How old a kayak is too old for learning whitewater

so… my kids and i want to get into whitewater… we have found that used boats are way way cheaper than new (seems ww boats depreciate alot cause i think designs are always changing)… i’ve heard from youtube that used boats can be a problem because the designs are so outdated… course, those people are likely shop owners… would a boat in good condition from the 90’s still be safe for someone learning ww kayaking? specifically, i’m lookin at the corsica matrix, which, according to the '93 catalog is a “beginner” boat… are we gonna be frustrated in a class with an older boat?

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So long as the plastic is in good condition, the boat will be fine. The Corsica Matrix is actually a pretty nice boat and one of the first that had something of a planing hull. But if you have big feet you might find that the Matrix doesn’t offer a ton of foot space between the hull bottom and the deck.

Whitewater kayaks got shorter and often “slicier” because paddlers wanted to do playboating maneuvers like flat spins, loops, and cartwheels and short boats were much better suited to that. But the boats gave up a great deal of hull speed when they did so, so if you are interested primarily in river running, a boat like the Perception Corsica Matrix should do fine.

There are a couple of things you should be aware of when looking at older whitewater kayaks. The cockpits tended to be smaller back then, although if memory serves the Matrix had a pretty decent cockpit size for the vintage. But be sure that you can exit the boat easily and make sure you can find a spray skirt that fits the cockpit.

Second, be aware that these days whitewater kayaks generally have readily adjustable outfitting with ratcheting back bands, adjustable knee hooks and adjustable hip padding. Back then they generally did not come stock with back bands or hip pads and knee hooks were usually not adjustable. Boats were outfitted by the particular individual by adding an aftermarket back band (if desired) and gluing in to the side walls of the seat hanger shaped hip pads of minicell that could be further trimmed and shaped to fit the individual. So you might need to do a bit of outfitting to make an older kayak suitable, especially if you want to learn to roll it which you should do.


Your skill is much more important than the boat you are in.

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Pete’s and Ppine are spot on.Old school worked for me, though primarily with canoes. A friend came up to paddle a local creek, rarely runnable, and brought his…ah, forget the name, long, skinny, displacement kayak, Perception maybe…and the kids with their little modern yaks were in awe, and a lot started adding to their pile with older experienced boats. I’ve swam with guys in the latest designs, stayed upright watching other cutting edge boats drifting alongside their owner…I’ve had some older interesting boats, conversions, squirt, C1, OC…all were cheap or free, and all have been fun.Had a few folks basically mock my old school boats, and in a few cases watched the idiots swim the good stuff shortly afterwards. Not everyone can wring out a Lamborghini. I like this guy for skirts if you need one.

edit…Dancer…the name of the kayak my friend brought up. Awhile later the most “into it” ww yakker bud I had had added one to his collection.

I have been paddling whitewater long enough to remember when the Corsica Matrix was the newly introduced hot boat of the year.

I was rather bemused to see whitewater kayaks get shorter and shorter. Of course, there were good reasons that play boaters wanting to perform acrobatic maneuvers needed a very short boat with slicey ends, but the vast majority of paddlers I saw on the rivers were never going to throw an end in their entire lives and were in those boats because that’s what Eric Jackson or some such paddled. The boats were great if you wanted to loop or cartwheel and you could surf very short, steep waves in them. But for river running they weren’t so great.

The longer boats with their much more favorable block coefficients and prismatic coefficients had much better directional stability, were much easier for newbies to paddle in a straight line, and were much more efficient on the water. In the early 90’s we did attainments on the Ocoee River that one hardly ever saw done in later years because the boats had become too inefficient.

When “extreme” whitewater downriver races came into vogue on rivers like the Green Narrows or the Upper Youghiogheny it was amusing to see boaters scrambling around to score a used, long, old school boat like a Dagger Response or a Perception Pirouette because they were vastly more efficient. Then manufacturers started to come out with new long boats like the Dagger Green Boat or the Liquid Logic Stinger specifically to fill that need. So in that niche, things came full circle.

Another problem for newbies starting out in very short play boats is that there is relatively little room for flotation in the stern, and usually none at all in the bow. The cockpit and paddlers legs take up so great a percentage of the interior volume that when fully soused these boats wallow nose down in the water and are much more likely to hang up and more difficult to tow or bulldoze out of current. And at least in my experience, many of the old boats are much easier to learn to roll in than the more modern boats. Their greater directional stability makes learning ferries easier as well. And short play boats sometimes earn the nickname “hole bait”.

Keep in mind that if you are new to whitewater kayaking and take any type of decent instruction, what boat you are in will not matter much for most of the beginning curriculum. A typical progression will start with pool or flat water instruction in basic strokes and braces, heeling the boat, T rescues, and hopefully rolling. If you have done a fair bit of flat water kayaking some of this may be familiar to you but some might not.

On moving water you will then proceed to basic safety instruction like paddle and hand signals, use of throw bags and throw ropes, then swimming in rapids, understanding basic hydrology and recognizing river features. You will then go on to basic river maneuvers: eddy turns in and out of eddies, C turns, S turns, ferries, and maybe some easy attainments, and perhaps front surfing some waves. All of these can be done perfectly well in an old school boat, and sometimes more easily.

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thanks all for the great advice… sounds like alot of fans of the older, longer kayaks out there!

I’ve got my share of new and older designs. I’m far more likely to boat the newer designs because the outfitting is so much better. I enjoy the larger cockpit (easier to get in and out of/safer), as pblanc mentioned racheting bankbands and movable thigh hooks, full foam bulkheads and more padded seats make the new designs more comfortable and safer. I terms of design I don’t think we quite went full circle but 3/4 of the way. For instance, my 12r has a lot more rocker and a modified planing hull which is different than my perception mirage which has very little rocker and a displacement hull.

A lot of the kayaks from the 90’s seem new-fangled to me rather than “too old”. The new-fangledness I dislike as a mediocre kayaker has already been mentioned: ridiculously short boats with flat bottoms and sharp chine edges made for real or (naively) aspiring three dimensional freestyle and rodeo play, rather than for fast and efficient two dimensional river running.

Folks were running everything reasonable and safely in 1970’s kayaks when I started in them, and the Inuits and Aleuts were doing so in the frigid oceans a thousand years before that.

I’m not familiar with the Matrix. If I were starting out now I’d recommend to myself a long, slalom-type kayak with soft chines and a shallow arched bottom to learn two dimensional river running technique. If I later became a three dimensional high flyer, flipper, spinner and cart wheeler, I’d then buy a newer-fangled hull.