choosing a whitewater kayak

I’m moving to central Kentucky and thinking about getting a boat to get me back into whitewater. I’ve got more experience with canoes than kayaks, and have paddled open boats in Class III in Montana and banged recreational kayaks over 6-foot falls in Texas, so I’m not completely unfamiliar with the terrain, but the only whitewater kayak per se I’ve ever paddled was a (very) old Perception Pirouette, not a lot at that, and years ago. Most of my minimal skills are canoe skills, and they’re rusty re whitewater. I sold my Dagger Ocoee several years ago, and replacing it is too expensive, plus my 47-year-old knees aren’t much loving the kneeling position anymore.

I’d like to get into a used kayak in which I can get comfortable again getting down Class III water. I don’t need or want a technical playboat, but I would like to be able to have a decent chance at surfing waves. I’m gonna need a boat that’s reasonably easy to roll — a skill I’ve yet to learn, and don’t want to break my back learning. I’m 5’ 11" and about 180 lbs.

Any advice from the experienced on specific models or general characteristics to suit my purpose would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

You’re in the sweet spot

– Last Updated: May-27-15 9:15 AM EST –

in terms of size, so pretty much any production whitewater kayak model will come in a size that fits you.

Generally, the trade off in WW boats is between downriver stability (being able to float/punch through stuff) versus play-ability. It sounds like you want something with the ability to play at least a little bit, but you need to decide how important a feature that is to you.* On the more play-friendly end, I'd consider a hybrid playboat/river-runner like the Jackson Fun/LiquidLogic Freeride/Wavesport Fuse. These boats have the planing hull and slicy bow and stern of a playboat coupled with somewhat higher volume, which means they can get through stuff easier than a pure playboat. Beyond these, you start getting into the "pure" river runners like the Liquid Logic Remix/Pyranha Burn/Wavesport Diesel.

Note that these are just a few boats that I have some familiarity with, but is in no way an exhaustive list of the many perfectly capable boats out there. Once you figure out what design you're most interested in, it really comes down to personal preference in terms of fit/comfort/feel. The only way to figure that out is to try boats. An easy way to do that is to take a few beginner WW kayak lessons with a school that has its own fleet of boats, or even better, has a retail shop that allows demos. That's also a good strategy for getting you rolling as soon as possible, which even for Class III is a skill you're going to want to have to avoid the frustration of numerous swims.

* I note that you said "surf waves." Any boat is capable of surfing the right wave. Generally, the bigger and faster the wave (more green water), the longer, faster the boat you want. Conversely, smaller, foamier waves are usually better suited to playboats.

KY WW Groups
Depending on where you are moving to in KY, there are several WW paddling groups in this area, from the Vikings Canoe Club or the Bluegrass Whitewater Association or the Bardstown Boaters. Plenty of great advice on paddling locations and gear. Enjoy!

I 2nd that
tie in with one of those groups and they should be able to hook you up with a good used boat- a couple of popular all around river runners are mambas, and remixes but there is a ton of other good boats out there as well.

check these folks out