Best Academy Sports Kayaks For 2023

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

General sporting goods stores are an excellent spot for casual paddlers to pick up a recreational kayak for a great price. Academy Sports kayaks are meant for those looking to enjoy occasional outings on calm, sheltered water. Look at Academy kayaks if you want to dabble in paddling but have no specific aspirations to paddle in anything more than quiet water and beginner conditions. Academy Sports kayaks are a good option for families, cottagers and those looking for a fun boat to take to the beach.

You will find a variety of recreational kayaks at Academy Sporting Goods, including sit-on-top kayaks (with open decks for easy entry and exit), sit-inside kayaks (featuring an enclosed cockpit and deck to protect the paddler from the elements), inflatable kayaks (which are fun to paddle and easy to store in smaller places) and fishing kayaks (with features like rod holders and live wells, specific to anglers). Some of the best kayaks at Academy are manufactured by well-known brands like Pelican, Heritage, Intex, Ocean Kayak and Perception. Many are available for under $500, with all models (single and tandem) retailing for under $750.

Wear A Life Jacket
  • Everyone, even strong swimmers, needs to wear a life jacket at all times when on the water. It is extremely difficult to put a life jacket on once you fall into the water. Even a light wind can blow any paddlecraft away from you, faster than you can swim.
  • Buy (and wear) a comfortable Type 3 or S life jacket specifically designed for paddlesports.

Be aware that kayaks at Academy Sports aren’t high performance. Its lineup of entry-level kayaks are perfectly adequate for use on calm, sheltered water, but these boats have serious safety limitations for use in exposed, open water. Academy kayaks are also less refined in terms of paddling speed, maneuverability, handling and comfort. Furthermore, it’s also important to recognize that Academy Sporting Goods kayak sales associates likely do not have the same breadth of knowledge of a dedicated paddling store. Simply put, you get what you pay for.

With all this in mind, a box store kayak from an outlet like Academy Sports might be all you need. Our review of Academy kayaks will provide you with the essential knowledge to select the best kayak for your paddling needs.

Top picks: Best Academy kayaks for 2023

The following Academy Sports kayaks have received the highest star ratings by reviewers in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. See and review all Academy kayaks here.

Shop for Academy Sports kayaks

Academy Sports carries a huge selection of kayaks from a variety of manufacturers. All are meant for recreational paddlers, especially casual paddlers, families, anglers and beach enthusiasts looking for budget-friendly boats for occasional use in sheltered water locations, such as small lakes, ponds and quiet rivers. The majority of Academy kayaks are “hardshell” models (constructed of durable plastic), along with a few inflatables, which can be deflated and stored in smaller spaces but often lag behind hardshells in terms of paddling speed.

You can shop for Academy sit-on-top kayaks, which have open decks that are easy to enter and exit for paddlers of all sizes and skill levels. Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for sunny days and warm water, and this style of open-deck kayak is the most common for fishing kayaks. By comparison, sit-inside kayaks at Academy are decked (or partially decked), providing shelter from the environment—though sometimes more challenging to enter and exit due to the enclosed cockpit seating area.

The selection of Academy kayaks will vary between locations and over the months of the year. Expect to find the best selection in the spring; late summer and fall is the best time to find Academy kayaks on sale.

The links below will take you to our comprehensive Paddling Buyer’s Guide, where you’ll find all the best kayaks at Academy Sports, including specs, prices and reviews, offering an unbiased view on what’s available from this retailer.



Shopping for a used Academy kayak?

It’s generally easy to find used recreational kayaks on buy-and-sell websites like Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace and odds are, you’ll find some second-hand Academy Sports kayaks listed. Academy kayaks offer great value in beginner kayaks for family fun—and many options are available in different styles and from a variety of manufacturers including Pelican, Intex, Ocean Kayak and Perception, among others.

Your first step in making a good investment is to research the specific attributes of the make and model Academy kayak you’re considering; our Paddling Buyer’s Guide is the ideal place to start. Once you’ve found a contender, consider the following advice to make a good purchase.

Overall condition

Examine the overall condition of the kayak. Sun damage and soft spots on the hull (apply firm pressure to all parts of the kayak to test for stiffness—it shouldn’t feel spongy) are good ways to determine a kayak’s condition. After that, examine the deck (top) and hull (bottom) for damage including deep gouges (more than 3 mm or 1/8th of an inch deep); obvious abrasion (especially if the worn areas are a different color from the rest of the kayak); and deformities (which will make the kayak paddle less efficiently).

Most kayaks at Academy are made of durable plastic that’s meant to withstand plenty of abuse; some damage is fine, so long as the shape of the kayak remains intact.

Inflatables

Inflatable kayaks are also common on the used market. Leaks are the main concern with buying a used inflatable kayak; ensure the kayak holds air—both in the inflatable chambers that make up the hull as well as the valves. Though durable, inflatable kayaks are often cheaper and have a shorter lifespan due to punctures and defective valves.

Outfitting

Cheap Academy kayaks from manufacturers like Sun Dolphin and Pelican often feature bare bones outfitting. Take a close look at comfort features like the seat (is it padded and supportive for your body type?). Foot rests are critical to give you purchase on the kayak to paddle efficiently and are often absent in lower-priced Academy kayaks; if they’re present, make sure they’re functional and not damaged by grit or sand. Some sit-inside Academy kayaks are equipped with a bulkhead, a critical feature for safety and seaworthiness that will keep a swamped kayak afloat: make sure it’s solid and intact.

Dress For Immersion, Not Air Temperature
  • Your body loses heat much faster when immersed in cold water than it does when dry.
  • Avoid cotton clothing like t-shirts and jeans; they retain water and accelerate cooling when wet. Synthetic fabrics, or wool, are generally a better choice. If the water is very cold (60° fahrenheit or less), you should wear a wetsuit or drysuit.

Outfitting is the critical interface between the paddler and kayak, including the seat, back support, thigh rests and foot rests. Often these features lack refinement in budget-priced Academy kayaks. You will find more ergonomic seats and other comfort features in higher-end Academy kayaks manufactured by Perception and Ocean Kayak. Examine these parts individually and consider how well they work together as a whole—the easiest way to achieve this is by sitting in the boat (and ideally paddling it) to make sure it feels comfortable. Think about how long you’ll be sitting in the kayak. If it’s uncomfortable in a quick test, how will it feel after an hour? Outfitting often comes down to personal preference; there’s no one-size-fits-all.

Take a close look and consider investing in a more expensive kayak if you plan on more serious paddling. If you’re handy, outfitting is easily modified with some glue, foam and DIY time; consider any upgrades you could make to save a few bucks and get a custom fit.

On the water

The only way to fully appreciate the comfort and performance of a kayak is to try it before committing to a purchase. Arrange a meeting place with the seller that allows you to take a few moments on the water. Bring your usual paddle and dress in what you plan to wear while paddling. With a sit-inside kayak, be sure to assess how easy the boat is to enter and exit.

Make a deal

In general (that is, before Covid-19 put a premium on outdoor equipment) the typical starting point for a used kayak in moderate condition was about half its retail price. All that’s changed in the wake of boat shortages brought on by the pandemic, but you can use it as a starting point in haggling a fair price.

Add some accessories

Accessories are key elements of fishing kayaks; if you want to do some kayak angling, make sure you examine features like rod holders, gear tracks and live wells.

If you’re offered a PFD as part of a used kayak sale make sure it’s in good shape, fits properly and is Coast Guard-approved for the location you’ll be paddling.

For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article on How To Buy A Used Kayak.

Academy kayak buying guide

It’s always best to test-paddle a kayak before you commit to making a purchase. However, it’s tough to “try before you buy” when purchasing a kayak at a box store like Academy Sporting Goods. There are ways to make shopping for an Academy kayak feel less like a leap of faith. Test paddling can be arranged if you have friends or family who already own a kayak from Academy that are willing to share for a short outing or two. This sort of experience provides a sense of what’s available in Academy kayaks; paddling also allows you to appreciate how different kayak design elements fit your body and perform.

Box stores like Academy will never offer the same expertise as a specialized paddlesports retailer. If you’re serious about paddling and want to develop your skills and invest in a dedicated hobby, you may be better off shopping elsewhere. Remember you’re not going to find high-end, performance kayaks at Academy Sporting Goods.

As mentioned earlier, most Academy kayaks make excellent budget-friendly choices for those who plan on paddling sporadically—and only in benign conditions. This reality may fall exactly in line with your recreational paddling needs.

Still have questions? Here are expert answers to some of the most common questions about Academy Sports kayaks.

  • Does Academy have kayaks?

    Academy Sporting Goods is a great place to shop for a beginner kayak. Academy carries a wide range of recreational kayaks from manufacturers like Pelican, Intex, Sun Dolphin, Perception and Ocean Kayak, among others. The best kayaks at Academy are meant for casual use on flat, sheltered water.

  • Academy return policy on kayaks

    Academy Sporting Goods’ standard return, refund and exchange policy for in-store and online purchases applies to kayaks—provided you have not registered your kayak with state transportation authorities (where applicable). A receipt dated within 60 days is required for an exchange, in-store credit or refund. Returns without receipt are subject to verification and require a government-issued identification. The kayak must be in new condition with no visible signs of wear, and include all original packaging and accessories to be considered for a return, refund or exchange.

  • Kayak prices Academy

    Kayak prices at Academy are competitive with other box stores, such as Dunham’s Sporting Goods or Dick’s Sporting Goods. A typical beginner recreational kayak at Academy retails for less than $500, with most higher end models listing for less than $1,000. Don’t expect a high-performance, advanced kayak for these prices—but you’ll get a solid boat for occasional use at the cabin, cottage or beach, or for kayak fishing on sheltered water.

  • When do kayaks go on sale at Academy?

    Your best bet to find a kayak on sale at Academy Sports is to wait until the end of the paddling season. Academy Sports kayaks go on sale in August and September. Of course, waiting means you may have less selection of kayaks at Academy, depending on your location.

Paddle Sober And Smart
  • Never mix alcohol and paddling. Coast Guard and state BUI (boating under the influence) laws apply to all vessels. This includes canoes, kayaks, SUPs and rafts.

Academy kayaks reviews

If you’re unable to paddle a boat before you buy, the next best option is to find out what other paddlers think. Below you’ll find our expert reviews of some of the kayak models offered at Academy.

 

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