Raising the Bar in Kayak Design and Performance:
New Standards For The Third Millennium
This article discusses the changes in kayak design, usage and performance over the past century and in recent years.
Design and Manufacturing
3. DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS
There is a major difference between native kayaks and modern kayaks in their basic built: Native kayaks had a rigid, internal wooden frame covered with a ‘skin’. Such design is no longer in use except for folding kayaks, and nearly all other modern kayaks have an external, rigid skeleton (‘shell’) that serves a dual purpose and acts as the kayak’s ‘skin’ as well. The introduction of this non-ribbed, simpler design was key in the proliferation of new, mass-produced, low cost and durable kayaks.
Customers’ preferred kayaking activity is of critical importance for the designer since modern monohull kayak models are designed for one activity, or a narrow range of activities. The main activity categories are: Whitewater, Touring, ‘Recreational’ and lately Fishing too.
The whitewater kayak is very short and designed to offer maximum maneuverability. Similar designs are used for kayak surfing.
The Touring kayak design is usually narrow and long, and within this family of designs the sea kayak is longer and narrower. Touring kayaks are faster than other kayak categories.
Recreational kayaks constitute the bulk of the market today, and they are characterized by their higher stability due to their wider beam. These kayaks are seldom outfitted with a spray skirt because it is assumed that most paddlers can’t roll their kayaks.
Fishing kayaks are basically stabler recreational kayak designs accessorized for fishing that are sold within a higher price bracket. The reason this article mentions the fishing kayak as a separate category is that in recent years kayak fishing is growing in popularity, which reflects people’s tendency to prefer stabler models.
All monohull kayak designs except whitewater kayaks can be outfitted with a rudder system, and they often are since regardless of their type they all have tracking problems.
Another factor that kayak designers bring into consideration is the customers’ personal liking in terms of fashion. This goes to colors, materials, forms and accessories.
And last but not least, designers and manufactures need to produce products that fit their customers’ spending intentions and capabilities. There is no point in offering a cheap and durable Polyethylene kayak to a customer who has already decided to spend more on an expensive yet less durable kayak made from another plastic material reinforced with carbon-fiber or fiberglass (FRP, also called composite plastics)
4. SIT-ON-TOP (SOT) KAYAKS
Technically speaking, sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks further depart from native designs, as they can no longer be considered as vessels because they don’t feature a hollow compartment for the passenger/s. These modern kayaks evolved from paddleboards in the past four decades, and their general form is that of a flat board equipped with a seat and small depressions for the passengers’ heels. SOTs have become widely accepted as kayaks since they feature the essential characteristics of modern monohull kayaks (I.E. seat, feet support and double-blade paddle), and they are used for similar recreational activities. There are only few eccentrics left who still think of SOTs as being anything other than kayaks.
5. ‘RECREATIONAL VS. ‘TOURING’ KAYAKS
The dictionary defines Recreation as “Refreshment of one’s mind or body through activity that amuses or stimulates; play”. The dictionary also defines Touring as “Travel, as on a bicycle or on skis, for pleasure rather than competition.”
In this sense, all Touring kayak models are recreational in a broad sense since kayak touring itself is a recreational activity.
That is to say that the distinction between ‘Recreational’ and ‘Touring’ kayaks may be related to certain design characteristics such as width and length, but it is also related to marketing considerations – a process known as ‘segmentation’.