A guide to the different types of kayaking

Aug 12, 2013 BY Paul McWilliams

Ask two different people about their kayaking experiences and you’ll more than likely get two very different answers. On the face of it, it might even seem like they are talking about different activities completely. But the beauty of the sport is there are many different types of kayaking. Which means there is almost certainly a form of kayaking to suit you.

Different types of kayaking Wikimedia image by Laubenstein Ronald

Your kayaking experience will really depend on where you are going, what the weather conditions are like and how far you want to push yourself. Experiences can range from peaceful river jaunts to adrenaline-fuelled white-water adventures. Although any kayaking trip is what you make it, the different types of kayaking do fall into some broader categories.

Recreational kayaking

This is probably where most people start. Head out on a flat lake or gentle river and get used to the boat, learn how to paddle correctly and get to grips with some basic safety manoeuvres. Recreational kayaks are usually wide and stable, making them ideal for novices. But don’t go thinking this has to be boring, try a gentle France kayaking trip down the Dordogne  and you’ll realise there are few better ways to spend a day.

Kayak Touring

These extended kayaking trips are for those who are used to long periods of paddling. You can cover vast distances in a day, especially if you’re going downstream. It’s also a fantastic way of seeing a country. Touring kayaks are long and track very well. Take a trip down the Danube and pass through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Romania for an epic kayaking tour adventure.

Different types of kayaking Wikimedia image by Sgt Russ Nolan RLC

Sea kayaking

Pretty self explanatory really, but again, experiences can vary depending on the conditions. Because any sea, no matter how calm it may appear, can be unpredictable, sea kayaks have two sealed bulkheads in the bow and stern.

Sea kayaking is great fun but you do need to be careful, if kayaking somewhere new take a guide or if you are experienced at least get local knowledge before setting out. And because you might be paddling in busy waters, you need to know the correct seafaring rules to avoid trouble.

White-water kayaking

This is the kind that really gets the pulse racing. Rafting in a boat with other people is one thing but doing it all by yourself, with just your skill and strength to keep you safe is another thrill altogether.

This is only recommended for skilled kayakers who really know what they’re doing. You need to be familiar with all the different types of paddling, such as creeking and river running. Even then, the very best kayakers can sometimes find themselves at the mercy of rampaging currents. It’s a thrill but it’s not without its risks.

Different types of kayaking Wikimedia image by RaynaultM

Surf kayaking

Of all the different types of kayaking, this is one of the newest developments. Using a light and manoeuvrable boat, like the kind you’d use for white-water kayaking, this is basically surfing in a kayak. Because you can get easily rolled, it’s another dangerous sport recommended for experienced paddlers only. But if you’ve got the necessary skills, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Kayak Fishing

This is very simply fishing from a kayak. Heading out in a small craft you can reach spots anglers and larger boats can not reach meaning more chance of catching a big ‘un. There are kayaks which are specially designed for fishing being more stable and often coming with attachments to hold the rods and an anchor to keep you in place.


As the name suggests, this is for the more playful kayakers out there. Also known as freestyle kayaking or rodeo, playboating is a form of white water kayaking that involves staying in one spot (called a playspot) and performing various technical moves as the water rampages around you.

Although you can playboat in almost any kayak, specially designed playboats are normally used by those that get into the sport. With a range of moves involving flips and spins it is possible for the kayak and paddler to become completely airborn. So find yourself a playspot and start showing off your new tricks!

Playboating wikimedia image by Seek writ awe there

Squirt boating

Using a specially designed canoe that’s low in volume, squirt boating is a form of white water kayaking that uses both the currents on the surface and under the water. Because of the low volume, as much as 80% of the canoe will be submerged, and the very shallow profile means there is only a small amount of room for legs. The low profile and volume make it great for doing tricks in the water, with different designs for performing different varieties of tricks, including cartwheels and Mystery Moves.

I am sure there are other types of kayaking that paddlers get involved in so please let us know if we have missed your favourite type of kayaking.


Fishing, Kayaking, Sea Kayaking
Playboating, Squirt Boating, Surf Kayaking, Touring, Whitewater (Rapids)
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