Get Yourself a Kayak and Go

kayaking adventure tours

Kayaks are a relatively inexpensive, fun and easy way to explore Coastal Virginia’s many beautiful waterways. We asked a local expert to help us get started. 

By Leona Baker

If you have questions about kayaks or kayaking, Mike Phillips, Paddlesports Manager at Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Virginia Beach, is your man. From sizes, styles and prices to paddles, vests and accessories, Phillips will be happy to provide you with a flowing river of useful information suitable for everyone from the complete kayaking novice to avid paddlers and anglers.

But, as Phillips told me when I stopped by the shop recently for a “Kayaks 101” primer, there is one question that is his least favorite: “What’s the best kayak you carry?”

It’s a query he has heard more than a few times in his role at the store located in Hilltop East, which specializes in clothing and gear for a variety of outdoor adventures including camping, hiking, fly fishing, paddling and more.

But it’s a tricky one to answer, explains Phillips, who has spent plenty of hours paddling and kayak fishing in local waters, around Virginia and beyond.

“Because each kayak is shaped differently and has different characteristics,” he says. “So, I like to kind of go through a bunch of questions and see what the customer wants to get out the experience and then we’ll talk about what fits their needs.”

I hung out with Phillips for the better part of an hour, picking his brain about all things kayaks and kayaking while checking out the wide selection of kayaks and accessories available at Great Outdoor Provision Co.

Whether you are hoping to do some easy-going touring of your nearby creek, spot some wildlife on the water, load up your fishing gear for a day on a lake, brave the local waves, or upgrade your current kayaking gear for some next-level adventures or whitewater action, check out the tips we have collected here for a summer of kayaking fun.

A Kayak Is Not a Canoe

First things first, not all things small and buoyant are created equal. Canoes are generally a bit larger and typically have a spacious open hull that can sometimes accommodate multiple people. Kayaks are typically for one person (though tandem kayaks do exist) and they are faster, narrower and considerably more maneuverable. If you want to be relatively quick and nimble on the water and not necessarily have to rely on another person to help you get you there, a kayak is probably your best bet. 

To Fish or Not to Fish

Another key difference between kayaks is that some are designed specifically for fishing. Fishing kayaks are most often the sit-on-top variety, and they can be purchased or outfitted with all manner of gear and storage for rods, tackle, bait, storage, communication and safety equipment. Particularly when they are tricked out with “beyond basic” gear, fishing kayaks occupy the upper price range among kayak styles and brands. 

Most fishing kayaks also feature a pedal drive system rather than paddles as the main form of propulsion through the water. Types of kayak pedal drives include:
Push pedal:
Works as kayaker alternates pushing down on each pedal
Rotation pedal: Works similarly to a bicycle pedal in a rotating motion

Sit-On-Top vs. Sit-Inside

Probably the first and most obvious differentiator between kayaks is that some are meant to sit on and others are meant to sit in. As that language implies, sit-inside kayaks have a cockpit and deck enclosure that allows the user to sit down inside of them while sit-on-tops do not. Here are a few key differences between the two and things to consider such as stability and the wetness factor. The latter may not matter much in warmer weather but can be managed with a spray skirt attachment in a sit-in kayak. 

Sit-On Kayak (yellow)
Wider and more stable
Easier to get on and off
Not as maneuverable 
User definitely gets wet
Not as warm if windy
Scupper hole drainage

Sit-In Kayak (green)
Narrower and more agile
Not as stable as a sit-on
Harder to get in and out
User can stay drier
Warmer down inside
May take on water

About Those Bulkheads

Many sit-in kayaks have bulkheads, or interior walls in front and back of the cockpit, that create a watertight—or at least semi-watertight—void designed to prevent sinking if the kayak takes on water. These are a really good idea, especially for a beginner.

Recreational vs. Touring vs. Whitewater

These two first two terms are also frequently used to distinguish the more casual-use kayak styles—generally shorter and wider—from “touring” or “sea kayaks”—which are usually longer and tapered on the bow and stern for speed and cutting through waves on lakes, bays or oceans. Sea kayaks typically have a completely covered deck and cockpit rim. 

Whitewater kayaks, meanwhile, fall somewhere in between and can be slightly shorter and wider than sea kayaks for added stability in challenging conditions. Whitewater kayaking is considered an advanced skill or one best attempted by beginners only with the help of an expert guide or as part of a group excursion.

Safety & Basic Gear Must haves for any kayak…

A well-fitted, good quality life vest. This ought to go without saying, but having a life vest—and wearing it—are a must while kayaking. Be sure that the vest fits and is tightened properly. There are the traditional and the less bulky inflatable life vests to choose from as well vests designed specifically for fishing, which are outfitted with more places to store and handle tools, tackle and more.

The right paddles for the right job. A basic, relatively inexpensive paddle will probably get you where you are trying to go (starting at $50-$100). The more expensive ones are made of higher quality, more durable and lightweight materials and are more efficient and ergonomic in design. If you’re planning long journeys through more challenging waters, you may want to splurge.

Other Accessories to Consider…

You’ll want to choose a kayak with a comfy, supportive seat and adjustable foot pegs. Spray skirts will help keep the wetness at bay for sit-ins. Paddle leashes can be handy if you’re afraid you might lose your paddle. Bilge balls or sponges are a quick and easy fix for a little extra water in the boat. And waterproof, secured storage for things like phones and other valuables are a choice you won’t regret.

The Cost Factor

Recreational/Paddling Kayaks
$200-$1,200

Touring/Fishing Kayaks
$500-$6,000+

Like anything, you get what you pay for with kayaks. At the lowest end are popular brands like Pelican. They’ll get the job done for short, casual outings. You can get a perfectly great beginner kayak for paddling around lakes, creeks and the like for around $500. From there, prices vary widely and reflect the features offered, quality of materials, design, portability, longevity and more.

Some examples of the better-quality brands carried at Great Outdoor Provision Co. include Hobie, Old Town Canoe & Kayak, Bonafide Kayaks, NUCANOE, Hurricane Kayaks, Wilderness Systems and Jackson Kayak.

Weight & Transport

The smaller and lighter the kayak, the easier it will be to transport, so this is an important consideration unless you have waterfront property and only plan to paddle out from your backyard.

For transportation by vehicle to your favorite put-in, you’ll need luggage racks and some variety of carrier attachment along with secure straps and bow and stern tie-downs.

For carting your kayak from a vehicle or storage to the water, there are also hand-pull, two-wheeled kayak carts.

Similarly, there are a variety of home storage options like J-racks and covers if you plan to keep your kayak outdoors.

Here, There, Kayaking Everywhere

There are so many waterways to explore via kayak in Coastal Virginia, any list would barely scratch the surface. But here are a few bodies of water and other places to explore that you may or may not have considered.

Blackwater River
Back Bay
Broad Bay
Chesapeake Bay
Deep Creek 
Elizabeth River 
Hampton River
James River
Lake Drummond
Lake Smith
Lynnhaven River
Mariners Lake
Mobjack Bay
Mockhorn Bay
Nansemond River
Piankatank River
Rappahanock River
York River
Great Dismal Swamp
Back Bay Wildlife Refuge
False Cape State Park
Kiptopeke State Park
Lee Hall Reservoir
Machicomoco State Park
First Landing State Park
York River State Park

Don’t Miss Kayak Demo Day 

Presented by Great Outdoor Provision Co.
May 9, 2024
First Landing State Park
(64th Street)

Not sure what type of kayak to buy or want to try out something new? Great Outdoor Provision Co. is a hosting a free Kayak Demo Day during which members of the public will get a chance to take different kayak models for a spin on the water. There is no registration fee, but attendees are asked to RSVP on GOPC’s Eventbrite page. 

Visit greatoutdoorprovision.com and find the Virginia Beach location for more details.

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