One of the first steps of choosing a kayak is knowing the different materials and understanding the Pros & Cons of each. Here we are going to go over the main materials you will see out there on the market and outline what and who they are best suited to.


The material your boat is made from can effect its performance, weight, durability & price tag. Knowing what you want from your boat will help you decide which material will suit you best. Choosing the right material can hugely improve your paddling experience and potentially prevent you some headaches on the water.

Each material has different impact strength, abrasion strength and performance attributes so there are different materials for different styles of paddling and paddlers.


The first material we’ll talk about is plastic or roto-moulded polyethylene. These boats a the most common on the market, particularly when it comes to recreational kayaking.

These boats are made by melting beads of polyethylene into a mould. This process is easy and cost effective meaning polyethylene kayaks are generally the most affordable on the market.

The roto-moulding process produces a heavy-duty robust kayak that can take a nice impact. The material flexes under pressure meaning it will bend rather than break. This means polyethene boats are big in the whitewater world and great for some sea kayaking or rock gardening. They are also suited to paddlers that just want something robust, no-fuss or kid friendly. These boats hold up to rough and tumble handling.

While the soft, flexible nature of the polyethylene makes these boats super forgiving it also means they are susceptible to abrasions. When scraping along the shore or rocks you are more likely to lose plastic, creating deeper scratches. The boat will still function fine but the “brand-new” feeling wont last as long as other materials.

Another downside to polyethylene is that it is the heaviest of the materials we will talk about here. This can effect how easy your kayak is to transport and how responsive it is in the water. If weight is a primary factor you may want to think about other materials.

In short, polyethylene kayaks are affordable, robust & durable. However they are heavier, lack some efficiency and are prone to abrasion.


  • Affordable
  • No-fuss
  • Robust (will bend not break)
  • Suitable for rocky environments


  • Heavier
  • Susceptible to UV damage
  • Repairs can leave a ‘weak’ spot
  • Can ‘warp’ in high heat
Surge Explorer 17R Ultralight


Thermoform ABS plastic is a form of plastic that is made by heating ABS plastic sheets that are placed over and vacuum formed around a mould. This results in a material that is more rigid and thinner than roto-molded polyethene plastic.

Thermoform boats are made in two parts (the deck & the hull) and then glued together along the seam. This is why they are often two difference colours. They are glued together with methyl methacrylate which basically welds or bonds the two parts. The seams of these kayaks are extremely strong and well bonded. Breaking or leaking along the seam is very uncommon and shouldn’t be a concern when making your decision.

The material is very dense and therefore has good abrasion resistance. This is perfect for flat water paddlers or touring paddlers as it offers greater protection as you are putting in or taking out on shore.

This denseness also gives the material a rigidity or stiffness. This rigidity is great for efficiency and the high gloss finish cuts slick in the water. You can really feel the acceleration and glide with each paddle stroke.

Thermoform plastic does still have some flex in it so it is stronger than it is given credit for. That said, while it can hack glancing over the odd branch or rock, it is not designed for impact. If you are doing the type of kayaking that requires a helmet, this is not the material for you.

Another great positive about thermoform boats is the weight reduction. A thermoform boat weighs approximately 2/3rds of its polyethylene equivalent. This makes it a great option for people who want a little extra ease in transport and a more responsive kayak on the water.

The repairability of this material is also a positive. While repairing a polyethylene boat can lead to a weak spot, Thermoform plastic can be repaired to leave the impact site stronger than ever. Materials such as fibreglass or carbon-fibre twill can be layered on the site to create a strong and effective repair.

You can find some of the thermoform kayaks we stock here.


  • Lightweight
  • More durable & scratch resistant
  • Efficient in the water
  • UV protected


  • More expensive
  • Not suitable for impact (can break under pressure)


Kayaks made of FiberglassCarbon Fibre, Aramid Fibre, or a combination of these, are all examples of composite kayaks. The term is a catch all for all variations of layered synthetic fabric construction. Composite kayaks are made by layering these fabrics bonded by resin and vacuum sealing them to a gel-coated mould.

Composite kayaks are top of the range in terms of performance. They are perfect for an experienced paddler wanting a premium product, or someone who is looking for something fast or ultra-light weight.


Fibreglass is an example of a composite kayak and it’s advantages lie in its light weight and stiffness.

The rigidity and gloss of a fibreglass kayak makes for a super sleek feeling boat in the water. It is efficient and highly responsive. This material doesn’t flex so it slices through water like butter.

Fibreglass is very lightweight and this too adds to its performance in the water. These boats are fast and responsive.

One of the downsides to fibreglass is that it is not made for impact. The rigidity of the material makes it brittle and a sharp blow can cause sever hull damage. This means these kayaks require a little more looking after. On the plus side, fibreglass is easy to repair and the site can be fixed to be stronger than ever.

The other downside is that composite materials tend to be expensive and fibreglass is no exception. You’ll want to be treating this boat right.


  • Ultra-Lightweight
  • Excellent strength to weight ratio
  • Efficient, fast and responsive
  • Repairable
  • Longevity


  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for impact (can break under pressure)


Carbon Fibre is another composite material and arguably the strongest of all the materials. Carbon fibre has a fantastic strength to weight ratio making it a top of the range premium product.

It has many of the same qualities as other composite materials – It is ultra-lightweight, rigid and super slick in the water. This makes carbon fibre kayaks some of the most responsive kayaks on the market and unmatched in performance.

While carbon fibre is very strong, it doesn’t perform great under impact and strong, sharp blows can damage the hull. However, it is a repairable material.

The biggest drawback to carbon fibre is its price. Carbon Fibre boats are the most expensive on the market. However, with the right care your boat will last you a lifetime and offer a premium paddling experience.


  • Ultra lightweight
  • Excellent strength to weight ration
  • Efficient, fast and responsive
  • Repairable
  • Longevity


  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for impact (can break under pressure)

This article is a basic overview of some of the main materials, however, there are other materials on the market. You can find some more info on materials and kayak production here.

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