Looking to buy my first whitewater kayak. I think a more stable approach for my first boat would be the way to go. I feel like get something easy to handle then move up to the more challenging stuff. What brands should I be looking at? Thanks, frank
Lots of good brands out there
including: Wavesport, dagger, Pyranha, Jackson, Bliss Stick, Fluid etc. Then there is the question of what is the best yak for you at this time? Buying used will save you money but you could loose a warranty that way. Also demoe boats if you can. Check out Boatertalk website as more ww paddlers there. See you downstream.
Lessons first for WW
I see your WW background is rafting, so you are probably used to not thinking much about even class 3 and some 4 sections. Big diff in a kayak - you may need to start thinking about class 2 stuff.
There is nothing you can buy in the way of a kayak that'll give you the level of head room in moving water that you get from a raft. You could try a creeker, something that I see schools doing these days when they want to put grey-haired folks down their first time in WW, but you are trying for long odds to find a kayak that'll prevent a capsize early on in learning WW. So you may as well get some lessons and learn how to do this, meanwhile use that time to better decide on a boat. While the creekers have great head room on a day when you are looking to make a run easier, you may not find them as fun as some smaller volume boats once you figure out what you are doing.
WW kayakers turn over boats with great alacrity - no pun intended. You can buy good used ww kayaks very reasonably. I bought and sold for what I paid 5 ww kayaks before settling on my current 2 - Wavesport Diesel & Pyranha I3.
buy a used, older boat
You can often pick up an older design whitewater K1 for only a couple hundred dollars, often with a skirt and paddle thrown in. These boats are usually 10+’, feel stable to most starting out in whitewater kayaking, often have better hull speed, and for many, are easier to roll than the flatter-bottomed, planing hull modern boats.
No they won’t flat-spin and cartwheel like newer playboats, but you won’t be doing those things right away, and maybe not ever. They make fine river runners.
If you are determined to buy something new, I would suggest you combine instruction with trying out new boats. You could take a course at Nantahala Outdoor Center in western NC and try out several boats in their instructional fleet. The courses are not cheap, but are worth it in my opinion.
If you don’t want to spend that much money, join a club. The Georgia Canoeing Association (http://www.gapaddle.com/) and the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club centered in Chattanooga (http://www.tvccpaddler.com/) are both fine clubs and have spring paddling schools at a very reasonable price. Almost invariably, some club member will have a boat they are wanting to sell, and could probably arrange for you to try it on a club trip.
Nanatahala Outdoor Center also has boats available to demo on the Nantahala River for a modest fee, but if you are new to whitewater hard boating, you probably won’t want to start out on the Nantahala without instruction first.