May 23, 2023 9 min read

Best Kayaks for Racing

kayak for racing at home

Kayak Racing is an exciting sport that requires the paddlers' precision balance between power, stamina, and different kinds of paddling techniques. It is important that paddlers understand what type of kayak will best suit their needs whether they are on a lake, the surf, white water, and so on. A common and big factor for maintaining high speeds on the water is a narrow beam and long, pointed hulls to assist directional control in a straight line. In this article, we will look at some of the hottest racing boats available that will have race organizers perched on the edge of their seats, eager to see how new technology and engineering are affecting the leaderboards.

Sprint Kayaks

Sprint racing kayaks are designed to be fast boats and efficient with acceleration. They are generally intended for flat, calm waters, where speed is the only real consideration. In order for a kayak to be fast, it needs to be as long and narrow as possible, which naturally is at the expense of stability. The 'International Canoe Federation (ICF) states that race kayaks should be restricted to a maximum weight of 12kg for races between 200m to 5km. It is therefore important that the building methods of race kayaks are well thought out and executed to produce high-quality, rigid, yet lightweight kayaks.

Marathon Kayaks

kayak for racing in the ocean

Marathon kayaks are essentially evolved sprint kayaks. Still ultimately designed for a fast pace, they must also effectively deal with varying surface states, winding rivers, and undulating surf.

Marathon kayaks must still be lightweight in accordance with ICF regulations, therefore high build standards and quality materials are used. Marathon and kayaks in other categories are also utilizing the pedal-controlled rudder. This increases paddle stroke efficiency as each stroke can be used for pure thrust rather than directional control with sweeping strokes.

In addition to this, foot pump technology is an important attribute in order to maintain race pace whilst bailing water out of your race kayak at the same time.

River Kayaks

River racing boats are similar to most racing kayaks, but require some extra features to help with the winding river and potential white water sections. One of these important features is a pedal-controlled under-stern rudder. This allows the paddler to get the maximum power out of each stroke without worrying about steering.

When comparing the different environments such as the sea, rivers, lakes, and white water, it is evident that there are far more opportunities for your much-loved kayaks to get bashed into the rocks on rivers. This has affected the way in which river kayaks are constructed, dictating which materials should be used to make up the layers within the hull for extra flexibility to absorb impacts and prevent cracks.

Down River Kayaks (DR)

Down River racing are an adrenaline-packed, unpredictable activity, requiring competitors to deal with a combination of turbulent water, waves, and unforgiving obstacles. Most racing kayaks require high levels of directional stability, however down river kayaks not only need to be fast but also stable and agile as they can not use conventional rudder systems, this also means they are wider than other race kayaks.

The 'ICF' actually created a minimum width for boats in this category, contrary to other race styles. The materials they are made of tend to be more flexible and impact resistant than sprint kayaks, enabling them to bounce off rocks without critical damage. The versatility and stability of downriver boats make them great fun in choppy waters and catching waves.

Ocean skis

kayak for racing ocean surf ski

The Ocean ski race category is a great option for all skill levels, as the boats are able to deal with varying water conditions from flat water to turbulent surf. The best boat for you may be from a particular manufacturer due to its individual design characteristics, so it is always advisable to try out a few different boats before you buy.

Surf ski

A very specific type of design characterizes surf skis. Due to their environment, often dominated by relentless crashing waves and intimidating swells. It can easily be seen that surf skis commonly have enlarged noses, thus increasing the volume at the front, allowing it to automatically force their way back to the surface after nose-diving over incoming waves. Surf skis also tend to be heavier than those in other categories, which helps to maintain their momentum when cutting through choppy waters.

Multisport kayaks

Multisport kayaks, as indicated by the name, are used within a variety of race styles. Effective when paddling on flat water as well as choppy white water and even surf, these have become an increasingly popular style to invest in. Multisport kayaks and surf skis have some similarities, such as their high volume near the front, to assist the nose to stay above the surface and prevent water from flooding the cockpit.

Legacy K1 & K2 sprint kayaks - Epic Kayaks


The Legacy K1 is a specialist for the Sprint & marathon race styles. Note that K1 kayaks are single seaters and K2 kayaks are tandem seaters. Epic Kayaks have created a few variations to accommodate paddlers with a wide range of weights which are: Legacy K1 M, Epic Legacy L, Legacy XL, Legacy XXL, and so on for the K2 series.

Kayaks for Racing Legacy K1


  • Length: 17.07" (5.20 m)
  • Width: M/L/XL 16" (40.6 cm)
  • Depth: M 27 cm /L 28 cm / XL 28.5 cm/ XXL 29 cm
  • Capacity: Legacy K1 M (58-76 kg), Epic Legacy L (67-85 kg), Legacy XL (76-94 kg), Legacy XXL (85-104 kg)


  • There are two main construction options offered by Epic Kayaks which come with their own individual features.
  • The 'Performance' option is built from an infusion grade foam core and a composite body which includes fiberglass, carbon fiber, and kevlar, for strength and low weight (11.5 kg). Note: this option retails at $2,635.
  • Alternatively, the 'Elite' option is built from a Nomex honeycomb core and a body constructed from woven carbon and kevlar fabric resulting in a total weight of only 10.5 kg, but retailing at a higher amount of $3,955.
  • Both options have a red bow and stern.


  • A beautiful-looking boat with a high enough performance that will allow you to grow.


  • With such high-quality specifications and construction, these boats naturally come with a high price tag.

Rigid kayak K1 Moskito 90 - Nelo


The K1 Moskito made by 'NELO' is a thoroughbred single-seat race kayak. Its high-quality construction and simplistic design make it a fabulous choice for those looking to enter sprint and even marathon races.

best kayak for racing k1 moskito


  • Weight Capacity: 90 kg +
  • Boat Length: 5.2 m
  • Weight Range: 8 - 12 kg
  • Stability Level: 1
  • Beam: 0,41 m
  • Cockpit dimensions: 0,98 m x 0,39 m


  • A simplistic kayak, with minimal extra features, just a single pedal rudder.


  • A super lightweight, high-quality design and construction make it ideal for both Sprint and Marathon race disciplines.


  • It seems availability from NELO for this specific kayak is currently low, however, just keep an eye on their website and contact their different dealers.

APEX 52 - Vajda


This good-looking kayak is an ideal all-rounder for all levels of ability. Designed and built in accordance with the regulations stated by the ICF, meaning it is competition ready. The APEX 52 from 'Vajda' is a faster sit-inside kayak than most, yet still, agile making it popular and effective for racing.

Kayaks for Racing ApeX 52


  • Length: 17' 1"
  • Width (in): 20"
  • Weight (lb): 26–28
  • Price: $1,950


  • Structure: Rigid / Hard Shell for maximum stroke efficiency.
  • Seating Style: Sit Inside the kayak.
  • Seating Configuration: Solo only.
  • Optimal Paddler Size: Ideal for medium and large persons. The absence of an adjustable seat means it may not be suited to shorter people.
  • Skill Level: Great for anyone from beginner to advanced.


  • Ideal for larger and taller paddlers.
  • It is an ideal choice for those who are classed as beginners / intermediate level.
  • It is sure to stand out and look great in its bright, lime-green color scheme.


Prices range from $1950 - $2900 depending on what construction materials you choose. However, when searching for quality products, you get what you pay for.

Stellar Rapid-S Multisport Kayak


The Rapid - S from Stellar kayaks could be classed as the best racing kayak in its category in our opinion. A thoroughbred racer, initially designed to be a formidable competitor on a course with choppy waters. The Stellar boat designers created a complex, high-performance construction design and named it 'Multi-Sport'. The Rapid - S uses this concept in its own design, allowing it to absorb impacts, provide maximum power from each paddle stroke and cut through the water like a torpedo. The hull is designed to provide extra volume for the bow, preventing it from diving beneath the surface, and causing it to fight its way back up when temporarily submerged, an important trait!

Kayaks for Racing Stellar Rapid S


  • Hull Length: 20' 3" / 6.2m
  • Beam: 16.3" / 41.4cm
  • Depth: 15.8" / 40cm
  • Optimal Paddler Height: 5' - 6' 2" / 1.5m-1.88m
  • Capacity: 220lbs/ 100kg
  • Weight: 34.5 lbs / 15.6kg


  • Pedal-controlled single over the stern rudder, that automatically pivots upwards when in contact with the ground within shallow waters. Note: under stern rudders would be quickly damaged or even lost when contacted by submerged rocks in shallow waters.
  • Both the hull and the deck are constructed from carbon and kevlar fabric, providing excellent strength and rigidity, yet still capable of absorbing shock impacts from rocks.


  • A brand new design and product from 'Stellar'. Its sleek, simplistic, yet practical design allows this kayak to make its mark in any race, from marathons to sprints, and river running to downriver racing with its impressive speed.
  • A great choice for beginner paddlers, all the way up to advanced kayakers who need a vessel to match their paddling skills.
  • 10 color designs are available, so you can look as good as you feel!


  • Naturally, being a racing kayak, there is not much extra space to store any items you may want with you on long races. So you may want to consider external webbing or a buoyancy aid with storage pockets for paddling in marathon competitions.

Stellar Elite Small (SES) Surf Ski


The Stellar Elite Small surf ski racing kayak is the perfect option for paddling enthusiasts who are on the shorter side. Although the hull design is more compact, the external hull shape below the water line remains as long and narrow as its predecessor models from Stellar, ensuring no speed is lost. Stellar has it covered when it comes to maintaining high performance. Certain aspects have been repositioned such as the cockpit seating position and the rudder to ensure mass and balance are not negatively affected.

Kayaks for Racing Stellar Elite


  • Length: 20'4" / 6.2m
  • Beam: 16.4" / 41.6cm
  • Depth: 13.8" / 35cm
  • Paddler: 5'-6'3" / 1.5 - 1.9m
  • Capacity: 200 lbs / 90kg


  • A strong steering line that eliminates almost all stretch and is rust-resistant so that any pedal input has an instant steering output.
  • Under stern rudder means this boat has effective steering in various types of races and also comes with several types of rudder sizes.
  • Carry handles on the bow and stern allow easy transportation out of the water.
  • To counteract the natural low stability of narrow race boats, the hull is flared above the water.
  • When in the surf and rough white water, taking on extra water can really slow down your pace. This kayak is designed with a peak bow deck, meaning it naturally affects water and remains highly buoyant.
  • Comfort is king - the seat mold incorporates a rounded back and a low hump, ensuring increased comfort and endurance. A water bottle holder is fitted in close proximity so no time is wasted locating it.


  • A high-spec, extremely well-thought-out kayaking machine with a true purpose to provide smaller paddlers with exactly what they need.
  • The rigid hull design means minimal flexibility to absorb stroke efficiency, thus ensuring maximum power from each stroke.


  • Although this boat may be fantastic for younger paddlers who are progressing quickly, it needs the adjustment capability to accommodate them as they grow, so this may be an expensive transitional option.


🏆 If I am a beginner paddler, which kayak is a good first choice?

Perhaps a kayak within the 'Multisport' category is the best place to start if you are new to paddling. This will allow you to try a variety of race disciplines without being penalized by a very specific type of kayak. Generally, kayaks with greater volume and wide beams are more stable and therefore more forgiving. It is also important to put some thought into what paddle is right for you, check out our article looking at how to choose a kayak paddle

👍 Does my race kayak have to adhere to International Canoe Federation (ICF) regulations?

If you enter a race that is being hosted by any of the 157 member countries of the ICF, then the most likely answer is, yes. The ICF is based in Switzerland, however, it governs canoe & kayak race events worldwide. If you enter a race that is not governed by the ICF, then you can use whatever you like.

🏝️ Is safety equipment mandatory in race events?

In contradiction to most other forms of kayaking, safety equipment is not mandatory in a lot of events. A cumbersome buoyancy aid could really hamper your mobility and ability to remain cool over a long race. If you are involved in an established race, safety boats are usually on standby. However, it is definitely advisable whilst you train in an uncontrolled environment, in either a small group or even on your own, that you wear at the very least a buoyancy aid and take a waterproof phone case. Check out all of our accessories.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

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