A Paddler’s Guide to Brightly Colored Tupperware:
Choosing a whitewater kayak can seem overwhelming. What size do I get? Should I look at a kayak with a round or flat bottom? Should I get a playboat or creekboat? What color should I get? Let us de-mystify the buying process, and offer some tidbits of advice.
Basic Design Concepts:
The longer the kayak, the faster it will be. The wider the kayak, the more stable it will be.
What kind of kayak should I get?
What do you envision yourself doing in your kayak? Running rivers, doing freestyle tricks, going off waterfalls? Think about what your goals are in kayaking, or what you feel you are interested in doing.
Are there different kinds of kayaks?
Yes! There are three different categories of whitewater kayaks: The Creekboat, the Freestyle Kayak, and the River Runner.
1. Creek boat:
Creek boats are generally highly-rockered, round-bottom (displacement hull) kayaks with round, blunt ends and soft edges. They tend to be voluminous for their length. Creek Boats take their name from the steep creeks they are designed to descend. They are designed be maneuverable, forgiving, and stable even in the most gnarly of whitewater. Their bulbous design is a feature intended to maximize safety, storage, and buoyancy as well as to deflect impacts with river features. Creekboats can be used anywhere from flatwater to steep class V creeks, and are very forgiving and stable.
Freestyle kayaks, also known as playboats, are short, low-volume kayaks with flat (planing) hulls designed to surf waves and other river features. They are usually designed with hard edges and a good amount of rocker, making them a little tippy-er than a creek boat. They are highly maneuverable, but lack the downriver speed and stability necessary for navigating technical, steep whitewater.
River running kayaks are designed for general whitewater use: they are a combination of creek and freestyle kayaks as they share design elements with both. Designs vary with some being larger and faster, while others are shorter, and lower volume.
What size kayak should I get?
Generally speaking, sizing is determined by the paddler’s weight. Each kayak has a specified weight range in which the kayak will perform best (generally found on the manufacturer’s website). Try to stay in the middle of the weight range for optimal performance.
How should the kayak fit?
If you have the opportunity, sit in each kayak you are interested in. When in the boat, you want the boat to fit somewhat tightly, but not so tight your legs feel like they will cramp up. In general, you want the thigh braces wrapping your thighs completely, but not exerting any downward pressure. You want your feet touching the foot braces with your heels together and toes pointed outward. Hip pads should be snug enough so you aren’t moving around excessively while your paddling. Most importantly, you want the kayak to be comfortable and fit you while sitting in a neutral position.
When you’re looking to buy a new boat, take your time. If you can, sit in each boat and go for a paddle. Each boat is designed a little differently, from deck height to cockpit width, to boat length, etc, and each person has a personal preference of how they like their boat to feel. Go with your gut, and try the boat out on some easy water to see if it’s right for you.