatively easy to keep straight, but it does not do either very well. They are quite stable and are great kayaks for beginners and those who want to try out some small whitewater.

The best car/transportation equivalent of a transition kayak is a SUV, because they are large, but reasonably maneuverable.

River runner kayaks, also known as downriver boats, are the best kayaks for everyday whitewater kayaking. These kayaks combine the ability to play in rapids with the ease of cruising down almost any river. They can turn quickly, which is useful for making technical turns in harder rapids. These kayaks are often hard for beginners to control, especially on flat water, where it is difficult to keep them straight. They are designed to be less stable to enable the paddler to carve into eddies and execute Eskimo rolls. Some river runners have slalom boat lines, meaning they sit low in the water and have hard edges (chines), which makes the kayak carve eddy-turns faster.

The best car/transportation equivalent of a river runner is an average car, because they are medium in size and maneuverable.

Creek boats are great kayaks for traveling straight down a rapid without much playing. These kayaks are high-volume and are able to resurface quickly. They can turn quickly so that the paddler can navigate hard whitewater easily. Similar to river runners, these kayaks are challenging for beginners to control. They are also designed to be less stable to permit tight turns and Eskimo rolls.

The best car/transportation equivalent of a creek boat is a crossover SUV, because the kayaks are on the larger side, but also sporty and reliable.

Play boats, also known as freestyle kayaks, are great for playing in holes and waves, and for doing freestyle tricks. Their low volume enables a paddler to submerge its ends to execute vertical play moves. They also often have a “planing” (i.e. flat) hull for greater spinning ability and control while playing. Play boats are specialized kayaks which perform best while playing and are generally unsuitable for other forms of kayaking. A paddler should have experience before using this type of boat for river running. These boats are crafted to not be stable to assist with greater turning ability and tricks.

The best car/transportation equivalent of a play boat is a motorcycle, because they are small, nimble, and are trick-ready.

The downloadable document below highlights transition, river runners, river runners with slalom lines, and play boats. It provides pictures and specifications for each kayak within each category.

As a side note, always check the size/volume number of the kayak when you are looking at buying a kayak. Some types of kayaks have multiple sizes to fit various paddler weights. Pick the one that fits you best.

Boat Descriptions (PDF)

More Boat Purchasing Guides

Beginners Guide to Kayak Terminology