Design and characteristics

How do you know which kayak is best for you? It all depends on what you want to do – if you are into big adventures or silent sunsets. Learn how dimensions and design choices impact the kayak’s speed, stability and maneuverability and find out what design best suits your needs.

Length is a matter of speed and tracking

Speed and length are closely connected. The longer the kayak the more energy can be built up between paddle strokes. And that increases both speed and tracking. A longer kayak is therefore better suited to long stretches of straight ahead paddling and longer trips in general. A short kayak on the other hand often has a more pronounced rocker and is much easier to maneuver, which is also a great advantage in bigger waves.

When you measure the general length of a sea kayak, it’s done from tip to end. Most sea kayaks are between 4.75 to 5.50 m in length. A solid all round kayak is typically between 5 to 5.25 m. So if you are in the market for a kayak where maneuverability is key, you might want to look for those less than 5 m in length.

Rocker and waterline impact maneuvering and tracking

We mentioned the term “rocker earlier”. In the world of kayaking it’s a common term that you may have heard of. And if not, don’t worry – it’s quite easily explained. In short the rocker is the upward curve at each end of the kayak. And why does this matter?

A kayak with low rocker is often faster
Since each end of the kayak is not pointing that much up – more of the hull will be submerged in water when you are paddling. In other words, it has a long waterline. And since a bigger part of the hull is in the water at all times, a kayak with no or little rocker, can maintain a lot of energy between your paddle strokes. That is why a sea kayak with a long waterline is very fast. It also means that it is easier to maintain a straight line – “it tracks well” in kayak terminology.

The kayak at the top has a low rocker. That means a faster kayak that tracks well. A more pronounced rocker – as the bottom kayak shows – means a slower kayak but also a kayak that is easier to maneuver.

A kayak with pronounced rocker is more maneuverable
A kayak with a pronounced rocker has a shorter waterline since each end curves up and out of the water. This makes it a lot easier to maneuver because there is less resistance when you turn it to either side.
But it also has another benefit. When paddling big waves the nose of the kayak won’t dive into the water and become overflowed, but instead it will be lifted up and over the swell.
So to sum it all up: A long kayak with a low rocker and a long waterline is superfast and tracks like a dream, while a shorter kayak with a pronunced rocker is easy to spin around and performs brilliantly in big waves.

Width is a choice between stability and speed

A narrow sea kayak is faster than a wide one. That is the simple truth. And that is because the amount of water that needs to be displaced is bigger when the kayak is wide. A wide kayak is on the other hand more stable since the combined area of balance is much larger.

When paddling forward your kayak meets water, and pushes it aside. The wider the kayak the more water it needs to move and that slows you down.

Think ahead when you choose
If you are new to paddling a wide kayak might appeal the most to you, but with just a few hours of paddling your mind and body will adjust – and you will soon want to trade that initial safe feeling into more speed. So the secret is to think a bit ahead when choosing: Where would I like to be skill-wise in the nearest future. Also remember that sea kayaks in general are quite stable.
The width of kayaks will normally span from 52 to 58 cm. If you are a new paddler you can easily choose kayaks from 54 to 58 cm in width – and still feel safe, stable and comfortable. Adding width by just a few centimeters will mean a slower boat and we do not recommend choosing a kayak more than 58 cm wide. 

Hull shape also impacts speed and stability

Since it narrows to a point at both ends the hull shape varies quite a bit throughout the length of a kayak. The area just underneath the cockpit is where the hull shape has the biggest impact on both speed and stability. You may notice that the shape of that area also varies quite a bit. The hull shape has a big impact on speed and stability.

The three most common hull shapes are: A) Round: The fastest hull shape but with low stability. B) Shallow V: An all round hull shape with decent speed and medium stability. C) Flat: The slowest hull shape but very stable.
So which hull shape is right for me?
It all depends on your experience as a paddler and to what purpose you want to use your kayak.
The round shape is great if you have some experience and would like a very fast kayak. A kayak with a round hull shape only attains stability when in speed – and if you are a new paddler it may feel unsafe and unstable the first time you try it.
Shallow V for the new paddler
If you indeed are a new paddler we recommend choosing a sea kayak with a shallow V hull shape. It feels stable when in speed and when lying still. It’s great for sharpening your skills and has more speed than a kayak with a flat hull shape. To many paddlers the flat hull shape will feel as if it is heavy and sluggish but will for sure give you a first impression of a kayak that is extremely stable.


The height of the kayak is important for many reasons, but is often neglected. In fact a few centimeters can make a big difference. Consider that everything above water level is impacted by wind. So the higher your kayak is the more sensitive it is to wind. The height also impacts comfort and stability.

A is the front deck and B is the rear deck. The lower the two are the less sensitive to wind your kayak is. Between the two is the cockpit.

A low front deck gives better stability
If the kayak is too high in front of the cockpit you need to raise your arms a little higher to avoid bumping against the hull when paddling. That raises your center of gravity and makes you less stable. Paddling for a long time with arms raised high will also tire you faster.

A low rear deck makes rescues easier
When doing a rescue you pull yourself out of the water and onto the rear deck. Every centimeter extra makes the rescue harder and more strenious – so for safety avoid a kayak with a high rear deck.

No rules go without exceptions
However in some cases you will want a more voluminous front. For surf and waves you need more space to move in the cockpit and also some extra buoyancy. And you will surely get that from a bit of extra volume. But if you don’t have that particular need it is better to avoid kayaks with a high front and rear deck.

What kayak should I choose?

All of the above taken into consideration what kayak from our range will then suit you best? To make it easier to choose the right one all our kayaks take their starting point in the needs of you as a paddler – so here is our recommendation:

Unplugged: For new and all-round paddlers
If you are new to the game or wish to own a great allround sea kayak, we recommend Unplugged. In the design we have focused on creating a perfect balance between speed and stability. We have achieved this by designing a kayak with medium dimensions (length, width and rocker) and chosen a shallow-v hull. The hull shape has the additional advantage that it is perfect for practicing and improving skill if you are new to paddling.

Read more about Unplugged

Endless: For touring and longer trips
If you are up for the longer trips and want speed, Endless is the perfect choice. Endless has a long, slim design and round hull making it and ultra fast kayak. The seat has extra comfort for longer tours and large oval hatches makes it easy to pack you gear.

Read more about Endless

Awesome: For waves and play
If you are up for playing in the waves or nerding out your technical skills you want a really maneuverable sea kayak. Our newest model Awesome is pretty awesome for play. I is short with larger rocker making it super easy to maneuver and take you out into the bigger waves. Awesome is also a great choice for kayak instructors.

Read more about Awesome

Kayak guide – Read more

Become a DesignKayaks dealer

DesignKayaks is a Danish sea kayak brand: Stunning colors, exceptional performance. Unmatched value for money for you and your customers. Our model range consists of three models designed to meet different demands. They apply to everyone from new paddlers, exercise and touring paddlers all the way to instructors, technique and surf aficionados.

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Meet the people behind DesignKayaks

We have put a lot of thought, care and love into the design of our kayaks. And it all comes from years of experience and “getting our hands wet”. Søren Telling is the man behind the boat design and Hanne Telling – with her many years of experience from LEGO is the woman behind our unique business and colour concept.

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Our factory

Passion seeps through every step of the process when we make our sea kayaks. Our factory is located in the city of George in South Africa and with our modern roto moulding techniques we produce our high quality 3-layer PE sea kayaks in a well engineered and computer controlled environment.

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