Creekboats vs playboats to start whitewater

I’m new to ww kayaking and I just got myself a creekboat (JK nirvana). My goal is to be able to run a lot of whitewater (class V eventually). A lot of people have been telling me that I didn’t make a good choice since I should start out with a playboat instead. Their argument is that:

  1. Creekboats are more forgiving so you don’t develop good techniques. What are some example of techniques that I won’t be able to develop in a creekboat?

  2. Creekboats are tanks and will blast through everything. I don’t quite understand this argument. Can anyone elaborate? Why is it bad to be able to “blast through everything?”

  3. Is it possible to still learn in a creekboat to do class V eventually?

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I am not a strong WW paddler, I have had a good day where I rolled my way thru up to class 3. Because that particular day I also kept capsizing. I didn’t plan that part.

I couldn’t do that now. It was the height of my WW successes.

That said - play boaters tend to want to stay on and mess around with all the individual features in a run. Each standing wave, every little spot to stay put and try some boat gymnastics. Play boats are enabled to do that because they have quite low hull speed. The oldest play boats were also among the hardest to roll. But Jackson and other manufacturers have long since improved on that. Those features also mean they can capsize more easily because they will tend to stay involved in a challenging feature.

A creeker has more volume and a faster full, designed to basically run the green line without stopping to do gymnastics on every standing wave. Yes, the boats are more protective than play boats because the additional volume adds a little protection against capsize. Once you are past class 2 though, capsize is more possible regardless of what you are in. But this quality is why beginning WW classes especially with older folks in them are often predominated by creekers.

Part of this debate comes down to how you want to run a river. Do you want to bounce down the main current reasonably efficiently , or do you want to stop and stay at features like standing waves and do acrobatic stuff there. The extreme of this is park and play, where a paddler may spend their entire time in at most 50 feet of water doing flips etc in one spot.

But you are talking about class V, a level of WW difficulty that requires tons of skill even with a more protective boat.

Bottom line, if Class V is your goal you need to spend a lot of time learning these skills, and I would advise in a class situation. So perhaps they could put you into a play boat for that work. You still may want the creeker to be able to enjoy doing WW without having to worry as much.


Whitewaterdude get some new friends. They are idiots. I say this because the key phrase in your post by you is “just starting out”. Whitewater play boats are designed for folks who already know how to boat and want to play. The only argument you could make for starting in a playboat is that it would accelerate your learning curve. Meaning that you will get really good at swimming, rolling, looking up at the sky while going through wave trains or you will get really frustrated and quit. Save getting the play boat for when you have mastered the basics. Playboats can be a vital piece in your skill development but not the place to start. The only exception to that is if you are very fit, very young, and like jumping in the deep end of the pool without really knowing how to swim.

Your goal is to climb the ladder of difficulty. That’s not a bad goal. Just realize that as the difficulty increases so do the risks. You might want to set some intermediate goals. An example might be “I need to get really good on class II”. Please know that class V is the real deal. It is more than just youtube videos and magazine covers. If you have never checked out the american whitewater accident database then please do so. There is a nice article entitled “safety talk- the human factor” where it talks about the expert Halo trap. In your case, I think a little “scare and despair” might not be a bad thing. Where are you located? Perhaps we can help hook you up with some solid folks. If your friends are telling you to start in a playboat then they be more interested in your potential entertainment value than your well being. Or best case scenario they want you on an aggressive learning curve so that you can hang with them without getting hurt or killed. This means they want you rolling and swimming often to increase your survivability. This is “beater boating”. A better plan is for them to spend time with you in an appropriate venue, in an appropriate boat and focus on your skill development. The fact that they’re telling you to start in a play boat is an immediate red flag.


You are much better off with a creek boat as a beginner and I would ignore any further advise served up by those who say otherwise. I would also try to choose a kayak that is easy to roll initially.

Play boats tend to have very low volume ends that make them easier to submerge and slice through the water for acrobatic maneuvers like cartwheels and loops. Those low volume ends also make the boats much harder to rescue from strong current if you should swim.

I’m sure that there are many exceptions but most all of the true Class V paddlers I know got there because they lived very close to a reliable source of whitewater that was available year round, or nearly so. And they had jobs (or no jobs) and life circumstances that allowed them to paddle whitewater well over 50 days a year. That often meant they had no family or at least no children.

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Pete, kids and a real job definitely changed things for me. I don’t mean that in a bad way but priorities got realigned. “Seat time” is very important for climbing the ladder of difficulty. I’ve met a few individuals who could boat at a very high level and would only go out just a few times a year. They amazed me by being able to do this, but definitely they were the exception. I’ve also met some folks who were so good that they got bored and moved on to something else. I never had that problem. I have always found ww to be challenging. I’ve got no problem saying I’ve met kids who are way better than I ever was.

If I missed a few weeks of boating or had a winter lay off then my own skills suffered greatly. By far the scariest paddling I did was after winter layoffs and then hitting high water on the New (video boating) or boating with friends on the Cheat in March. Combine that with getting a little older, couch surfing, not keeping up on big water skills like having a bombproof roll (no pool time) and things could have gotten really ugly. Always just one swim away from disaster.

Ultimately, you have to decide how much risk you want to invite in your life. It is no accident that I never paddled the Russel Fork Gorge, Lower Meadow, Manns Creek, or Mill Creek (below Ansted). Opportunities were there, but I don’t look back and regret saying no. I watched my kids grow up and continue to paddle with them.

Now I make a more concerted effort to paddle a least a little bit through the winter months to avoid the layoff. I totally avoid high water on the New and any other big water runs and am better dressed for conditions Paddling scared ain’t much fun so I’m living in the class II/III realm. My fitness and survivability ain’t what it used to be. You’re only bulletproof when you are young.

Class V paddling is a big committment. A lot of young folks don’t get that at first. Heck I haven’t even really wanted to get back to class IV although I do miss some of the fun. The truth is that my current ability to paddle, although greatly diminished, still exceeds my survivability (physical condition) and the amount of risk I want to assume in my life. I am a self proclaimed weeny boater. I know a few folks that still boat at a very high level and some are a good bit older than me. and I’m in awe of them. It is not even a contest; I readily concede…and then there are the super human youngsters like Dane…who knew that stuff was even possible.


I’m located in Louisiana (New Orleans specifically). It’s hard to find people to do ww here since it’s not a popular thing in LA. I started by doing some weekly trips to Columbus GA where I took a lesson in the Chattahoochee river.

Yes, I don’t know of much whitewater in Louisiana. I also know nothing about whitewater in Texas. I have met a number of fairly accomplished whitewater paddlers who hailed from Texas, but from what I have gleaned the rivers there always seem to be running too high or too low.

You seem to be willing to drive some significant distances to the Buffalo River in AR and to Columbus, OH so you might consider joining a whitewater paddling club. There is good whitewater in northern Alabama and the Birmingham Canoe Club has had and seemingly still has a big membership. Another club to consider is the Arkansas Canoe Club which also has a Spring paddling club.

There are also some great whitewater streams in Missouri, east Tennessee, and western North Carolina that are within a longish day’s drive of New Orleans, and closer than Columbus, Ohio. The St Francis River near Fredericktown, MO has a great Class II-III section and the Missouri Whitewater Association has a Spring whitewater clinic. The Carolina Canoe Club has an annual event near Bryson City, NC very close to the Nantahala and Tuckasegee Rivers called The Week of Rivers that runs for 10 days around the fourth of July each year. The Nanty and Tuck are both dam-controlled and thus have dependable water even in the Summer. And the Nanatahala Outdoor Center in Wesser, NC, which is about 9 1/2 hrs driving time from you offers high quality whitewater instruction.

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Between the 2 choices, my recommendation for starting out would be a Creeker over a play boat. Depending on your determination, starting in a play boat , may turn you off to the sport, due to frequent swims, and could lead to you ending up in an area or feature in the river you wanted to avoid. I would advise you to consider a river runner when starting out. Above all else , it should be a fun experience, when out paddling, so don’t rush, learn on easier runs and make more challenging lines on those runs. Once you have improved your skills and decided what type of water you like to paddle, then you will be able to decide which classification of kayak would be best. Again, starting out- River Runner.

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if you haven’t paddled okatoma creek in mississippi it is a nice paddle, Mostly flat or class I but a couple of ledges that make it a class II run. You can make the run shorter from seminary by taking out at a bridge rather than using outfitter accesses which are further downstream. If you are by yourself shuttling could be a problem. Outfitters closed this time of year. It is not the ideal practice river because the ww is ledge drops and while aw shows it runnable, 290 cfs ain’t much.

Coosa in Alabama is probably a good option because it will have water and you can work the bottom of rapid (moccasin, I think is the name) for skill practice although the rapid itself tends to be a little ledgey. Your drive doubles compared to Okatoma.

If you want to come up to wv I’ll take you out on the upper new. Actually the low water right now is great for learning to boat- practicing ferries, peel-outs, eddy turns and I like the low water for winter paddling. That’s a 12 hour drive for ya.

Since you are in NO, why not learn to surf sea kayaks or WW kayaks? Dauphin Island, Orange Beach, and Grand Isle are lots closer than the mtns.

great feedback here

If you travel to Georgia a lot check out the folks at the Georgia Canoe Association, Also, look for local WW groups on Facebook. I’m in North Texas myself. We also have to travel to get to moving water. If you’re closer to Arkansas check out the Arkansas Canoe Club, ARKANSAS CANOE CLUB - Home Page. My local club in North Texas is actually a chapter of this club.

I’ve been lurking on this forum for awhile and haven’t seen much WW discussion. Fun to find out there are some WW folks here. The Nirvana is a nice boat that can handle some big water and has room to pack for an overnight trip. You can learn a lot in that boat. When I first started (a little less than a year ago) I was also given the advice to start with a playboat because 1) skills improve quicker and 2) I’m in Texas and there just aren’t any big rivers nearby and you can have a lot of fun in small features in a playboat. I did a ton of internet research. Because my budget was small and I was only going to get 1 WW boat, I split the difference and got a half slice (Dagger RPM). I’m loving this boat and the challenges of learning WW. If you have the budget to pick up a second hand playboat (JK fun or rockstar are common and popular) I’d get one. They are great for flatwater practice and really getting a solid roll. The best thing I’ve done in my very short time as a WW paddler was practicing my rolling and bracing as much as possible at a local lake. Having a solid roll gave me the confidence to enjoy, not just survive, the river on the few occasions I was able to get out there.