Creek vs River Runner vs Freestyle?

Ok, forgive me as I’m not a whitewater paddler (although the prospect of trying it one of this days is appealing…that’s why I’m curious) but I’m a little fuzzy on the differences between the classifications of boats.

What’s the difference between a Creek boat, a River Runner and a Freestyle boat? I gather the Freestyle boats are more for playing and trick moves and they seem to look dramtically different than the others. To my untrained eye, the Creek boats and River runners are almost identical.

Highest Volume, Higher Volume, And…
least volume. Correspondingly, rounder, fuller shape; followed by somewhat edgier shape and lines; and then the edgiest lines, sharp ends or scooped out front bows. Continuum goes from forgiving shape/lines in big water to the slicey/edgy in any moving water.


First question is…
…where and how you will use it. The creek boat is for big, fast water with steep drops. The high volume and crowned decks help it resurface quickly. It’s also rockered for faster spins and boofing. The lines are rounded and the ends are full, so current doesn’t easily get on top, grab an edge and flip you. The volume is distributed throughout the boat. The lack of sharp edge means they don’t carve or ferry especially well. The rocker steals some speed.

Play boats are short and put what volume they have near the cockpit. The ends are flat and slicy with little volume, so you can easily get them under for squirts, cartwheels, etc. They will also get under in ferries, surfs and about any time you’re not in control or paying attention. Paddler weight is usually set forward to keep that rear edge from getting caught, and for better control. Playboats are sensitive to how you trim them. They are rockered. Some designs are so slicy and rockered that they’re mostly suitable for just park n’ play. Playboats are slow and tend to plow and pearl, so plan on hitting surfs from upstream or right off a side eddy. You’re not going to speed upstream on them. Playboats are a real handful for beginners and can be discouraging.

River runners have some volume in the ends, some edge and some rocker. They do a number of things pretty well, but don’t have the slice or short length for serious play, or the high volume and rocker for extreme creeking. Usually nice for pool-drop rivers. A few years ago, manufacturers began offering river/play boats that are decent compromises. They’re basically shorter river runners with moderately slicy ends.

The “right kayak” is dependent upon your dimensions, style and preferences. This is especially true of whitewater boats, so be wary of ads, reviews and your buddy’s favorite. Try before you buy.

Kayak ?
Looks like you’re asking about kayaks but these categories could apply to canoes as well. Which ?

I was asking about kayaks…

Article from NRS
This helped me understand when I first began WW


I’m no expert, but basically the “Play” and “Creek” boats are at the opposite ends of the specifics of hull-design spectrum, where a so-called “River-Runner” will be more-or-less in the middle in hull design. The hull design of a ww-kayak has dimensional aspects of the hull that are dedicated to specific aspects of whitewater features…waves, holes…and how to make the journey down/through them more fun, or in the case of creekboats…more survivable.


Good article
Thanks for the link to the NRS article…everything I wanted to know and then some!