How to Choose a Whitewater Kayak

Author: Joseph Reilly

You've learned and studied how to kayak. You've read our other articles on what the best tips are when kayaking, how to stay safe, and what the best gear is to wear year-round when hitting those awesome waves. You even know exactly where to go and what locations have the best deals on classes and trips thanks to some of our other articles as well. But now comes the nitty-gritty. Now comes the part where you put all the other kayaking knowledge aside and get down to actually choosing what whitewater kayak you're going to buy. With all the studying you've done, and all the day-dreaming about actually getting out there on the water, this decision may be a little nerve wracking to you. You might not know exactly where to begin or what models there are out there that you can trust. Well luckily for you we have all the tips needed for you to make not only an educated decision on what whitewater kayak you're going to spend your hard earned money on. But we'll provide you with ways on how you yourself will always be able to know quality from everything else.


The first important thing to go over before getting into the best whitewater kayaks is understand the design, features, and technology of the kayak. When you know the fundamentals, the kayak language, lingo, but more importantly how and why a kayak works, you'll be better established at understanding why one whitewater kayak is better than the next. Below we'll go over all these details so you're good to go to pick out your kayak today!


Boof is a funny sounding word yes, but this is actually a powerful technique used while kayaking that involves the paddle and a thrusting if your hips. This is to of course gain control of your kayak when it may be drifting in an unwanted direction.


Primary stability isn't as funny sounding as boof but rightfully so because this is actually an important term. Primary stability is the term used to describe your kayaks ability to stay upright and not capsize. This us an important term to know when going to shop for a kayak because you'll want to know a model's background before taking it into the water.


As the name suggests, secondary stability goes hand in hand with primary stability except here it's a measure of the boats ability to stay upright when on a tilt. When the kayak goes far past its primary stability, that's when you should pay attention to how good and strong its secondary stability is.


Planing hull is a term describing the very bottom of the kayak. This bottom is specially made so that the kayak can easily go through the water and not have trouble pushing through it. This is essentially the magic behind how a kayak works so fluidly.


Displacement hulls do the exact opposite of what planning hulls do. Instead of helping the kayak glide, the displacement hull actually specializes in pushing through the water. This component is pretty much the metaphorical muscle of the kayak.


Volume is the measurement used to calculate the size of a kayak. Just as humans weigh themselves in North America by the pound. Kayaks are measured by volume and they usually range between 45-95 gallons.


Chines are the simple yet sophisticated mechanics behind sharp and quick turning along with the ability for the kayak to lean. They are imbedded around the water lines and run alongside the lower edges of the kayak. Chines go hand in hand with everything above, especially the boof technique.


Rockers are the misunderstood elements of the kayak as their amount of influence on the kayak's maneuverability is debated over. The rocker is the curve of the layer between the water and stem and its believed to help balance out all other components in more ways than one.


When it comes to choosing a whitewater kayak, take notice that there are actually multiple types to choose from that give kayakers some options before hitting the ocean blue.


Play Boats are the sports car of whitewater kayaks. These kayaks are meant to hit some string waves and skim some fast water. These models usually have a stickier look to them but still clock in at six feet in length. They're ideal if you're a seasoned kayaker looking to do some tricks in the water. The design of these boats reduce the secondary stability of the kayak but have pretty solid primary stability. This is due to the flat bottom and pronounced edges.


If you're looking for speed, River Runners are your go to as they're designed to go down stream fast. This happens primarily due to having softer chines built in along with a balanced primary and secondary stability.


Remember what we said about River Runners? Well these Long Boat models are pretty much the same except you guessed it, longer. Instead of six feet you get twelve. Bow rockers make this model stand out as this element provides extra control to your kayak along with a lot of extra space.



And finally the final aspect if choosing a whitewater kayak comes down to size. You'll want to go by the manufacturer's recommendations and always remember that any calculation you do when buying a kayak you have to add on your gear, because on top of the kayak you'll be wearing 10 to 15 lbs of gear as well. Always size up your kayak against that along with the body of water you'll be in. This way you can account for speed and how hard you'll have to paddle. If it gets confusing, there's always a paddle chart you can go by.

Whitewater kayaking is an experience like no other. There's a lot that goes into maneuverability, location, gear, and so much more before you actually get there on the water with your brand new paddles. It's easy to see a seasoned vet of kayaking and feel yourself being far away in skill. But now you're a lot more well informed before you even put your wetsuit on because you know exactly how to pick out your very own whitewater kayak. There's a reason why it's better to teach a man to fish rather than just give a man one and that's because knowledge is power. And knowledge about which whitewater kayak is best is the first step to being a veteran kayaker like you may see on the waters today. So feel proud that today you're one step closer to not only a fun time on your kayak, but also that you're one step closer to teaching other people about kayaks too!


How to choose a whitewater kayak