Plastic Fantastics: Recreational kayaks rule the waters | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Plastic Fantastics: Recreational kayaks rule the waters

Increasing demand for kayaks help locate the perfect spots to begin your kayaking journey.

Ten years ago during an interview at an outdoor industry trade show, a kayak manufacturing company president somewhat sheepishly admitted that, while a high percentage of his company’s ad budget went to promoting whitewater kayaking, for every one whitewater boat the company sold his company moved another 40 recreational kayaks. Today, that ratio is probably more like 200 to 1. Recreational “rec” kayaks and their longer and faster brethren (day touring and ocean/touring kayaks) seem to be everywhere from lakes, to lazy rivers, to bays, marshes and estuaries.

Say the word kayak, and you most likely conjure up an image of a rec boat, a short, brightly colored boat of durable plastic that’s easily hauled around on a car’s rooftop rack. Rec kayaks are typically up to 12 feet long and 25 to 30 inches wide. That translates into a lot of stability, but they can be a bit pokey.

A step up from a rec kayak is a day touring boat that normally measures 14 to 15 feet. Most day touring kayaks have somewhat of a v-shaped at their bow and stern to make the boat knife through the water. Many come with a foot-operated rudder system and some even with a hatch-covered storage area.

The molded plastic kayaks are inexpensive to produce and virtually indestructible. Dragging one over rocks or along a sandy beach will result in a few surface scratches at worst.

Beyond rec and day touring kayaks, there’s a small but important market for longer—15 to 19 foot—sea touring kayaks. Kayaks in this class are made from ultra light composites like Kevlar, slightly heavier fiberglass, or plastic.

No matter how they’re made, sea/touring kayaks are designed for people who like to make long-distance ocean trips, lake trips and extended flat-water river trips where the emphasis is on speed and the ability to haul a load of camping and survival gear.

On Tour

The beauty of paddling any class of touring kayak is the places it can take you. It’s also the way you can glide along with waterfowl, feeling one with the water.

Touring paddling, except for major ocean voyages, is open to people of all ages and abilities. About the worst thing that can happen to a rec or day tourist is straining a muscle in his or her back while getting the boat off a rooftop rack. Compare this to whitewater kayaking, where American Whitewater magazine’s 2011 “Accident Reports” notes 23 deaths in the sport last year along with seven broken backs suffered by kayakers running steep waterfalls.

Where To Paddle

Central Oregon seems an unlikely kayak-touring destination, but it is. When talking about places to paddle locally, the High Cascade Lakes, especially Hosmer Lake, come to mind. Unfortunately, the High Lakes are becoming over-loved by kayakers. Much as the Phil’s Trail area has become over-loved by mountain bikers.

So what are some other paddling possibilities?  Close to home there are long calm (Class I) stretches of the Deschutes between Sunriver and Wickiup Reservoir, as well as short stretches here in town. Be sure to consult a Bend Paddle Trail Alliance Deschutes River map for a clear identification of where these runs are and their put-in and take-out points.

A bit of a drive north, there’s decent paddling along the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook. Ninety miles south, Thompson Reservoir outside of Silver Lake offers crowd-free paddling, an excellent campground, decent fishing and all sorts of avian life.

South on Highway 97, the upper and lower Klamath marshes both offer incredible waterfowl watching and marked paddle trails.

Then, of course, there’s Waldo Lake off the Willamette Pass. Easily one of Oregon’s (and of America’s) most pristine lakes, Waldo recently survived another attempt to allow limited motorized watercraft. Paddling Waldo is an adventure, if for nothing more than to be able to see 20 to 30 feet into the crystal clear, cold waters as you glide along.

Getting Started And A Big Tour

Every Saturday during the summer months, Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe conducts basic paddling skills classes for those interested in flat water kayaking and canoeing. They also offer guided kayak tours of local lakes and rivers.

In late September, Tumalo Creek will lead a guided sea kayak tour of the San Juan Islands off the Washington coast, a premier North American kayak-touring destination.

For more classes and tours, log onto

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