Heck, when questions of a definition comes up isn't it reasonable to first look at a dictionary? As paddlers I think we're a bit inclined to add items to a cluster - but those are more specific definitions than those used by the rest of the world.
To a sailor or a navy man a ship and a boat are very different things, but not to most users of the English language.
My Webster's New World says a kayak is 1)an Eskimo canoe* made of skins completely covering a wooden frame except for an opening in the middle for the paddler* 2)any similarly designed canoe* for one or two paddlers* made of canvas, plastic, fiberglass, etc.
A canoe is a narrow light boat with its sides meeting in a sharp edge at each end: it is moved by one or more paddles.
So paddles are a required means of propulsion for both and a kayak is a canoe with special features, like a deck of some sort. So if "canoe" is a family, "kayak" is a genus and so is "Canadian canoe" in other parts of the world. SOTs, rec kayaks, and such might be considered species or perhaps cultivars.
Like you, I look at some of these species rather like I look at dandelions or other introduced weed species. But, like an orchid grower or other avid plant fanatic, I know I'm looking with the rather jaundiced eye of something of a specialist rather than just any old user of English. And introduced weeds are often not entirely without beauty and they can certainly be successful, at least in the short term or in badly disturbed environments. Like the commercial marketplace.
I personally usually add to the cluster that a canoe paddler kneels or sits above the floor of the craft and uses a single blade. A kayaker sits on the floor and uses a double blade.
Specialty organizations or race organizers, of course, add yet more to their clusters, and if we're involved with such groups, we need to accept their definitions. Just as we would accept class definitions of the organization in charge if we were entering orchids in an orchid show or dogs in a dog show.
Rec boats and SOTs (which, after all, do have a deck of sorts and an opening in the center for a paddler) give me far less definitional problems than decked sailing canoes like some of the Rushtons which seem barely paddleable in the conventional sense - or the PacBoats which violate my personal additions to the "cluster" but not the common usage definitions.
I don't see how paddle boards fit anywhere... If I were really serious about such systematics, I'd put them in a different family. Looks like they could be fun though...
And of course there are folks of various skills and desires that can be found using (or trying to use) any of these watercraft. My guess is that what they (or we) start out paddling is probably pretty much a matter of chance - who they know that got them started, where they happen to live, what they can easily afford... And like any of us, if they keep at whatever it is they're doing, they'll get better at it. Maybe later they'll get a boat more in line with their needs or goals. If not, they'll drop out and there'll be another bargain boat for someone to try their hand at.
Its all good if it gets folks safely on the water without a motor.
Just my $0.02.
Touring Kayak Paddles
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