Best Whitewater Kayaks

Let’s agree to the fact that whitewater kayaking is not everybody’s cup of coffee. It is intense, exhilarating and yet at the same time, it is somewhat dangerous as well. Let’s corroborate the fact one more time that that whitewater kayaking is not for everybody. You need to have a great understanding of the dynamics of water and also you need to have wealth of experience and years of expertise in kayaking otherwise, a full-blown disaster is certainly going to blow up in your face.

So, if you are one of those guys who have great control over kayaks and can overcome fear easily, then only you will be qualified for this amazing outdoor sport. Whitewater kayaking is basically kayaking on steroid. Knowledge, skills and concentration all play pivotal role in this amazing outdoor sport.

The History of Whitewater Kayaking

You know who actually came up with the concept of kayaking? Well, it is no western invention as such rather kayaking has long been considered as a mode of transportation by our fellow North Men – Eskimos. Things were hard for these people and they probably had no other option but to paddle their way through whitewater. However, as expected, the purpose was to stay alive and not to get entertained.

Whitewater Kayaking
Whitewater Kayaking

Decades or probably centuries later, people of other countries started emulating this practice and thus the concept of Whitewater Kayaking came into being.

It is strange that some people decided to ditch the concept of paddling on clam water and opted for kayaking on turbulent water. Facing the full power and the wrath of nature is no easy task and therefore, only seasoned kayakers should participate in this type of kayaking. It is a sport meant for adrenaline junkies and it should better be left that way.

How to Choose a Whitewater Kayak

Choosing a kayak for your next excursion has always been a daunting task because there are too many variable involved in the process. The market seems to have been flooded with kayaks of different shapes and sizes and this is not helping kayakers at all. Here in this article, we are going to give you detail analysis of some common whitewater kayak types so that you can make a better and more informed decision.

best whitewater kayaks
best whitewater kayaks

Gone are those days where you had to choose from two or three models of whitewater kayaks. You did not have much choice then. Your budget might have even restricted you from looking at other superior models of whitewater kayaks those days. But things have changed remarkably in the past few years. Now, there are hundreds of different models of whitewater kayaks available in the market made from wide range of materials. Some are designed for speed whereas some are designed for comfort. There are other factors too like hull design, length of rocker etc. So basically there is way too much information available that our brain can handle.

1. Speed of the Kayak

Why so many people are so much passionate for whitewater kayaking? Well, the reason is quite obvious. It is the speed that makes people go crazy. So, you need to choose a kayak that makes little sacrifice on this front without making any kind of compromise on safety or on the level of comfort.

The speed of a kayak is invariably associated with the shape of its stern. As explained earlier, Rounded Stern just like rounded hulls, cause less friction while on water and that makes rounded Stern kayak is a perfect choice for those whitewater kayakers who are looking for anything but speed.

Low volume sterns are also making a killing in the industry as they are extremely fast on water but at the same time, these kayaks are extremely stable rarely do they allow the boats to get tipped over. It is the design that makes the water to roll over the kayak easily and this preventing any mishap from taking place.

We should not ignore the importance of the length of a whitewater kayak when it all boils down to speed. Never go for a whitewater kayak that is longer than 10 feet because you would be facing extreme difficulty to move it around the narrow sections of the river. Managing a long kayak in shape turns can turn out to be a nightmare for you.

Bow shaped kayaks deserve a mention here. In order for a whitewater kayak to achieve a certain degree of momentum on water, we must ensure that the whitewater kayak is facing very little resistance from the water otherwise; the boat will get slowed down faster than you have imagined. This is the reason why rounded bow shape kayaks are extremely popular among whitewater kayakers.

2. Hull Shape

If you are looking for kayak that moves very fast and can cut through the waves easily and effortlessly, you need to choose a kayak with rounded hull. Rounded Hulls are great for fast moving water and there is a scientific reason behind it. Since the shape of the hull is round, it creates less frictions and this is what makes it super fast on choppy water. However, there is a catch to it and that is it is very difficult to roll these kayaks.

Flat Hull Kayaks are great for ensuring some level of stability while paddling in whitewater. Since the hull is flat, it does create some amount of friction and that adds to its stability. However, as obvious, they are a little bit slower compared to their Rounded Hulls brethrens. But Flat Hull Kayaks enjoy some additional advantage and that is it is extremely easy to roll them.

If you don’t like either of these above two designs, probably you will have to settle for a Planned Hulls. Planned Hulls is a hybrid design that makes use of the advantages of both Flat and Rounded Hull designs. They are faster than flat hulls and they are easier to roll than rounded full and thus making it the ideal choice for anyone who is planning to participate in whitewater kayaking for the first time.

3. Rapid Level

You seen those videos right where people are kayaking on turbulent water and it makes you feel so alive. But before you even think of taking part in such similar kayaking event, you need to have some level of understanding of the Rapid Level.

In the world of kayaking, water is categorized into 7 different levels known as – Rapid Level. The level goes like this – I, II, III, IV, V and VI. As you have already guessed, the higher the Rapid Level, the dangerous it gets. Rapid Level I means, you will be kayaking on Stillwater or in calm water of a lake or river. There could be a few obstacles along the water in Rapid Level I but you can easily overcome them with practice.

Now, Rapid Level VI is the most dangerous. Unless you have participated in some world kayaking events, you should not even think of it. To be honest, if you persist, you could easily end up being dead. So, trust us, don’t even think about it.

So, when you are going to purchase a whitewater kayak, you need to look for its Rapid Level. You definitely don’t end up buying a kayak made for Rapid Level I while planning to paddle in Rapid Level V. That would be a suicide. Settle for a whitewater kayak with Rapid Level V because that would mean you safely paddle on almost lakes and rivers in the United States.

4. Comfort

Even if you disagree, you need a whitewater kayak that scores high on comfort level. Since you will not be kayaking for a minute or two, you need to buy a whitewater kayak that will not make your journey even more perilous and uncomfortable than what it is already. The seat needs to provide support for your back.

Opt for a kayak that has adjustable braces and seats. Don’t even think of purchasing a kayak with molded seats because they are infamous for playing havoc with the backs of the paddlers. If you have some serious back issues, you need to purchase a contoured seat for you. Try to settle for a kayak which offers more stability and can help you cover more ground. Flexible and adjustable kayaks are great as they allow you to make changes in the seating position or adding some extra features in them to make them more comfortable.

5. Safety Options

If you are concerned about safety, you simply can’t give grab handle a miss. Strategically placed, grab handles are great to grab the kayak, of course! In case the kayak gets a little unstable, the passenger can hold on to these grab handles to bring the boat to a steady position again.

  • Flotation Device
    If you have no idea how to wet exit, you need to have a Floatation device attached to your kayak. This floatation device helps the kayak to regain its position in case you lost control of your kayak.
  • Extra Paddle
    Getting stranded in a remote and god-forsake place without a paddle is the worst thing that can happen to you. If the kayak gets rolled over, you can easily lose your paddle. The paddle can get snapped, if it gets hit hard by debris. You need get a spare paddle secured firmly to the kayak because this might save your day if things go horribly wrong.
  • Dewatering Device
    Accidents are inevitable in the long run. If you kayak for long, chances are that at some point, your kayak may develop leaks or it might get hit by a monstrous wave.  If water starts seeping in, you need to have quick access to a dewatering device.  The dewatering device does not have to be something fancy. It could be a sponge, a hand pump or a bilge. You need to make sure that it works just in case thing go south.
  • Throw Bag
    You might also need to consider having a throwbag while out there kayaking in whitewater. Now, you might be wondering what is a throwbag? Well it is just a simple bag containing rope and it is widely used to rescue a kayaker in case the boat gets overturned.

6. Chines

Chines is the edges of the submerged section of the hull. It has been observed that kayaks with soft chines are known for offering a comfortable ride whereas kayaks with hard chines are known for their speed and performance.

  • Hard Chines
    There is no denying of the fact that hard chines demand greater skills and more concentration from the kayakers. But that does not mean that beginner kayakers should be stay away from them. They are a great choice if you have learnt the basics of kayaking by heart. Theoretically, 90-Chine would increase the performance of the kayak manifolds but at the same time, it would make it almost impossible for a kayaker to manage it. This is the reasons why some kayak manufacturers are trying to strike a perfect balance.Hard chines can make the boat flip easily and its design allows the boat to turn on a dime. Hard Chines are perfect for large water bodies but they can get stuck and can perform poorly in shallow water.
  • Soft Chines
    Considered as more forgiving than their counterpart – Hard Chines, Soft Chines kayaks are known for providing a greater level of secondary stability. Kayakers have to work hard to steer them in the right direction in pushy water. You will have to paddle more frequently and that means, you will end up burning more calories. Soft Chines kayaks have rounded hull that adds to its stability but it does have a negative impact on its mobility.

7. Rocker

The upward tilt of a kayak’s hull is known as Rocker. The rule of thumb is – the smaller the rocker is, the speedy the kayak is whereas the larger the rocker is, the more maneuverable the kayak is. Kayak with shorter rocker is easy to track on water.

Kayaks with higher rocker can overcome obstacles with ease and elan compared to their lower rocker counterparts. Kayaks with higher rocker can help a kayaker gain his lost balance after making a jump from a height.

8. Size

The size of the boat can have significant impact on its performance.  Failing to choose the correct size of the boat can make or break your day. You also need to check the maximum weight capacity of each whitewater kayak before making the final decision. Since you will be using multiple gears, you need to add 10 to 20 lbs to your body weight to figure out whether your total body weight is outweighing the maximum weight capacity of the kayak.

Different Types of Whitewater Kayaks

With so many choices out there, how can you select the right whitewater kayak for you? To help you out, here we are going to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of some common whitewater kayaks so that you can make a better decision –

1. Long Boats

Long Boats are meant for paddling on rivers. As the name suggests long boats can measures up to 12 feet long but they are super fast on downriver. You can take these long boats for a multi-day kayaking trip because they are known for their excellent maneuverability and agility. Be it a Rapid Level I water or a Rapid Level V creek, Long boats can cover your back.

2. Play Boats

Play boats are great for performing aerial skills and showcasing amazing stunts on rapid water.  Play boats are very short in size hardly 6 to 7 feet in length. Popular stunts like kayak spinning, , flips, turns, cartwheels etc can be performed effortlessly with this Play Boat given the fact that you have all the skills, experience and expertise.

Unlike whitewater kayaking where the purpose is to cover a certain distance, paddlers here perform different types of technical moves to entertain the audience. Play Boats usually share these following features – beveled chines, plain hull, flat bottom and small rocker.

These features allow the kayakers to perform certain tricks like squirts, pop-ups and more. In order to perform such stunts, the kayakers need to float their boats loosely on the surface of the water and which is why it is important to choose a kayak that has least amount of rocker.

3. River-runners

Known for their versatility, River Runners offer amazing level of performance. They are all about speed. At first glance, river runner kayaks may seem like a cross between a creeker and a play boat. They are known for offering both primary and secondary stability. Some of the most prominent features of River Runners are – large volume, soft chines and an above average length. These features allow paddlers to move fast.

4. Creekers

Creekers are the best boats for whitewater kayaking. Be it jumping from a great height, navigating through sharp bends and curves or navigating through frothy rapids, Creeks are ideal for even the most extreme whitewater kayaking. Its water-displacing design helps cushioning the impact when you take off a jump from a certain height. Creekers also have large rocker in both the stern and the bow of the kayak.

Creekers have great secondary stability because they have soft chines but creekers don’t have much primary stability and this is what makes them unsuitable for first-time kayakers or inexperienced kayakers.

Large and bulky in design, creekers are not ideal to use on small water bodies and definitely, they lack the grace and the charm of that of a river runner.