Recommend kayak-specific person & river?

Recommend a kayak for a specific person on a specific river!

OK! I have read many requests for recommendations that were answered with requests for more specific descriptions of the type of paddling the person asking intended to do. With that in mind, I am going to try to make my “dumb question” as specific as possible.

I am coming across some good prices this time of the year, but I don’t want to just go on the recommendation of the salespeople!

I am 61 years of age, and of about average condition for this age. I am not a super-jock, but I have managed to ride motorcycles and horses, so I do have a knack for balance type sports.

I am 5’ 10” and 195 pounds in street clothes.

I have had exactly one all-day private lesson from a professional. This was in a Dagger Mamba.

I live very near the Youghiogheny River in Southwest Pennsylvania, U.S. There are two distinct sections of the “Yough”: The “Middle Yough” is class 1 and class 2. The “Lower Yough” is class 3 and class 4. One local outfitter told me that the “Lower isn’t actually class 4 except rarely when at the highest water levels after significant rains. He described the “Lower” as a “Low volume” river the vast majority of the time.

My desire is to buy a kayak capable of “river running” the “Lower”-class 3 and 4 section. I intend to spend next summer learning the skills on the “Middle” - class 1 and 2 section. I am hoping that my age-reduced physical abilities will permit me to attain sufficient skills to “run” the “Lower”-class 3 and 4 section someday. I have no desire to “play” in the class 3 and 4 section… if I can simply “run” this section eventually, I will be satisfied.

I have talked with four local outfitters. A couple of them try to hard sell the Dagger Mamba. I can’t possibly judge from just one day-long lesson, but I had a hard time keeping my paddling angle high enough to get past the “knee bumps” on the deck. I beat my knuckles up pretty badly! My instructor said that I should try a “displacement” hull style kayak for my second lesson. His thought was that I will instinctively somehow just “know” whether I prefer a “planing” style hull vs a “displacement” style hull.

One other outfitter recommended the Dagger Nomad, adding that the LiquidLogic Remix 69/79 is very similar, yet quicker. Yet another outfitter offered a Pyranha Karnali new for $750.

So, that is as specific as I know how to ask the question. If any of you know the Lower Yough, and if any of you are up around the “big 6-0” age, I would really appreciate any guidance you would be willing to offer.

Thanks in advance,


I would take a close look at the Karnali
and the Remix. River runners that can be used on steep creeks if you “get there.”

That displacement versus planing distinction is cr*p. All kayaks are displacement hulls, none of them truly plane unless you get them loose on a very fast, green wave. They differ in how readily they can plane under that special condition. Kayaks that are flatter underneath and that have sharp chines at the edges of the underside tend to plane easier on green waves. Generally, true playboats are going to have flat bottoms and sharp chines.

But there are some very good river runners, like the Remix and the Karnali, that are not so flat, and lack sharp chines, and that seems to be why they are surprisingly fast and snappy handlers. There is one fast river runner that is a planer with sharp chines, the Dagger Axiom, but it’s possibly going off the market.

On barking your knuckles, make sure you are using a high-angle paddling style. No need to be real vertical. Slalom world champ Scott Shipley recommends and uses a 45 degree paddle angle to the water. And there are boats that don’t have such big knee bumps. Myself, I prefer lower knees, splayed to the side.

I think that if you focus on a few boats with good reputations (I don’t know about the Nomad), then you should make sure to go out of the boat store with a kayak that is very close to a good fit for you, and isn’t banging your knuckles.

I know the lower Yough
Have paddled it many times. I strongly recommend you get a quality WW boat that fits you (not a transition boat). I am 5’ 10", 185 and know there are lots of boats out there that will work just fine. A used Diesel would be a good choice, probably better than a Mamba, but only you can tell. Around here (mid-Michigan) we take students on a slower local river and then go to Slippery Rock Creek, which is near the Yough. The lower Yough is harder than Slippery Rock Creek, so it is a nice progression. The middle Yough is not going to teach you much unless you go with an instructor and you do lots of ferries and catch and leave lots of eddies. The hardest rapid on the Lower Yough is Entrance, which, of course is the first one. There is a website that describes all of the rapids. Just google “lower yough”. Read through and see what you think.

The Lower Yough

– Last Updated: Oct-10-12 10:53 PM EST –

To be honest, you can run that in *any* boat. That said, if you primarily want to run downriver, get some lines, catch some eddies - get a river runner: Diesel, Mamba, Zen, Remix (not the XP barges, the regular Remixes), etc. They are all good - get the one that feels right for you. You are probably the medium size (or one below the largest).

If you want more play, get something lower volume or a river/play boat. FunRunner, Locki, Axiom, RPM, etc.

I've only run the LY a few times - a couple of times with my WaveSport Fuse 64 and once in my new Axiom 8.5. So I can't say I "know" the river... But at the weekend levels of 1.8 -2.2 or so, it is a nice step-up for an aspiring class III paddler (and you can find lines that are hard - you can do class IV moves in class III water, as they say). My 2 kayaks are very different boats and offer different experiences on the same river. The shorter chubbier Fuse can surf the smaller and steeper waves, spins on a dime, plays all the features. Yet it has enough of a volume and length to be stable without requiring too much attention. The longer and much faster Axiom lets you enjoy the longer faster waves and do some lines that require speed, can attain to go up and repeat some runs, etc., but can't surf the steepest waves like shorter boats can.

A full-on river runner will be more reassuring than either of these, so probably a better choice for you to start and fewer chances to flip over (which you will, in any boat).

A creeker will be an overkill - too much boat for no good reason on a river like that. Heavier, not so playful... But will do the job of getting you down just fine and probably be just as stable as the big river runners if not more so.

I'd say, demo a few boats and get something in your size that feel scomfortable. It probably won't be your last boat, so don't sweat it too much if the price is right and it is one of the well regarded river runners.

For the flatter sections, none of the above will be particularly enjoyable though. But on the rapids is where the fun is with these boats.

On the other hand, if you just want to get through the rapids and enjoy the longer flatter sections, looks for something longer and with retractable skeg...

As for displacement vs. planing hull, there are advantages to each. Having a planning hull does not mean you have to have super sharp edges or vertical sides. It just means most of the bottom is wide and flat (as opposed to rounded). With a flat bottom you can lift an edge and let the current just go under with you and your boat barely feeling it. With a rounded bottom you can't quite do that - you will get pushed around more. The rounded bottom hulls are generally more hydrodynamic so they tend to be faster and go smoother with less slap through water and waves. But are you racing? I think for most people that are just starting, a flatter bottom boat with forgiving sides (chines) is the way to go - they have a more defined stability when edged, are less affected by eddylines and cross-currents, are generally easier to spin around (more maneuverable), yet when put hard on edge (if they have a good edge, that is) they can hold a good line and track well to keep you pointed where you want them to go.

As for the high knee bumps, yes, a higher angle stroke will cure the issue of your knuckles hitting the sides. It's a personal preference. I prefer higher and closer knee position compared to wider and lower. You can test for yourself and prove to yourself that you actually have more control of your balance and the boat if your knees are not too fat out to the sides splayed out like a frog (there are exercises to do on land to show this to you). But comfort is more important - make sure you test with paddling shoes as that makes a huge difference if you fit or not (especially if you have large feet and long legs).

And think of a nice lighter paddle - makes a big difference compared to a heavy low-end paddle...

River runners
It is a matter of personal preference and fitting to your style, but my top choices would be the Jackson Zen, Dagger Mamba, Wavesport Diesel, and LL Remix.If you intend to also creek, you could go for a high volume boat but otherwise you’re losing edge which can help you hit the eddys. The Zen and Remix are better for attainments, which you also want to consider on the LY. Probably why you see so many old school yaks there. Planing hull is more of a consideration if you intend to surf, spin, etc.

paddle length?
"I had a hard time keeping my paddling angle high enough to get past the “knee bumps” on the deck. I beat my knuckles up pretty badly! "

I wonder if your paddle was too long? Or too short?

Long paddle makes it hard to keep it vertical. Though that doesn’t explain the hitting your knuckle part, which is often caused by paddle too short!

The best way to enjoy rivers, in my opinion, is lots of lessons. During the lesson, you can typically try different boats and different paddles. 2 birds with 1 stone.

Lower Yough
As was said, just about any boat will do for the Lower Youghiogheny as long as you are comfortable in it.

If you are just starting out, a general river runner probably makes the most sense. The Jackson Zen, Wave Sport Diesel, Liquid Logic Remix, Pyranha Karnali are all excellent options. I agree that the Karnali sounds like a good deal, and if you are comfortable in the boat I would probably go for it.

The first time or two you run the LY you want to be with someone who knows the river. Once you are past the first 1.25 miles (the “Loop”) you are largely committed to running the rest of the river. If you are near the Youghiogheny, you are also relatively close to the Slippery Rock Creek which is about 30-45 min north of Pittsburgh and you will definitely want to give that a try.

I agree that at “normal” flow the LY does not have anything that would rate the modern definition of Class IV but it certainly has a number of good Class III rapids and some might rate a Class III+ (River’s End, for example). When levels get up around 4’ the river becomes a Class IV.

One can argue which is the hardest rapid on the LY. I suspect most would agree the hardest are Entrance, Cucumber, and River’s End. No particular move on Entrance is difficult, but it is a rather long, somewhat technical rapid, and a swim there can be a lousy start to your day. Cucumber is the most powerful rapid on the LY but is relatively short. River’s End requires you to know where you want to go and be able to drive your boat there.

In addition to those, Dimple gives some folks anxiety, probably because a half dozen folks have drowned there, but it is technically easier than the above three. It does require timing and the ability to move your boat across current, however. And there are plenty of other rapids (including Railroad, Bottle of Wine, Double Hydraulic) which can separate you from your boat if you don’t know the lines.

Slippery Rock Creek, or the “Slip” is a bit more technical than the LY but you can certainly run it in any boat you use for the LY. It is a wonderful and beautiful Class II-III run that you won’t want to miss when the water level permits.

I would suggest you consider joining the Three Rivers Paddling Club centered in the Pittsburgh area:

Not only is this a good way to meet boaters in your area, the TRPC offers weekend instruction to boaters of any level twice a year. In early June, the Slip Clinic is held on the Slippery Rock Creek. In early August the Turkey Bash is held on the Youghiogheny.

good analysis
I would emphasize suggestion to get a properly sized river runner. Manufacturers usually have recommended weight ranges for each model, aim for the middle, maybe a little lighter.

So far OP is being offered oversized creek boats, they don’t offer the greatest of fits.

And, try to get some rolling classes under your belt, now that winter is approaching many local clubs organize pool sessions. Not only will it teach you an essential skill, it will give you more time in a boat.

any of those boats would work

– Last Updated: Oct-11-12 11:35 AM EST –

Any of the boats you mentioned would be appropriate to your stated goals and limitations, some more so than others. Comfort might be the determining factor. Wish I could give you personal feedback on all of them, but I've never been in a Karnali. People who own them love them, though, and $750 is a pretty good price for a brand new boat...

Of the models I do have experience with, I think the Remix is by far the best design for river running - it's versatile, forgiving, and comfortable. Your instructor was probably right - if you paddle a Remix and a Mamba back to back, you'll likely know right away whether you prefer the flatter hull or the rounder one. Personally, I like the rounded hull of the Remix.

The Mamba surfs and carves better but is slow in a straight line and has that high-knee posture, while the Nomad is meant primarily for steep creeking (low volume class 4/5 with lots of ledges/waterfalls). It'll be very stable but will tend to wander and wash out the bottom of eddies if you aren't assertive with your strokes. The Remix falls in the middle - jack of all trades, so to speak.

Check to see if there are any paddling clubs near where you live - clubs often sponsor indoor pool sessions during the winter where you can work on your basic strokes and even learn to roll. Then you won't be starting from square one when the weather warms up next season. It'll also help you work on whatever technique or flexibility issue was the cause of your bruised knuckles.

Speaking of next season, stick with the lessons, and once you are feeling good making moves in Ramcat and on the Middle rather than just surviving, look at the Casselman and Cheat Narrows. Both are in between the Middle and Lower in difficulty, and both are neat runs in their own right. And once you are comfortable making moves and not just surviving those runs, you'll be ready to run the Lower at summer levels.

BTW, don't run any of this stuff alone, including the Middle. It's easy to get in over your head when you're just learning, even on class 1.

another vote for the Remix, etc
I also like the Remix a lot. Nice hull design and the liquidlogic outfitting is the best in the business. But as others have mentioned, all the boats you listed would work for the LY. My advice is not to worry about “displacement” versus “planing” at this stage. Start with something that fits you well and you feel comfortable in. Also, if you’ve started to work on your roll (and you should be!), and one or more of the boats that you’ve tried feels easier to roll, that’s a good selling point for a beginner too.

Otherwise, your plan seems to be a good one. The lower yough certainly deserves your respect, but assuming you’ll get in a fair amount of practice during the next season, it could very well be an end-of-summer goal. It’s pretty forgiving of newbie mistakes (I speak from experience), particularly if you’re in the company of good paddlers who know the river well.

Oh, and just fyi, there are actually three sections of the Yough. In addition to the lower and middle there’s the upper, but that’s solid class IV-V stuff.

I cannot believe
…that no one yet has scolded you for (not) implying that you paddle in your street clothes!