How to Upgrade

Hi guys!

I and several of my kids are new kayakers and are having a blast. We started by borrowing a couple of 10’ recreational boats while on vacation this summer and when we returned home we purchased a few second-hand and inexpensive new rec kayaks. We’ve been learning the basics, getting our techniques down, practicing good strokes and braces and so forth in the calm water of the lakes around our part of central PA. We’re starting to work on rescue/recovery techniques now, while the weather is warm and everyone’s loving going for a swim. :smile:

Of course, as my strongest paddler and I have gotten a bit more adventurous and tried out the faster water of the Susquehanna river, with it’s neat rocks and eddys, we’re starting to eye some of the more interesting features like ledges and small standing waves, and I’m pretty sure we’ll eventually move into better boats and gear, and more ambitious trips.

But while I’ve done days of research online looking at the kinds of boats for sale, watching paddling instructional vids, and trying to grasp all this new info, one thing’s a bit unclear to me: what direction do you go when you’re looking to upgrade?

What I mean is, we’ve got simple 10’ recreational boats now, mostly in the 26" wide range. No bulkheads, not a whole lot of supplementary flotation. Basically exactly what you expect to get for a couple hundred bux or so. Spray skirts don’t seem to be available for these, and their suitability for “adventure” I expect is limited to pretty calm water, and playing fairly close to shore. I’m not really sure just how interesting the conditions can get before these boats really aren’t safe for it.

But as I start to look at more upmarket boats I see things appear to divide into two paths: touring/sea kayaks and play-boats/whitewater boats. Is that right?
I mean, I see SOT and angling boats, and even what appear to me to be recreational kayaks that go for over $1,000, but those still seem to be very limited flatwater, close-to-shore options.

If we were to want to, for example, take kayaks down to Assateague, and launch out through the surf and just paddle the coastline, what would be the right choice? Or, say we want to play in some of the faster currents and milder whitewater stuff, what style of boat is a good upgrade choice from the simple rec boats we have?

If I was to start saving up for some better boats after a year or two, what sort of things would make sense to look at?


(P.S. – In the spirit of expert internet forums everywhere, let me close by saying, yes we’re a safety-first-last-and-always bunch, and every one of us wears a PFD from the moment we’re in the water until the moment we’re out of it. So my questions here are aimed at the best way to be safe and have fun!)

I only skimmed your post, but from what I see so far there are plenty of similar threads here. A current, and ongoing thread you should follow is this one:

Many of the questions you’re asking are addressed here.


Contains good info on kayak selection and lots of other paddling related topics.

As whitewater play boats became stubbier, whitewater paddlers abandoned their “old school” kayaks for ever shorter ones. There are a ton of those older 10+ foot long whitewater kayaks out there, and they can often be picked up quite cheaply. They are often sold with spray skirts, because as the play boats got shorter, cockpits got longer and the old skirts wouldn’t fit the newer boats.

A boat of that type can serve your needs very well. Ten and a half to eleven foot long whitewater kayaks are typically narrower and much faster than the modern very short boats. Just make sure that you can comfortably fit in it, as would be the case with any sit inside kayak. Also, make sure that the polyethylene has not become too brittle from too much sun exposure.

An old school whitewater kayak will not have the quick adjustable outfitting that newer kayaks have. You may have to glue in some foam pads with contact cement, and shape them to fit. Whitewater kayaks of the type I am describing will have central vertical foam pillars that add flotation and reduce the chance of the deck collapsing on your legs and trapping you inside. There are a ton of whitewater kayakers in PA. A whitewater paddling club is a good place to look for older boats, and there is always craigslist. One good whitewater club that is more or less based in the Pittsburgh area is the Three Rivers Paddling Club.

Thank you guys, very much. This is pretty helpful.

Would it be safe to say that we kind of need to decide whether we’re more likely to want what a touring kayak does, or a whitewater one, and choose a path? That there isn’t a good middle ground? Or is that not accurate?

@Sam1911 said:
Thank you guys, very much. This is pretty helpful.

Would it be safe to say that we kind of need to decide whether we’re more likely to want what a touring kayak does, or a whitewater one, and choose a path? That there isn’t a good middle ground? Or is that not accurate?

That would be accurate. Different boats for different environments. You can always do what I did and purchase both a touring boat and a whitewater boat. Stay with it long enough and you may find yourself with more then one for each environment.

Yes, especially since WW paddlers tend to turn over boats very fast. That one is best left to its own path, which by the way can get way fussier than long bots. So just start with something for flat water, and if you want to try WW after a while it won’t be terribly hard to find a boat at a low price.

Just be aware that both classes…white water and seakayaks …have multiple sub classes. Both have boats called “play boats” for example. Both do “freestyle” it’s just different environments. A sea kayak “play boat” is likely 14’ long with low volume and high rocker. This way it can play in the waves, be highly maneuverable and do things that touring kayaks would not. A sea kayak “touring boat” likely is 15 to 18 ft long and has higher volume to carry gear but not form a windage problem. It has less rocker and likes to go in straight lines, faster.

Again, thanks guys!

I’m still trying to get my head around this fascinating new sport and get a handle on where we’re likely to go in it.

One “problem” (or blessing? :smile: ) is that there’s a lot of us. Four paddling now, from adult down to age 8, and my wife has expressed interest, so that’s potentially a fifth…at least until the little ones get old enough to play along.

So I’m trying to think about growing into future interests and gear in a way that lets those who can do some more interesting stuff, but still lets us all have fun together. I’m sure we’ll wring every bit of fun out of these rec. boats before we move on to better stuff, but I need to think intelligently and far ahead of time about gear that makes sense for us. Somehow I don’t think a WW boat and a touring boat are in the budget for all of us. Even if I could afford it, I can’t store 'em all!

Again, I really appreciate all the advice and links. :smiley:

Look at the Epic V7 surfski. It’s fast, has a storage compartment (which most surfskis don’t have), it’s 21" wide therefore stable and since it’s made of plastic it can take a beating. It’s sealed so it won’t sink and no need for a skirt. The rudder won’t snap off if you’re in a river and you hit something. Good price too.

Interesting! Thanks for the suggestion.