Ready for any waterway: 2015 kayaks

Kayak manufacturers are churning out models for everything from whitewater to bass-filled estuaries.
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If kayak sales are losing ground — or water — to the SUP market, no one bothered telling boat designers, who are churning out models for everything from whitewater to bass-filled estuaries.

Stroll the Outdoor Retailer show floor and you’ll find pointy-ended kayaks rising above more booths than ever, their popularity owing itself primarily to their ease of use, affordability and, in the case of rec kayaks, ability to accessorize.

Nowhere is the latter better illustrated than in the still-exploding market of fishing kayaks, which has emerged as the golden child of the category. “The fishing segment continues to explode,” said Shelly Moore, vice president of sales for Confluence Watersports, which owns kayak brands Dagger, Wave Sport, Perception and Wilderness Systems. “It’s attracting newcomers and the need for a spectrum of price points and channels will continue.”

Moore said weight and comfort — with multiple points of adjustability — are paramount across all product categories: “They’re key drivers for all segments and continue to impact purchase decisions.”

Trend-wise, she added that hull performance and outfitting are key, especially for seasoned anglers. Wilderness Systems addresses both with its new Thresher offshore fishing kayak, available in 14- and 15.5-foot lengths. High gunnels and a rockered, upswept bow provide stability through breakers and a new seating system offers forward/aft trim range and three-phase (high, low and recline) positioning without clipping or loosening straps. It also comes with ample storage and deck space and accessory customization options for finders, rod holders, live wells and more.

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Jackson Kayak’s new 15-foot, 3-inch Kraken (MSRPs $1,800/$2,000) also is turning heads. Designed by Jim Sammons, the 75-pound kayak is the company’s first ocean-focused fishing kayak. It boasts a 30-inch-wide hull designed as much for paddling tough water as it was for fishing.

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Elsewhere in the sit-on-top world, crossover kayaks — those offering storage for overnights and able to handle flats as well as mild whitewater — are ringing registers. “We’ve seen an upward trend of young professionals eager to try moving water and crossover kayaks are an obvious choice,” said Confluence’s Moore, giving a nod to 9- to 12-foot-long rec boats and tandem sit-on-tops as driving the market. “We expect that sector of to continue gaining momentum.”

Dagger expands its crossover/multi-water offerings with its Roam sit-on-top series, featuring Contour Surround seating borrowed from its whitewater line and ergonomic thigh straps for purchase. The boats also come with a soft touch skeg control interface, new ergonomic foot brace, storage pods and a mesh tankwell bag that, when used with the thigh straps, doubles as a daypack.

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Elsewhere on the rec front, price-point offerings are commanding retailers’ attention. This is evidenced by Wavedance Kayaks’ new 8-foot, 8-inch Sierra kayak (MSRP $499), whose sub-$500 price tag still includes two hatches for storage and a large well (molded into the stern deck), which can even accommodate man’s best friend.

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As part of blending composite performance with polyethylene durability, Current Designs debuts its 16-foot-long Squall GT (MSRP $1,549), a rotomolded sea kayak designed as a sister to its Squall GTS, with added width (24 inches) for increased stability and storage.

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In whitewater and other kayak categories, “one-quiver” boats — those designed to serve a variety of purposes — are driving sales. Old Town Canoe reacts to this by unveiling the Kayu (MSRP $999), a hybrid kayak/canoe that combines the comfort and solo-paddle performance of a kayak with the cargo and other capabilities of a canoe. The 13-foot, 50-pound craft is constructed from three-layer poly and features the Element Seat with six inches of fore/aft adjustment as well as adjustable foot braces. Its brightly colored offerings are expected to help bolster sales by differentiating it from traditional canoes.

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Inflatable kayaks and pack rafts are holding court in the category, with weight, price point and performance driving design. Advanced Elementsenters the burgeoning pack raft class with its PackLite Kayak (MSRP $330), weighing in at just 4 pounds. Designed as a compact, ultra-light kayak for paddling in remote locations, it comes with three chambers for safety, Twistlok military-style valves for easy inflation, and packs down to 11-by-11-by-5 inches for the trail. Its mesh carry bag also doubles as an on-deck gear bag.

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In the world of inflatable kayaks, Innova debuts its Swing EX (MSRP $999), a 13-foot, 6-inch inflatable that holds more gear and offers higher performance than its Swing I cousin. Touting it as narrower, faster and stiffer — and capable of reaching a cruising speed of 3.5 knots with little effort — the 29-pound craft is designed for durability and multi-day touring, thanks to a PVC-free, vulcanized rubber construction.

--Eugene Buchanan

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