Kayaking is a good sport and great hobby. In my case, I would prefer the much extreme and more fun adventure – whitewater kayaking. It requires immense stamina, but an extremely good kayak will keep your ride going. I’m sure you know how difficult it is to buy kayaks especially if the market is filled with it.
Don’t panic though. As an experienced kayaker, I would like to help you solve your problem in finding the best whitewater kayaks. These kayaks have been personally chosen based on my colleagues’ and my own experience.
What is a Whitewater Kayak?
Whitewater kayaks are designed to be used in fast-moving water. They are typically more maneuverable and lighter than other types of boats. Some people use them to explore rivers, while others use them for whitewater rapids. In order to paddle a whitewater kayak, you need a good amount of upper body strength and coordination skills.
Some of the features include a “V” hull, a spray skirt and a mesh seat or bucket seat. The “V” hull provides the boat with increased stability in turbulent water and also reduces drag when going through rapids. A spray skirt is usually attached to the cockpit opening to keep water from entering the boat, while the mesh seat or bucket seat provides greater comfort when paddling for long periods of time.
A popular form of whitewater kayaking is called playboating, where the kayaker does a myriad of flips and tricks on the water. Whitewater kayaking is usually done in teams that consist of a paddler, a safety boater who drives the boat, and someone who films the videos from shore or from another boat.
Types of whitewater kayaks
There are many types of whitewater kayaks:
- Playboats are known as the most popular type because they're designed specifically for white water paddling and perform well in both rapids. They have a narrow width to provide more maneuverability so it's easier to do things like ferries, loops, or eddy turns.
- River Runners are wider than Playboats which gives them better stability on flat water but less ability to be nimble; this is common among those who paddle mostly class II and III rivers with milder rapids.
- Creekers are usually lightweight boats that can't handle intense waves but excel at creek runs where there aren't any big drops - these include playboat creekers and creek boat creekers.
- Surf Skis are great for waves, but not so much for white water or beginner kayakers because they're designed to be fast and maneuverable on the ocean rather than rivers which mean you have a hard time turning them around bends in rapids.
- Touring Kayaks are long boats that excel at longer trips downriver where it's an endurance activity like touring whitewater; these can't perform well in tight spaces though.
In a hurry? Check the bestseller top 7 whitewater kayaks from Amazon.
My List of the Best Whitewater Kayaks of 2021
1. Advanced Elements Attack Whitewater Kayak (Most Durable Whitewater Kayak)
The Advanced Elements kayak provides you with a self-bailing system that can take the toughest water conditions. It has been constructed with 840 Denier tarpaulin and reinforced with independent PVC bladders to increase its durability in the water. All your gears can even be safely stored in its self-draining covered rear cargo.
What makes the Advanced Elements better than other kayaks is its double enforced hull and adjustable straps and seats. The double enforced hull is thicker compared to any normal whitewater kayak; this ensures that the hull won’t break during your ride. The adjustable straps and seats, on the other hand, will surely give you a comfortable ride and is designed for anyone who wants to join the fun with you.
Take note, however, that this kayak is heavy given its reinforcements. Thus, it might require you some efforts to move the kayak to the river. Still, with the kayak’s durability and stability against the rapid flow of water, the Advanced Elements kayak is certainly one of the best in the market.
2. Innova Safari 330 Inflatable Kayak (Most Lightweight Whitewater Kayak)
The Innova Safari 330 inflatable kayak has been praised by many for the material used in its hull. It uses Nitrilon, a durable PES fabric coated with rubber in its interior and exterior. Nitrilon can resist abrasion, aging, and UV degradation which makes it a suitable material for whitewater kayaking.
Apart from Nitrilon, the Innova Safari also features a self-bailing bottom with cutouts along each side to give it a stable and firm condition during your ride.
If you have any items you want to store, then its 18 gal. dry-bag storage is for you. The adjustable footrest, thigh straps for safe kneeling, safety handles, and inflatable seat with backrest accommodates you for a safe and comfortable ride all throughout the rapids. The kayak package also includes a tracking fin and a repair kit w/ valve adapter which are a must-have for maintenance and care.The Innova Safari 330 still is quite expensive for some to purchase. However, with the items included in the package as well as the overall quality, it can be considered as a good price in the market.
3. Sea Eagle Explorer Inflatable Kayak (Best Class IV Whitewater Kayak)
The Sea Eagle Explorer is suitable for up to Class IV whitewater kayaking. This means you can use the kayak in intense and powerful rapids, large and unavoidable waves, and restricted passage. The Sea Eagle Explorer is made of 1000 Denier Fabric which was incorporated into the latest technology of welded seams and a double floor system.
This makes the material perfect for extreme adventures. Moreover, the kayak is also equipped with the latest 16 drain valves for a fast self-bailing and for keeping you dry on board.
Unlike other Explorer kayaks in the market, the Sea Eagle Explorer is extremely light yet durable. This means that you won’t require an immense effort in transporting (and even storing) the kayak to and from the river. Its removable slide keg also gives it an edge in terms of tracking in the open water. Not to mention, the kayak’s AB40 paddle gives you increased power and reduced fatigue while maneuvering in the water.
If you have any plans in embarking the extremes, you should definitely choose this kayak. Just remember to keep its high price in consideration. However, looking at the kayak’s whitewater rating, the three-year warranty, and the package, the price is indeed within a reasonable range.
4. Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 (Best Whitewater Kayak With Anti-theft Bar)
The Riot Kayaks Magnum 80 is the perfect kayak in terms of stability in the water. It was designed focusing on the tail and overall volume of the cockpit. This way, it prevents your body from knocking back especially when maneuvering in the rapids and resurfacing in the water. It also avoids squirts which would likely result in you seating on a different position in the kayak. Indeed, it is certainly suitable if you have any plans on taking the steepest rivers.
It measures 8 feet tall and features a great variety of functions: unity seating system, front and rear flotation bags, four heavy-duty creek handles, drain plug, sure-grip thigh braces, adjustable creek foot brace, and anti-theft bar. Its anti-theft bar and sure-grip thigh braces will keep you and your belongings in the kayak safe and secure.
Before you try this super stable kayak, be mindful of its price and weight. Price aside, the weight is really considered to be heavy; however, it’s made of solid material so at least this is expected.
5. Riot Kayaks Astro 58 (Most Comfortable Whitewater Kayak)
Unlike its twin, the Magnum 80, Astro 58 is more suitable for freestyle or relatively calm kayaking. The kayak’s efficiency in maneuvering in the water is attributed to its beveled side edges, wide hull surface, and evenly distributed volume all over including the cockpit. The cockpit contour-fit system also ensures you’ll remain comfortable in your seat and guarantees a smooth and effortless maneuver.
Similar to its twin product, the Riot Kayak Astro 58 shares similar features: unity seating system, anti-theft bar, power-seat compatible, sure-grip thigh braces, two rubber grab loops, and drain plug. The difference between the two lies within the power-seat compatibility and two rubber-grab loops, but these do not compromise the comfort offered by the product.
If you’re looking for a more affordable Riot kayak, the Astro 58 is your best bet. However, we can’t still deny that it’s quite heavy given its solid material. It’s optimal performance and high comfort, though, is something to look forward to.
6. Dagger Nomad Creeking Whitewater Kayak (The Fastest Whitewater Kayak)
The Dagger Nomad Creeking is known for its speed, volume, and rocker in whitewater kayaking. Its design focuses on the resurfacing of the kayak, rockers to keep the bow up, and speed gained along the rapids. This makes the kayak so powerful and worthy of praise from every professional whitewater kayakers.
To improve the comfort of the kayaks in maneuvering and navigating in the open water, the Dagger Nomad Creeking kayak integrates a contour-ergo fitting system. This ensures that the kayakers can steer the kayak effortlessly on the water without risking themselves. Moreover, it is also very comfortable given the adjustable foot braces, thigh braces, and hip pads.
Aside from the price and the shipping fee, the kayaks downfall, though, lies in the absence of storage capacity for belongings. However, we can’t really blame that if we want a nimble kayak on the rapids. After all, the performance of the kayak determines the ability of the owner.
7. Riot Kayaks Boogie 50 (Best Whitewater Kayak For Surfing)
The Riot Kayaks Boogie 50 is one of the classic kayaks in whitewater kayaking. It features a squash-tail template which is designed to give the kayak a tremendous performance. It’s perfect for any kayakers who love to go for rocky shores and surfing. This certainly makes all kayakers fall in love with this masterpiece.
The Boogie 50 is incorporated with a surfing power seat to keep you comfortable from the waves, customizable foam front blocks to adjust its power and speed, drain plug, molded-in padded knee pockets, and two rubber-grab loops. This gives the kayak better security and adjustable performance. Additionally, the surfing power seat provides kayakers with a freedom of surfing through the river – a rare function among classical kayaks.
Given that the kayak is made of a non-inflatable material, it is expected for the kayak to be heavy – its estimated weight is at 35 pounds. As such, it would require you some energy to move it from your car to the river. Nevertheless, it’s optimum performance is definitely not one you can look down upon.
How to Choose the Best Whitewater Kayak
The kayaks that I’ve mentioned above are what I believe to be the best whitewater kayaks in 2018. However, if you still haven’t decided on which whitewater kayak to choose, then you might want to consider the following factors below in choosing your own kayak.
There are four types of whitewater kayak (play boats, river-runners, creekers, and long boats), so you might want to choose one of them. Playboats are designed for kayakers who love to surf along the waves and perform tricks. These boats are around five to six feet in length and can be distinguished based on the stubby hull and beveled chines.
Creekers are the largest type of whitewater kayaks. Boats like this are often seen to charge rapids and waterfalls because of their immense power. River runners are for kayakers who are up for speed. These boats are often characterized by their shape which is a mixture of play boats and creekers.
Finally, longboats are designed for kayakers who love to go whitewater kayaking for a long time. Long boats are 12 feet in length and can be on par with the speed of a river runner and the power of a creeker.
Size is as important as the type of whitewater kayak. Whitewater kayaks, after all, have a recommended paddle fitting for the size of the boat. This means that you need to choose an appropriate size for the boat and the right paddle weight for you. Also take note that if you want to go kayaking, you will certainly wear gears that weight several pounds. Couple that with being wet in the water, and you’ll definitely weigh more. Thus, make sure to take the size of the boat into consideration before choosing your kayak.
Kayaks are made of a wide range of materials from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to the sturdy fiberglass. Kayaks made of PVC are often the most affordable and durable in terms of its resistance from abrasion, though that depends on the type of PVC used. Some kayaks made from certain PVC also offer great resistance to UV radiation which is a common cause of tear and recoloring of every kayak.
The more expensive fiberglass, on the other hand, is surely worth looking for based on its great performance on speed and power. The downturn, however, is that such material can be quite expensive and can also be damaged easily especially on rocky streams and rapids.
Therefore, I suggest you look for a kayak with a material that’s strong and durable enough for any whitewater adventure, light and easy to carry, and most certainly not heavy for your wallet.
- Weight Capacity
Finally, you should take into account the kayak’s weight capacity. The weight capacity indicates how many person or how much weight the boat can carry in the water without hindering its ability to function properly. This means you need to take into consideration the weight you want your kayak to carry.
Whitewater kayaks can carry weight around 200-350 pounds, although that largely depends on the type of kayak you’re using. I suggest you use the type of kayak which has great storage capacity if you want to bring any belongings with you. Else, you should opt for the other kayaks which most likely will have a greater speed.
Essential Gears to Have when You Go Whitewater Kayaking
Now that we’re done laying out the guide in buying a whitewater kayak, let’s now focus on the essential gears that you will need before you embark on your whitewater kayaking. These gears are as follows:
- Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and Helmet
It’s undeniable that whitewater kayaking can sometimes be dangerous especially with rapids and strong currents. With a PFD and helmet, however, your safety is at least guaranteed. The PFD helps you stay afloat when you are in the water, thereby lessening your likelihood of drowning. The helmet, on the other hand, keeps your head safe especially from rocks and rapid currents.
- Dry Bags and Float Bags
Float bags will keep your kayak easy to retrieve especially if water is inside the boat. These bags take up airspace on the bow and stern of your boat. Dry bags are used to keep your belongings dry inside the boat since they are airtight and watertight.
- Spray Skirt
The spray skirt keeps your kayak from sinking especially if it’s full of water. The spray skirt removes the water inside your kayak and can be very helpful particularly in rainy seasons. Without it, your kayak is expected to either sink on the bottom or be carried by massive waves. I suggest you acquire a spray skirt beforehand and make sure it’s perfect for the size of your kayak.
- Kayak Clothing: Dry Suits
Proper clothing for whitewater kayaking is a must. Dry suits are the most recommended clothing for everyone. These one-piece breathable fabrics are waterproof so you really don’t have to worry about having the water getting you wet, gaining a few tons because of the water, or suffering from restricted motion due to the fabric. The suit also regulates your temperature very well.
- First Aid Kit
Lastly, a first aid kit should not be forgotten on your list. After all, these kits are very useful in case of an emergency such as an open wound or a cut on the arm. You can keep the first aid kit inside a dry bag just in case.
Whitewater kayaks are one of the most popular water sports for people who love to get out on the river and enjoy a day in the sun. Whether you are looking to purchase your first kayak or just want some tips on what to look for, these questions and answers are perfect for you to learn more about it.
What type of kayak is best for Whitewater?
For whitewater, a sea kayak is usually the best option. These boats are wider and shorter than recreational kayaks which makes them more stable in rough water conditions. They also have larger cockpits that allow you to paddle standing up if desired or sit down for better control of your boat during rapids.
This type of vessel also offers greater stability because they are longer-bodied than other types of kayaks with keels on their bottoms that give it an added measure of balance and maneuverability that many people find challenging at first but love once mastered!
Is Whitewater Kayak stable enough?
Whitewater kayaks are designed to have a more stable design. These designs make the boat easy and fun to use in high water conditions. The hull of these boats is flat with low profile rails, which makes it easier for paddlers to maneuver through rocks and rapids without getting stuck or flipped over. Paddling on whitewater requires you to balance on top of your paddle while keeping your body still to avoid being thrown off balance by waves and wind gusts that can come unexpectedly from any direction. You also need good stability so that you don't risk flipping sides if anything happens fast enough to knock you off-balance.
How dangerous is whitewater kayaking
Whitewater Kayaks are designed for whitewater, so as you would expect these boats are more dangerous than your average sit-on-top kayak. The boat is higher off the water and therefore doesn't have a lot of stability in waves or wind gusts
Some people might not be able to get back on their own if they fall out of one of these boats because there are no stabilizers that keep it afloat like some other types of kayaks. You also need good balance, which can make things tricky when you're trying to paddle down rapids with rocks all around you. According to AmericanWhitewater.org organization, Whitewater kayaking had a higher fatality rate, 2.9 per 100,000 participants, than any other sport.
Tips for Picking a Perfect Whitewater Kayak
Start by considering the type of water you plan to paddle in. You'll want to know if it's mostly flat (like an easy whitewater river) or full of lots of rapids and therefore more dangerous (a Class III kayaking drop). If you're paddling on a beginner level, look at sit-on-top kayaks because they are usually easier to get back on after falling out onto rocks below. Sit-in boats have higher sides so that when you fall out all your body parts stay inside the boat as well. For really hazardous spots where high waves can toss you around like rag dolls then consider buying inflatable kayaks that are easier to get back into if you fall out.
What are the best beginner whitewater kayak sizes to pick?
-12' kayaks are best for beginners. The shorter length means it will be more difficult to paddle in larger waves and they're less stable than longer kayaks, so you'll need to keep your strokes short and avoid eddies or rapids with moving water. They also have a looser fit which is great if you want to bring along an extra passenger but not so good if you intend on paddling hard because the boat won't respond as well.
-A width of 30 inches or greater is preferable - this may sound counterintuitive since wider boats aren't usually better suited for high-intensity activities like whitewater kayaking due to their reduced maneuverability, but when we're talking about beginner white water playboats these qualities
How much do white water kayaks cost?
The average price for a white water kayak is around $700-$800.
Some more expensive models are made of Kevlar and fiberglass so they're stronger, lighter, and stiffer than cheaper ones that may not be as well constructed or durable.
List of whitewater kayak brands
The following are some of the best kayaks for whitewater:
- Nelo Dagger Kayak - rugged and durable, great if you're looking to do day trips or explore a lot; these can handle big waves like in surf zones.
- Kokotat Wild Ride III - more affordable than other boats on this list but still packs a punch with its stability while it's maneuverable and not too bulky when transporting it. This is also an excellent boat for intermediate paddlers as they'll find that they have more fun because they won't need to worry about getting stuck on rocks all the time.
- Sun Dolphin Aruba II - another one of Sun Dolphin's fantastic models, this one is popular in 2021 and still being purchased crazy. This boat is perfect for all ages and skill levels and it's one of the most popular kayaks on this list; you'll find that it will be easy to store as well since it can fold up neatly after use.
If you’re trying to buy a whitewater kayak, make sure to study whitewater kayaking or whitewater kayaks in general.
The list I’ve made could serve as a good reference for you when looking for the best whitewater kayaks in 2018 to suit your preference. Though it might not be a good help to some of you, at least it narrows down your choices.
If you have any questions or any thoughts to share, feel free to comment below!
Last update on 2021-10-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API