Beginner whitewater/lakes

Hi everyone. I’ve only been kayaking once in my life. I took a trip along the bay of fundy. It was awesome. anywho. I am looking to get into kayaking this year. I live around primarily lakes and rivers, but would like to get into some whitewater kayaking as well. So my question is, would a whitewater kayak be good enough to use most of the time on lakes? that is where most of my kayaking will take place. but would like to hit up some rapids when available to. But am not looking to purchase 2 kayaks. I am 5’8", 160lbs. So any suggestions on what kayaks i should be looking at would be greatly appreciated.

Most whitewater kayaks are annoying
and pokey for exploring lakes. They don’t want to track straight unless your technique is highly developed. I suggest you look for used kayaks, one for whitewater and one for flatwater.

Someone will suggest a “fusion” or dual purpose kayak, but really, none of them are very pleasurable on lakes or flat rivers. They are good ww kayaks with deployable skegs so that they track straight on lakes.

I have paddled most crossovers, owned a Pyrahnna Fusion, still own a LL Singer, nether are any fun on flat water. I have not paddled a P&h Hammer, but they are not cheap and very heavy.

WW boats can be had very reasonably used. Decent touring boats seemingly hold there value a little better, but now is a good time to haunt Craigslist, or ask at paddle shops if anybody has used boats on consignment.

If you are set on one boat I really like my WS Zephyr and Dagger Alchemy, both boats come in different sizes for a good fit, and both are great rough water boats, and also good flat water boats. I have had both on class 3 water, successfully on class 2 rivers. If I only had access to one kayak, either one of these boats could keep me happy 85% of the time.

also agreed
I wouldn’t use a white water or crossover kayak for flat water.

But I have a slightly different recommendation. Get the kayak that you would use most of the time (flat water), and then rent when you do white water. Actually, I strongly recommend you take a lesson for white water before you even look at getting any gear for it - it is an activity where taking lessons will make it much more enjoyable than if you just up and do it.

Agree with Peter-CA
There is usually a safe way to go out and do the flatwater thing by yourself. This is not true of whitewater, especially for a beginner. That should be done with trained folks who can get you out of trouble when you find it. And it is when, not if, for a new paddler on whitewater.

As above a boat that is good for whitewater will be quite unsatisfactory for flat paddling. You are better off finding someone to get you properly started in whitewater and using their boats until you have figured out your true interest there.


– Last Updated: Mar-05-15 10:55 AM EST –

It all depend what you want to do in whitewater. If you just want to occasionally run down a river, almost any reasonably maneuverable flatwater kayak will work for class II. If you want to learn to stay and play in whitewater, or run class III and above, you'll want a whitewater boat.

I agree that you should get the boat for the paddling you do most. I'd look for a flatwater boat that fits you well and is designed more for easy turning than hard tracking. Maneuverability is greatly influenced by paddler skill, but there's no need to start with a handicap.

For example: I think the Alchemy S would be a much better choice for your use than the Tsunami 135. The two have similar dimensions but very different personalities.

The general rule
as far as boats are concerned is that you can probably use a longer sea kayak (I’ve used a 17’ boat) to about class III water. Anything more requires a specialized WW boat.

But there is a caveat: Class III for an accomplished paddler familiar with handing the sea kayak in rought conditions isn’t all that bad. For a novice, however, it could well be fatal.

Being a novice, it is probably more important to get out on the water and learn paddling technique first before selecting a boat. I give this advice to almost everyone, but I’m not sure how many follow it.

I didn’t believe it when I was told this, but it really is true. I rented a different style boat each time I went out for about the first two years of paddling. The boat I eventually picked for my first fit my personality well, but there were boats I wanted more (had funds been unlimited at the time, I would have selected another).

So, do yourself a favor and don’t pick a boat until you learn what design fits your attitude and paddling style. The boat you want, and buy now, will not be the same boat you want even as short as 4-6 months in the future.

Take classes, rent boats, paddle with club groups in the area, and then start shopping for a boat. I think you’ll find this to be a better introduction to the sport and you will learn if the sport is right for you before making a large cash infusion into same.


Thta’s good advice if it can be followed
I pointed out in a similar discussion recently, that in most locations, no one has the option of renting different boats with different handling characteristics. I think “the general rule” in this case is that if you don’t live in a real sea-kayaking community, the only kayaks available for rent are little better than pool toys. I happen to live in a town that has one of the better-known paddling shops in the country, and I suspect they will rent a wide variety of kayaks. However, when I asked them about canoe rental a few years ago, they said their rental terms did not allow transporting the boat to a launch site off their own property, making rental impossible for anyone wanting to try out boats on rivers. All other kayak-rental shops that I’ve seen, and that’s been quite a few, offer nothing better than fat rec boats, usually no longer than 10 feet.

I don’t say this to shoot-down your advice, but to let any newbie know that it may be necessary to follow a next-best course of action instead. For most people, it means picking something based on a reasonable decision-making process, then moving on from there after gaining experience. That’s a strong case for saying one’s first boat should be bought used if possible, so you can get full return on your investment when switching to something better.

Are there really WW kayaks available to rent? I can’t imagine that making sense from an economic or liability standpoint.

Anywho, I’ve always thought of buying kayaks as a kind of self managed rental program. Used river runners and creek boats can often be found in the $300 to $400 range and re-sold flat or at a slight loss later. Every boat’s a compromise, so if I were in a similar situation (I generally only paddle open boats or row but my daughter prefers kayaks) I’d strongly consider what others have advised and start with a boat that will do more of what you want than not then pick up a second boat for WW if you really start to get into it. That’s not as big a financial burden as it sounds like. You don’t have to buy it all at once, and you may find that the “do it most” boat is all you need for quite some time.

I also strongly agree with the recommendation to seek out your local paddling community, especially if there’s a club. There’s no better source of help and paddling companionship than a great paddling club, and it’s also an excellent place to pick up used boats and gear at good prices. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy my local club.

Go to NOC in NC and you can demo
ww kayaks on class 2+ rapids near the store. They charge a small amount for this, which can be viewed as rent. The variety of boats available is considerable.

Here’s the catch. They aren’t likely to allow a green beginner to demo boats in whitewater.


for example:

do a Google shopping search for: polyethylene sea kayaks or kayaks only.

search to the makers websites, eyeball the hull bottom curve…more curve is more WW less flatwater…

use the Google search brand names for Craigs List or Google for sale searching.

Bottom curve is necessary for rivers but a dog on flat water…like anchored to the bottom.

Distances on flatwater with a curved ‘rocker’ bottom hull is a real drag. The opposite, GLIDE, is a designer’s grail.

The CD is good for 2…2+…see American White Water online. BUT ! you need to learn rolling. In a canoe or rather out of a canoe you swim with the flow.

Longer wider slower windier rivers…Missouri, Missippi, are best done with a long sea kayak with a low wind exposure.

All good points
To me there is a difference between the discipline of Whitewater Paddling where a shorter dedicated whitewater boat is needed to make moves and play in features, and simply paddling down easy whitewater rapids. At my local club we do both. Here are some pictures of “flatwater” trip down a class I/II section of the Deerfield River with a mixture of boats and paddlers:

We had fun, and nobody got into any trouble, but rapids were easy and the objective was simply to paddle through them, not stop to play in them. So I agree with the advice that you have received:

  • Get a reasonably maneuverable touring boat in the 14’ range. If you can put a neoprene skirt on it, all the better.

  • Hook up with a group where you can try lots of different types of paddling in a controlled setting.

    If you find that you want to get into whitewater paddling as a discipline, you’ll need to get a whitewater boat and take some classes, but that is probably down the road.

You can rent on the Deerfield River
as well - Zoar Outdoor.


– Last Updated: Mar-06-15 10:11 AM EST –

I see you are in Ontario -- big province, but if you are anywhere near Kingston there is an excellent paddling club there, Cataraqui Canoe and Kayak Club. They have many outings on the water and members with advanced skills in flat and white water. Great bunch of folks. I have kayaked with them and my friend who is a senior member was once the Canadian national champion in whitewater -- he greatly helped me refine my paddling technique.

Also in the area, Frontenac Outfitters, adjacent to the park of the same name, is a very good kayak dealer from whom you could get good information on selecting boats for your intended usage.

my advice

– Last Updated: Mar-06-15 10:17 AM EST –

Find a good used poly sea kayak that suits you for now but doesn't break the bank. This will let you get some seat time, as guideboatguy says.

Get seat time in different boats. This way you're not going on what some stranger says a curved hull bottom (keel) can do for you, you'll know for yourself.

You'll find there are tradeoffs. For example, it may be more difficult to turn a boat with little rocker in the keel. But this same boat may be faster in a line than a boat with a curved keel. Which very likely is going to feel more playful and maneuverable than the straight-rockered boat.

In the end you're matching conditions, type of paddling, and your personality. One boat cannot do it all and you know what they say about "jack of all trades". If you enjoy it enough you may decide one boat isn't enough.

This surprises me. Is it a setup whereby anyone can walk in, throw down a credit card and rent a WW boat to run serious WW, or is it similar to the NOC example? Just can’t imagine anyone providing the former, but it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong.

Deerfield has many parts

– Last Updated: Mar-06-15 11:23 PM EST –

The dryway is class 4. The next stretch is class 2 with some challenge, the 100 ft or so of the Gap is class 3 for most of the time when there is runnable water in it, and there is a long significantly easier (like class 1 if rated) below that. You'd have to confirm what part the boat was offered for rent in to gauge things.

comment requested !
I have not paddled a Kestrek type hull with bow upswept leading a ‘transistional’** midsection and flat straight hull line then to the stern.

I assume loading the hull adapts hull performance to conditions

load rear for flat water

balance bow stern height above water with center weight for max WW/turning/drag hull rocker

load to front more than ‘balance’ for faster turning.

Is that on the water real ?

*for want of an accurate description

Yes, Join a Club!
Yes, I agree that joining a local club is a great option, especially since you’ll need to run whitewater in a group for safety. Club members should be able to advise you about what types of boat to buy for local rivers and/or lakes, and may be willing to let you try out their boats under some conditions.

Take a class and join a club
I’ll echo what others have recommended here. Take a kayaking class and join a local paddling club. The class will help with learning water safety and paddling techniques. Joining a club should offer many opportunities for paddling with groups. Group outings will be good for safety and also for trying out different equipment.

I started kayaking towards the end of last summer. I only had a recreational sit-in kayak and only paddled flatwater, usually by myself. Upon the advice and recommendation of several experienced paddlers here on, I took a winter kayaking pool class because, 1). It got me in the water once a week even when the local rivers were iced, and 2). I learned good techniques and proper river safety.

Due to it being the only type of kayaking class offered in the area, I ended up in a whitewater kayaking course at a local community college. And I have to say I loved it. I’m hooked! I ended up buying a used WW kayak halfway through the class just so I could learn in my own boat. Not only did I learn good paddling techniques and river safety, but I learned how to roll my kayak! That was the most fun part. Well, for me anyway. I took to rolling right away and was rolling up on both my onside and offside the first night of roll instruction (which wasn’t until the 5th week of the course). Unfortunately, my classmates didn’t get it right away, but they worked at it very diligently for the rest of the course.

The course was taught by the local WW club (Chicago Whitewater Association). I joined the club after the first night of class. Now that the class is over and the weather is FINALLY starting to warm up, I’m looking forward to many outings with the CWA and my fellow club members.

Anyway, sorry that my post doesn’t offer any advice on the actual purchase of a WW kayak vs. sea kayak. But I highly recommend a class and a club.