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Whitewater Kayak 101

3 main styles of enclosed whitewater of kayaks:

Playboat- these are your small freestyle kayaks made for surfing, catching big air and doing all the tricks you can imagine. These boats are typically under 6’8” long and have less than 60 gallons of volume.  The hull will always be flat with sharp edges so that it is able to carve on a wave.  Playboats have low volume bows and sterns so that you can submerge either end of the kayak in order to do tricks. The majority of the volume is distributed around the cockpit to help get more bounce or pop when doing aerial moves. This is your park and pipe ski of the kayak world.  Examples- Liquidlogic Ronin, Dagger Agent, Jackson star series

River Runner- If you want one kayak that will perform over a broad style of rivers, hop in a river runner.  These boats are designed to be comfortable and perform in the majority of conditions the average kayaker will encounter.  They are typically a little larger than a playboat and have more volume. This helps to make the kayak easier to roll and control.  River runners will typically be 6’8”- 7’8” in length. They will have a volume around 65 gallons. The hull is not as flat as a play boat but it will be able to surf on good waves and pull your basic tricks.  Examples- Liquidlogic CR, Jackson Fun series.

Creek Boats- This is the boat you want to run steep alpine creeks.  This is the 4x4 of the kayak world. These boats are designed to muscle through the gnarliest water you can float on.  They are not overly long to ensure that you can fit into the tight spaces where the adrenaline begins to flow.  They are long enough to ensure that you can “hit with speed”. They have more volume to ensure that you stay on top through the biggest water.  They typically run 8 -9 feet long with a volume around 70-80 gallons. These boats have what is called a displacement hull which is designed to displace the water when hucking over your favorite waterfall and ensuring a softer landing. These boats are also uses to run the big waves of the biggest rivers in the world.  They are able to take anything you dare put yourself into.  Example Liquidlogic Huck, Dagger Nomad, Jackson Hero line.


 Paddles come in all shapes and sizes. Blades are designed for different types of paddling but what really matters is finding the paddle that has the stiffness you prefer.  All paddle companies have paddles at an entry-level cost. You will sacrifice strength and weight when you buy a lower end paddle. The top end paddles are mainly made of some mixture of carbon fiber and will be very light and strong.  You can pay anywhere from $100-$500 for a paddle.  Most paddles come in lengths from 188 cm- 200 cm.  To give you a gauge to the size of paddle you should buy, I am 6 feet tall and I paddle with a 194 bent shaft.

Two shaft styles

Straight shaft paddles- These are  very straight forward just as the name implies. The paddles will come with either a 30 degree or 45 degree offset of the blades.  You will have to decide which offset you prefer. I find that 30 degree is much more comfortable.

Bent shaft Paddles- These paddles will have curves right where you place your hands. They are more ergonomically correct and will help to prevent joint irritation in your hands and arms. Typically you will by a bent shaft paddle a little bit shorter than a straight paddle. This is because you will get equal to more power from a shorter bent shaft paddle. It is more efficient in that way.


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