Choosing a used racing kayak

I have been thinking about getting a racing kayak. I looked at a couple and have questions.
Is Olympic kayak different than anK1? Is a Surfski better than a K1? As a recreational racer. I would like to get one under 16 feet. About 20 inch wide. But 17 feet seem the norm. What should I look for?

You need to consider what kayaks you want to race against, and choose accordingly. Research the races in your area and see what boats are used. Other considerations: can you roll, will you use the boat in rough conditions, do you need hatches for overnight trips (or multi-day endurance races)?

A K1 is technically any one person sit in kayak, but often this term is used to describe an Olympic sprint K1 or trainer. I own an Olympic sprint K1, a surfski (V12), and various go-fast kayaks (Epic 18X), among others. If you are deciding between a K1 and a ski I would recommend the ski as it is much more versatile. I don’t see many K1s in local races anymore (Florida), but surfskis (and SUPs) are very popular, as are fast sea kayaks).

A K1 is a lot of fun and fast (in calm conditions) but they are not for rough water. A capsize usually mandates swimming the kayak to shore (you don’t roll them and remounting is usually not an option, even with float bags). K1s range in stability and there are “trainers” that are relatively stable.

I use the K1 for fun on calm lakes, and for working on my stroke/balance. It takes a lot of time and dedication to master the balance of a true Olympic K1. Until you have this balance, you will have trouble applying a strong stroke, and if the K1 is too much for you, you can adopt bad habits and develop a “defensive stroke”. Mastering these can be fun or terrifying, depending on the person and location. In calm conditions, with a trained paddler, a K1 is hard to beat for short distances. However, for longer races, more stable craft might actually prove faster for you. If there are even small waves, then the K1 will be a handful.

The “elite” skis are around 20’ long, but there are a range of skis, with different speeds and stability. Not all skis are fast, and not all of them are unstable, but the fastest “elite” skis are fairly tender (but more stable than a typical sprint K1), and almost as fast on the flat and much faster in any waves. With practice, you can remount, which is a big advantage of the ski.

Or you could get something like an Epic 18X or Stellar 18R (fast sea kayak). These don’t have the same top speed as the K1 or ski, but you can use them for overnight trips and bring camping gear. I find my Epic to be relatively easy to roll, but have never needed to do so during a race.


You might want to consider one of the shorter Epics, or the 16’ Stellar ski. Stellar also offers some very light and quick sit in kayaks under 16 feet.

I have a great touring camping kayak. The big race in my area was the Great Iowa River Race . I got second place. Ten miles flat water. I did 1:28.08 and think I can beat an hour. Best time of the race was 1:09. But I like to challenge myself. The race has two category’s under 16 foot. And 16 foot and over. So I would gravitate toward a under 16 foot because of my garage. But bigger would be fine. I like the Epic V8

I have been watching a couple very interesting videos about upgrading the boat or engine.

The distance of the race is 9.25 miles. The fastest time was 1:06 in a C1 and 1:09 in a k1 I believe the competitors are relitivly strong and have good boats.
No idea who or what.

My boat is 14 feet long and 28 inches wide. I have kayaked five times in my life. I’m 55 years old and have raced bicycles and worked hard my whole like. I’m in OK shape. But still my paddling form is amateurish at best. (Flailing like a nut more like it)

I live two miles from this race area. So I can go out every Satersay for the next year and paddle upstream ten miles. This will help with fitness and form. Then drift back .This will help with learning the river. . But is it possible to paddle any kayak at 9.5 mph for an hour?

What size boat would have that hull speed?

Greg Barton has a good article at

Within reason if you want speed you want long and skinny (as long as you are stable enough to apply a good stroke), unless you want to fit in a particular class.

How fast is the current? Many of the local club races around here have the fastest paddlers going about 6.6+ mph over a 10 mile course (flat water, very little current). Elite racers would be faster, and downwind / downcurrent speeds could be much higher depending on the conditions.

Interesting article
I weigh 210 lb and feel very buoyant in my Kestral 140x . If I was in a thinner boat would I sink Lower into the water and create more drag?

The current is obviously srong along the race corse. For me to hold 6 mph for an hour. But the wind was no help at all. I had to fight to keep streight or battle a headwind. Actually leaning forward to get out of it.

Racer X, you would be amazed how much faster you can go in something like a CD Prana, maybe a Stellar Intrepid, or the Epic V8 you mentioned. Of course there are tons of others; those just happen to be a couple of my favorites. At your weight, you will do better in a longer boat.

I’m not convinced you need a true “racing kayak” for your goals and transitioning away from a wide rec boat like the Kestrel. But in addition to the models listed above, I’d try to demo a CD Sisu, CD Prana, Epic 16x. If available, and ambitious, you could also compare a Stellar 18 to Stellar 18R so you can also get a feel for what “racing” stability feels like and whether its gains over a long sea kayak are worth it for your goals.

The fastest recorded speed on a GPS I’ve ever seen was by a Necky Zoar on the Edisto River.
Three gators came blasting out the sawgrass straight at our lead paddler.
We were only 15’ from shore , so it was a startling event.
Doug is a very strong paddler but he was shocked to see he got over 8 mph. Adrenaline is amazing stuff.

Beside looking for some instruction regarding form. And my plan to paddle up stream two or three hours a week. I guess I really really need to barrow some boats.

What is the aspect ratio of your boat? Basicly waterline length divided by waterline beam. If it’s below 10 you need a longer boat to do what you seem to want to do.

For instruction, a good coach is best and can save you many hours or even years of floundering around, and prevent bad habits from forming, but videos can help as well.
The following video is excellent:
Ivan Lawler Racing Kayak Masterclass

For high kayak speed at any cost, you’ve got to use foils:

Wait, not that kind of foil, this kind:

There is another sometimes aid to speed and that is about a one foot chop. In the right boat and with the right incentive I found out that my NC Expedition can be made to plane for a short distance. When it happened it was hard to believe, but I did it again just to see if it could be repeated. From previous experience, I knew very well that that kind of exertion can cause some very painfull strains, so I haven’t done it again, but it’s nice to know it’s there if needed.

The Lawler video was very helpful. Today I paddled up stream for two hours . Pushing down and using the body is hard. I could feel the speed… Now I am tired. I also paddled back fairly hard. 4.8 mph up stream and 7.8 down stream on the GPS of my phone. My arms are sore. So I’m still not using my core properly. But I know it. And this was my first day of training