Best Whitewater Kayaks: Creek vs Riverrunning vs Playboats

Buying your first whitewater kayak is an unforgettable experience.

You’ve saved up and amassed a bunch of cash, been eyeing that one boat you’ve dreamed of owning for months now, researching the boat until you know the finest details, then finally making your purchase. 

After all that time working and saving, you have your very own whitewater kayak. But did you make the right choice on your first boat?

Hopefully this article will help you in making that decision.

How Do I Choose a Whitewater Kayak?

When buying a whitewater kayak, you’ll discover that you have plenty of options. You also have plenty of options for freestyle kayaking gear.

New, used, creek boat, playboat, river runner, cross over, even colors and patterns can be taken into account. With so many options to take into consideration, it can be outright overwhelming and difficult to decide. Below is a list of beginner whitewater kayaks to help guide you choosing that first kayak. 

The Pyranha Ripper

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Buying a new kayak will ensure the boat is in pristine condition and that it will last you many years. It’s recommended to buy new, however the large pricetag can make this a costly investment. As for a used kayak, it will have its fair share of wear and tear from prior use.

Another thing to worry about with buying used are hidden damages you may not have noticed, along with how much life remains in the boat you’re purchasing.

However, the price tag with a used boat can be anything from half the original price or even a quarter in some cases. 

What is The Best Whitewater Kayak?

Nothing beats whitewater kayaking!

Whether you’re new to whitewater kayaking or an experienced paddler, there are different types of whitewater that you may have a preference for.

These different types of whitewater have kayaks specificly made to excell in those enviroments. The types of enviroments you plan to paddle in will have a heavy influence on what kayak you’ll paddle.

There are 3 primary types of whitewater:  Creeking vs River running vs freestyle/playboats

1. Creek boat kayaks

Creek boating is as the name implies, typically done in creeks.

This includes features like waterfalls, slides, boulder gardens and low volume creeks or rivers. Creek boating is much higher risk and more technical than the other types of whitewater. This added risk is due to how much more challenging creeks can be in comparision to higher volume rivers. 

Idealy when looking for a creek boat the key features you’ll want are speed, stability, manuverability, curved rocker, high volume in both stern and bow. Speed will make it easier to punch through features like holes and crashing waves. Manuverbility is key to avoiding dangerous features and safely navigating rapids.

The curved rocker helps with manuverbility by making it easier to perform sudden turns. The increased volume in both ends of the kayak improve stability by staying high and dry in rapids. 

2. River Running kayaks

River running and creeking are very similiar in nature and share some characteristics.

Both are meant to navigate through rapids and make it to the bottom safely. River running is a much broader spectrum of kayaking, often overlaping into creeking and freestyle.

River runners are fantastic jack of all trade kayaks that can do just about anything. 

River running kayaks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes varying wildly from model to model. Honestly what you’d want in a river runner is entirely up to preference. You want to do some creek boating, get a river runner creek boat crossover. You want to make it through the rapids but play on everything in sight, get a river runner playboat crossover.

Many of the features you’d want in a river runner would match those found in freestyle kayaks or creeking kayaks. 

3. Freestyle or playboat kayaks

Freestyle kayaking is all about having a fun time on the river.

Freestyle kayaks are designed to perform tricks and be highly manuverable.

The freestyle kayaks for this style of paddling are often called playboats, they are easy to identify due to their short stubby shape. These kayaks excell at surfing waves, holes, playing in eddy lines and all manner of downriver freestyle.

They are not recommended for serious challenging whitewater and best suited to higher volume rivers. 

Playboats usually have a flat planning hull with most of the volume focused at the centre. Volume in both the stern and bow are much lower than in creek boats, this helps for performing tricks by being easier to submerge ends in water. 

Being shorter in length this allows playboats to turn much faster, however with less length their top speed is significantly lower. Playboats are great to learn in and help develope key boat control skills in a safe playful enviroment.  

Here you can find my review of 4 great whitewater kayaks.

Jackson Rockstar 4.0 Review

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 The Jackson Rockstar is a full on playboat used by beginners and experts alike. This boat is at home on the local playspot in both waves and holes, allowing for any manner of tricks to be possible

 Being specially designed for freestyle kayaking, this boat would be a no brainer for those interested in learning that style. Being made by  Jackson Kayaks, you can expect high level performance from their lineup of boats.  

The kayak is best for play on the river, allowing for play on just about any feature. With the raised seat, it gives paddlers more leverage to throw the boat around making it easier to perform tricks. 

Not only that, but the volume of the boat has increased by a few gallons in comparison to the previous model. This increase in volume gives the kayak more pop allowing for more retentiveness in holes and bigger loops. The Rockstar 4.0 is made by freestyle kayakers and for freestyle kayakers. Get yours and go big!

Specific Details

  • Length: 5’9″ long
  • Width: 26″ Wide
  • Height: 14.25″ tall
  • Volume: 58 gallons
  • Weight: 29 pounds 
  • Target paddler weight: 140-200
  • Max inseam/footsize: 34-12

Jackson Kayak Zen Review

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The Zen is a stable beginner friendly light weight kayak. It’s definitely one of the best creek kayaks available. The stability keeps paddlers high and dry, while providing the much needed confidence a beginner needs on the river.

The Zen is a great boat for getting people into whitewater kayaking and is able to perform well for the more experienced paddler. With the modern balanced bow rocker and defined edges, it will perform excellent when put to the test.  

This kayak is highly recommended for a new kayaker. The Zen is the kind of boat to grow old with you all the way from your first days on the river to years later, running challenging whitewater. Additionally, it would be great as a second boat for someone interested in creek boating.

The kayak is incredibly easy to paddle and will perform well in creeking and river running enviroment. Not only being stable and easy to paddle, it’s also fast making it an excellent race boat. This is the ideal all around creek boat for paddlers of all skill levels. 

Specific Details

  • Size: Zen Medium
  • Paddler Weight (lbs): 130 to 180
  • Cockpit Size: 34.5×20.25
  • Height:14.5
  • Length:8′ 6
  • Volume: 78
  • Weight (Pounds): 43 lbs
  • Width: 26

LiquidLogic Remix Review

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The Remix is a classic creek boat used by many paddlers of all skill levels. The kayak is a cross over of a river runner with the length and displacement hull of a creek boat.

This in turn provided the Remix with speed and smoothness unlike anything else at the time. Many great paddlers have used the Remix in some of the most challenging rapids, further atesting to the quality of the boat.

Don’t let that intimidate you, with how easy it is to roll and paddle, it can be used by beginners as well. Not to mention its cheaper price tag in comparison to the other boats in this lineup, making it much easier to obtain.  

The Remix is a fantastic creek boat at home on everything from shallow micro creeks, waterfalls, technical class 5 rapids, or even big burly whitewater. Much like the Zen, this kayak is great for beginners who wish to grow with the boat.

With the Remix, the sky is the limit, allowing paddlers to go big on just about any type of whitewater out there. 

Specific Details

  • Size: Remix 69 (Medium)
  • Length 8’8″
  • Width 25.5″
  • Cockpit Length 33″
  • Cockpit Width 20″
  • Weight 44 lbs
  • Rocker Bow 13″
  • Rocker Stern 10″
  • Volume 69 gal
  • Paddler Weight 140-220 lbs

LiquidLogic Delta V Review

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Liquid Logic with another solid creek boat, tailor made for high performance whitewater kayaking. The Delta V was designed by world class kayaker Pat Keller with both ease of use and high level whitewater in mind, making it one of the best whitewater kayaks available.

You can find both beginer level kayakers and class five kayakers paddling this boat. No matter what the situation or character of whitewater, the Delta V will behave well and take great care of the paddlers on the river.  

The Delta V is best suited for getting through any manner of rapid with ease. This goes for easy friendly rapids to class III to challenging technical Class V, no matter the rapid, you can expect high level consistent performance.

Just like the Remix, this is the kind of kayak you can start off with and grow into a top level paddler. This kayak is ideal for those who wish to reach new heights and take their paddling to the next level. 

Specific Details

  • Size: DELTA V 88 
  • Lenth: 8′ 6″ / 259 CM
  • Width:27″ / 69 CM
  • Cockpit Length: 34.5″ / 87.6 CM
  • Cockpit Width: 21″ / 53 CM
  • Weight: 49 LBS / 22 KG
  • Volume: 88 GAL / 333 L
  • Paddler Weight: 150-250 LBS 68-113 KG

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