Racing Kayak, for the Serious Sports Enthusiasts
Composite Flatwater Vessels
Highly crafted racing kayaks are specially designed to maximise speed and are often the most challenging kayaks to learn to paddle. Racing kayaks are very narrow (less than 50cm on the waterline) and very long (more than five meters). Consequently they are very tippy and track exceptionally well, so you can go very fast in a straight line if you can manage to stay upright.
Learning to stay upright in a racing kayak can take weeks or months to master and it can be even more difficult if you happen to be tall with broad shoulders as this slight difference in weight distribution can affect the kayak’s balance greatly. The best introduction to the sport is to take some lessons from a kayaking school that will start you off in more stable models and teach you the correct techniques.
The most popular classes of racing kayaks used in competition are the K1 (single), K2 (double) and K4 (four-person kayak), although canoes are also used in some men’s disciplines. At Olympic level, flatwater kayaks are used in races of 500m and 1000m. Kayaks (surfskis) are also raced at sea and at marathon distance events.
How to choose racing kayaks
Kayaks are designed for the type of water in which they’ll be paddled and taking a flatwater racing kayak into the sea isn’t a good idea – you’ll be tipped out in moments. If you’re planning to compete on flatwater you must buy a flatwater racing kayak. Most modern racing kayaks are fibreglass or Kevlar composite and are precision craft which are often hand made and can cost up to $6000 to produce.
When buying a racing kayak there are several elements to consider. Speed is obviously a main concern and boat length affects this greatly. However, you can’t simply ask for a longer boat – race rules govern the length of the kayak in each class. So resistance to surface area is really the main factor affecting speed, but the boats with least resistance to surface area are also the most unstable.
Paddling a boat you find comfortable to work with will increase your speed more than a reduction in resistance. You need to maximise your stroke and technique and if you think you’re about to spill this will never happen. Choose a boat you can manage and you’ll have the best compromise available.