buying a whitewater kayak

I decided that i am going to buy a whitewater kayak for my first kayak. I have heard that before i buy one i should take a class so that i can learn the basics, which i agree with completely, and that this class will be able to help me pick out a kayak. I have also heard that whitewater kayaks are custom fit. does this add extra charge to the kayak? I am a college student, and i do not know if i will be able to afford a kayak like this. If someone could help me out, and tell me about their experience with or without lessons, i would appreciate it, and if you could help me out with places in pa where i can get these classes, i would appreciate this also. I am from south central PA and will be moving to Slippery rock PA in august, so if anyone knows good places to go please tell me.

south central PA?
Not sure where you mean but if you’re near Harrisburg, check out Blue Mountain Outfitters in Marysville on the Susquehanna.

Farther west is the Riversport School of Paddling in Confluence PA on the Youghigenny.

Farther east is the Northeast PA kayak school on the Lehigh.

Checking out a club is another good idea. The Canoe Club of Greater Harrisburg is the Harrisburg one.

Google them, they all have websites.

Any of these places can answer all your questions

While the boats are
designed to fit your paddling interests and skills such as playboating, creek boating or river running and size of the paddler they are not specifically “custom fitted”.

There a zillion w/w boats out there and volume of the kayak is part of the fit. Compare your “naked” weight to the maximum recommended volume of the boat. Generally, the closer you are to the maximum volume of the boat the more “playfull” the boat will react.

WW boaters like their boats to be tight fitting to allow the boat to move with the movement of the paddler. As a result most ww boaters will “custom fit” their own boats including thigh pads, hip and foot pads. Some C1 boaters have used vehicles to run over the bows of their boats to obtain a special quality for their boat. Getting back to custom fit, try out boats before you buy them and keep that foot size in mind. Many of the newer ww boats are small and give minimum room for the tootsies.

Others here will have more specifics… See you on the water.

Yup, What He Said…
There are many more white water boat models than just about any other types of kayak. A good thing because the used market is pretty saturated and you can find a good used boat for under $500. You should also count on another $100 for a paddle, $75 for skirt, $75 for PFD, $50 for helmet and $30 for float bags. If you are good, patient shopper you can find the nearly the whole package for about $500. I just picked up a used river runner, float bags, skirt and helmet for $300.

For a first boat, you will want a river runner boat. These tend to be higher volume (relative to weight, between 7-8’ long (shorter is more oriented to various play moves) and will have more “forgiving” hull and chine designs that won’t catch an edge as easily to trip you over on current lines.

Suggestions of boats require your size and weight. In play boats, your shoe size can actually make a difference but generally not for the high volume river runners. Lessons are good because it will also allow you demo some boats.


The boat you wear
Whitewater kayakers don’t ‘get in’ their boats, they ‘wear’ them. It should not be a tight fit, but it should fit. Just like a well-fitted shirt has contact with you all around but does not constrain your movement, so should a whitewater kayak.

That’s about as much advice as I’m able to give. I’m in pretty much the same situation, shopping for my first whitewater kayak.

  • Big D

I was thinking that
some of the newer models out there include back bands that can be adjusted very tigthly as the paddler sits in the boat, the same for the thigh pads which is darn close to the concept of “custom fit”. Me, i still have duct tape and stryofoam.

Boat Buying FAQ
Buying Your First Whitewater Boat

Q: When should I buy a boat?

A: Wait as long as you can, or at least until you find a bargain. Fall is a good time to buy.

Q: Should I buy a new or a used boat?

A: Buy used. You will almost certainly want a different boat after a year (or less), so don’t invest a lot in the first one. You should be able to find an acceptable boat for less than $400. Since you are going to resell it be sure to buy a popular model.

Don’t worry about scratches on a used boat. All whitewater boats have them and they don’t affect performance. Do worry about deep gouges, cracks, or deformation. Ask someone with experience to help you evaluate the condition of a boat.

Q: What kinds of boats are there?

A: Since this is your first boat I am going to leave out things like creek boats, squirt boats, and boats for wave surfing. The remaining boats fall generally into two broad classes – displacement hulls and planing hulls. Displacement hulled boats are typically older, longer boats with a hull that is rounded. Planing hulled boats are typically newer, shorter boats with a hull that is flat on the bottom. You will see both kinds on rivers although very few displacement hulled boats are currently being manufactured.

Q: Which kind of boat should I buy?

A: This depends on what you want to do. It is useful to think about that in terms of three categories described below.

River running. This is going down the river in a boat from point A to point B. This is essentially what rafts do. Maneuvering is minimal although catching eddies and ferrying is generally required.

Park and play. This is going to one spot in the river where there is a wave or a hole and doing tricks on the wave or in the hole.

River running with play. This is going down the river but doing “tricks” along the way. This can range from just surfing on small waves to doing more complicated moves like stern squirts, rock splats, and cartwheels.

Most people begin running rivers and as they get more skilled they begin to add playing. Some go on to park and play, others do not. If you intend river running with much play, or park and play, you should definitely buy a planing hulled boat. If you only intend to do river running or river running with a little surfing then the kayaking community is split about the kind of boat that is best. Here are some of the pluses and minuses.

A planing hulled boat is generally more stable. Eric Jackson says “a boat should be wide enough to give the beginner a stable platform to sit on. A narrow [displacement hulled] boat is [more] difficult to keep right side up and the more a beginner has to worry about flipping, the less they will try, and the slower they will learn.”

Planing-hulled boats can be more difficult for some people to roll. In general they are less tolerant of sloppy technique and weak hip snaps.

Planing-hulled boats are generally easier to control while displacement hulled boats generally track (go in a straight line) better. So, for example, while paddling a flat section of a river a displacement hulled boat is less apt to veer to one side or the other but when it does it is more difficult to correct it back to going straight. Whereas a planing hulled boat is more likely to veer but will also be easier to correct.

Most planing-hulled boats and some displacement boats have flat sterns with “edges”. Lazy technique can lead to getting flipped. That is called “catching an edge”. Most modern boats require more exact technique than older boats.

Because they are typically shorter than displacement hulls, planing hulled boats are slower. This means you will have to start some moves sooner when going down river. It also means you will be slower in the flat water sections of the river compared to people with longer boats. On the other hand, as the length of a boat increases, the leverage the water has against you increases to the exponential power of 3. Displacement hulls grab the water much more than planing hulls. So a shorter planing hull has more margin for error when crossing eddy lines.

Q: What size boat should I buy?

A: Most boats have a suggested paddler weight range. While those numbers can be misleading, they are still a good general guide to start with. If possible choose a boat where your weight is at the low end of the weight range. This will result in a boat that sits higher in the water. It will be easier to control and you will be less likely to catch an edge. Be sure as well that the boat has enough rocker (raised bow and stern) to keep the bow from plowing into the water when ferrying or paddling forward.

You should try out as many boats as possible before you buy. Be sure it fits you and it is a boat you enjoy paddling. Also remember that most boats are going to need outfitting (putting in foam hip pads and the like) before they fit you well.

Q: What specific brands and models would you suggest?

A: Here is a partial list of boats available on the used market that you should consider. If you find a boat you don’t know about, ask someone else with experience. Or better yet, ask several people and get a diversity of opinion.

Wave Sport: X, Z, EZ series, Siren, Evo

Pyranha: Inazone series

Riot: Superstar/Showbiz, 007, Grind, Booster series

Dagger: Showdown/Outlaw/Honcho, Redline/Infrared, GT series

Perception: Jib, Method/Method Air, Sonic, Supersonic

Necky: Jive

If you decide you want a displacement-hulled boat then consider the following:

Dagger: RPM/RPM Max, Animas/Piedra

Wave Sport: Kinetic, Godzilla

Q: Where can I get a used boat?

A: Check first to see if any local paddlers have boats for sale. Just asking around and putting out the word will often turn up something.

On the internet there are a variety of sources of used boats. One of the best is the Gear Swap page of Also check out and

There are also commercial companies that have used boats like:

Outdoorplay (

Nantahala Outdoor Center (

Northwest River Supplies (

Boats are regularly placed for bid on

Some commercial companies also place ads on the Gear Swap page.

Q: For used boats, what questions should I ask the seller? What should I look for?

How was the boat stored? A boat that was stored outside, rather than in a basement or garage, is likely to have deformation in the hull (called “oil-can”) due to temperature fluctuations outside, and to have degradation of the plastic and rubber parts due to UV damage from sunlight.

How much was the boat used? Where have you taken it? Where did you get it? If the seller doesn’t have quick, believable answers to these questions, then anything else they tell you about the boat is suspect.

Check essential outfitting – foot pegs, seat, backband, bolts and attachments of grab loops, etc. If most of these parts need repair, the expense and hassle often will not justify a great price. Don’t worry about homemade foam outfitting, since you will likely modify this in any boat you buy.

A sale that includes parts and gear such as outfitting, float bags, spray skirts, etc. is of great advantage since these things can easily exceed the price of the boat when purchased separately! Just check to be sure the gear is useable (float bags inflate, etc.)

Alright! Have It On A File…
copy, paste, post… Instant in depth answer. I like that. :slight_smile:


Thanks Dr. Disco!!
You missed two of the boats I was looking at - Wave Sport Diesel 75 and Pyranha G3. Do you have opinions on those boats? I’ve paddled both in a pool session. I’m interested in River Running in relative comfort as I enter the middle aged care & maintenance phase of my life. 6’3", 230# and losing, if you had to nail me down to a skill level it’d be advanced beginner. I don’t have a roll, though I have started to learn. I have moderate river reading skills and would trust my own judgment to scout a Class III rapid but not higher. I have paddled borrowed WW and even largish recreational kayaks in Class II+ and III water without dying or even coming close.

Also, what do you think of the inflatables, specifically the Aire Force XL, the Aire (Tributary) Strike, the NRS Bandit I, and the Innova Safari XL (or skirted version the Traveller)?

Sorry to bust so many questions, but I’ve been bitten by the WW bug bad and will go broke if I have to keep paying raft outfitters.

  • Big D

Haven’t paddled either of them.
But they are currently available as new boats and would be hard to find used. My list was of used boats that have been around awhile so they can be had cheaply.

Diesel, G3 and inflatable.
Okay I’m a class II boater and a class III victim at this stage of my paddling career, but here goes. I’ve sat in the G3, but not paddled it and it is a monster. Huge boat. Looks like it would be nice for very long trips where you’d wan to pack a lot of gear or you have the physique of sasquatch as my stepson does (why I was looking at it).

I currently have a Pyranha I:3 223 (I’m 5.9 and 220) and I still find it a little edgy in the stern with a level trim. I’m going to bias it forward shortly. The diesel 75 looks like everything I really want in a boat. I haven’t paddled it, but spent a day on the water with a complete beginner and he was catching eddies without any problem whatsoever and having a great time. I plan to try one this summer.

Keep in mind the above is a second hand observation.

I also plan to get an inflatable this summer and start enjoying the rivers as much as my other half does on her Perception Torrent SOT. She lilly-dips happily through class III to pick up all my pieces at the bottom of the rapid.

I honestly believe I will ultimately become ducky driver and if I had just gone that route from the beginning I’d have saved a lot of money already spent on hard-shell boats that tend to make a day on the river more challenging than I really need.

Best of Luck,


I’m a bit bigger
Monster boats are what I want.

I’m 6’3" with a 34" inseam. I weigh 230, which isn’t too bad for my height (I’m just a little too short for my weight), but much of that weight is in my legs and gut, which means most WW boats I have a hard time getting my thighs under the hooks and my backside below the back band.

I’ve paddled a Diesel 75 in a pool session. I fit the G:3 better, but the Diesel 75 appeared to be a better built boat, though I have to admit an astounding level of ignorance in that regard.

Good luck. Maybe some day we’ll be able to laugh at each other as we toss throw ropes back and forth along a river.

I’ve paddled a Torrent, too. I was at the very top of it’s advertised weight range (250#) then and still found it a very suitable boat for Class III. It doesn’t surprise me that a lighter person gets more performance, though. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with skill or anything. Out of the question. :^)

  • Big D

Riversport in Confluence,PA
is where I just bought my first ww yak. You can try before you buy right there.Love my new yak! I’m taking a 5 day cours with MKC in August but I will be rolling before that with the help of a local ww yakker.

I’m torn to some degree

– Last Updated: May-11-05 12:38 PM EST –

There's a nice paddle-shop right in my area (about 1/2 mile away) that has a Class II section of river right behind their store and allow try before you buys. But they're pricey.

Then there's a larger dealer with a better selection not as close, but still a family owned operation (not a big box store) about 2 hour drive north and another even bigger family run dealer with anything at all at pretty amazing prices that beat the big box stores about a 3 hour drive south. I'd rather test in Class II, but that dealer has a pretty poor stock in big guy boats. The RPM Max was the biggest boat they had and I had to remove my shoes and wear slippery shorts to squeeze in. I don't think I'd be able to emergency exit. I guess go with one of the bigger dealers even though the demos won't be as meaningful.

- Big D

You have a common problem
And there are a limited number of options out there. If you want a new boat that will run rivers well and has good play potential look at a Jackson Super Fun. It will definitely fit you and will give you a mild challenge. I have a friend who recently bought one and is close to your size (taller but 10 pounds lighter) and is very pleased with it. The price is right compared to other boats. Other new boats you should look at are the Wave Sport Diesel and the Liquid Logic series (Trigger, L’l Joe, Hoss, etc.). If you want a used boat that is a problem. The RPM Max is a very outdated boat and probably won’t fit you. The same for the Wavesport Z. Probably the best choice is a Riot Grind. It will certainly fit you, it a very good river runner, and can be had for a decent price ($300-$400). Otherwise you have to move to a creek boat.

Was thinking about creek boats

– Last Updated: May-11-05 12:43 PM EST –

From a pure 'get it done' perspective, what's the difference between a creek boat and a river runner? "It" means getting down river in one piece and maybe doing a little surfing but not tricks.

My understanding, correct me if I'm wrong. More 'play' potential in the river runners. River runners have lower volume. River runners are more posture sensitive.

Creek boats tend to have more volume and be less posture sensitive, but you give up some play potential.

Did I get anything wrong? What did I miss?

I'm leaning heavily towards creek boats or all-arounds (G:3; Diesel 75; Mamba 8.5; Big Gun Expedition among others) or inflatables (Tributary Strike; NRS Bandit). I'm having trouble testing them and don't want to buy mail order without having at least figured whether my fat butt will fit. I've eliminated just about every one I've test fitted except the Diesel 75 and the G:3. I understand the G:3 is based on the H:3 255.

I squeezed into a Prijon Chopper after removing all the easily removable factory outfitting. Once in, I would have been able to paddle for a short while, but would have required frequent stretch breaks. Not the best choice for me, it seems.

I'll look more into the recommendations you provided already.

- Big D

Big Gun
You may find that one a little small. I managed too squeeze the other half’s son at 6.4/260 34 inseam, size 14 feet into it after gutting the front end.

He found the Dagger Nomad 8.5 to be a comfy fit.

Despite being a bigger boat, it feels smaller than my I:3 as I sit in the cockpit.

I drove four hours (one way) to demo and buy my I:3 and my sea kayak on seperate occasions.

Best of Luck,