Have you recently started whitewater kayaking and are looking for the best whitewater kayaks for beginners?
Kayaking can be a great activity for those of us who are looking to lead a healthy lifestyle. You may have been kayaking on a lake a few times and loved it but thought that whitewater kayaking was only for more experienced kayakers.
I’m here to tell you that even beginners can go whitewater kayaking!
Choosing the right kayak can go a long way towards helping you feel prepared and safe. This article is going to cover the 11 best whitewater kayaks for beginners and everything that you need to know to choose the right one for you.
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The 11 Best Whitewater Kayaks For Beginners
1. Best Overall Whitewater Kayak: Pelican Recreational Performance Sit-in Kayak
2. Best Budget-Friendly Whitewater Kayak: Emotion Guster Sit-Inside Kayak
3. Best River Runner Kayak: Liquid Logic Party Braaap
4. Best Whitewater Inflatable Kayak: Sea Eagle 300x Inflatable Explorer Kayak
5. Best Creek Boat: Dagger Phantom Creeker
6. Best Play Boat: Liquid Logic Homeslice
7. Best Double Seater: Driftsun Rover Inflatable Tandem White-Water Kayak
8. Best Whitewater Touring Kayak: AQUAGLIDE Noyo 90 Touring Kayak
9. Best Whitewater Sit On Top Kayak: Emotion Spitfire Sit-On-Top Kayak
10. Best Whitewater Kayak For Kids: Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak
11. Best Whitewater Kayak For Big Guys: LiquidLogic Remix 79
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Top 11 Best Whitewater Kayaks For Beginners
The Pelican Recreational Performance Sit-in Kayak is the best whitewater kayak for beginners. It is an all-rounder with great stability and excellent tracking to ensure that you stay on your course.
It comes with bungee cords on the deck so that you can easily strap down your gear and have it in easy reach while you are out on the water.
- Padded seat cushion
- Adjustable backrest cushion
- Knee pads
- Ergonomic carrying handles
- Built-in bungee cords
- Storage hatch
- No built-in paddle holder
- No drain plug for the cockpit
If you are looking for cheap whitewater kayaks that will meet all your needs as you are starting with whitewater kayaking, the Emotion Guster Sit-Inside Kayak is the kayak for you.
This is a great kayak for beginners who don’t want to spend too much on their first kayak but still want all the features. The seat is comfortable and the adjustable foot straps are a big plus.
- Adjustable padded seatback
- Adjustable foot braces
- Built-in bungee cords
- Storage hatch
- Built-in paddle holder
- The storage hatch is not waterproof
- A bit heavy
River running will be a blast with the Liquid Logic Party Braaap. This is one of the best river runner kayaks out there and you will enjoy using it so much.
It is responsive to your paddling while moving fast over waves and rocks. The design is comfortable and great for learning how to move through whitewater.
This versatile boat is not just the best river runner kayak, it can also be used for creeks.
- Great customer service
- Very easy for beginners to use
- Very versatile
- None that we could find
One of the best inflatable river kayaks out there is the Sea Eagle 300x Inflatable Explorer Kayak. This inflatable whitewater kayak comes with 16 drain valves so you can easily let water drain out fast.
Like other best inflatable kayaks for whitewater, this kayak is extremely durable and can handle all the bumps that you will encounter without any damage to the kayak.
- Very durable
- Removable fin
- Comfortable seat
- Instruction video on the website is very helpful
- Customer service is not always responsive
The Dagger Phantom Creeker is your go-to kayak if you are planning to go whitewater kayaking through more narrow rivers.
Whitewater Dagger kayaks are well-known for their durability and features and the Dagger Phantom Creeker will check all your boxes with its balance between tracking and maneuverability.
It is ergonomically designed and many reviewers highlight the comfort when using the kayak as well as how adjustable it is to ensure the right fit for each individual.
- Very comfortable
- Plenty of foot room
- Adjustable thigh braces
- Not suitable for sharp turns
If you’re ready to start learning some tricks and want a playboat, you have to check out the Liquid Logic Homeslice. Since it is smaller, it is lightweight and very easy to maneuver.
This kayak is one of the best whitewater kayaks for beginners and is designed so that you can sit comfortably for long periods and you can even wear your shoes since it has plenty of space for your feet.
- Ergonomic knee position
- A lot of foot room
- Less space for gear
- Harder to steer
- Requires more skill to control
For those who prefer double-seater or tandem kayaks, the Driftsun Rover Inflatable Tandem White-Water Kayak is perfect for you. It is large enough to fit 2 adults and a child (or additional gear or your adventure pet).
This is one of the best inflatable whitewater kayaks for two. You can inflate it in less than 10 minutes and it is durable enough to handle strong waves and rocks you may encounter.
This kayak comes with everything that you would need for a great trip out on the river: paddles, hand bump, tracking fin, and travel bag.
- Removable/adjustable seats
- Adjustable footrests
- Action camera mount
- Comes with additional supplies
- Instruction guide may be a little hard to understand
If you are planning a longer-distance whitewater kayaking trip, the AQUAGLIDE Noyo 90 Touring Kayak is the perfect travel companion for you. This kayak is durable and has all the space you could need to keep your gear and supplies.
The best whitewater kayaks for beginners should be lightweight and portable and this kayak fits the bill. It weighs only 21lbs (9.5kg) and is extremely easy to inflate.
- Very comfortable
- No air pump
- No paddle
- Not suitable for larger people
The Emotion Spitfire Sit-On-Top Kayak is the best sit on top whitewater kayak for anyone who prefers not being confined in a sit-inside kayak.
It comes with paddle holders, handles, a locking hatch, and bungee cords for storage. The kayak is very stable on the water and tracks well even if you are a beginner.
- Padded seat
- Paddle holders
- Handles may be a bit hard to use
- Not the best for tall people
If you have kids who are interested to start whitewater kayaking, the Lifetime Youth Wave Kayak is one of the best whitewater kayaks for kids.
The smaller size of the kayak makes it more suitable for kids and teens who may not be able to manage a larger whitewater kayak yet. It is perfect for those up to 130lbs (59 kg).
The ergonomic design of this sit on top whitewater kayak for kids makes it stable while allowing for good tracking and surf riding.
- Ergonomic cockpit design
- No handles
- No backrest
- No built-in bungee cords
The LiquidLogic Remix 79 is one of the best whitewater kayaks for big guys. This whitewater kayak can hold weights of up to 260 lbs (118 kg). With the roomy foot space, it is also the best whitewater kayak for tall guys and gals who sometimes find other kayaks a bit too cramped for comfort.
With the additional length and rounded edges, it moves through rapids easily and provides enough stability so that even beginners can manage it well.
- Suitable for bigger and taller people
- A lot of foot room
- Stable and responsive
Understanding The Features In Whitewater Kayaks
If you’ve never bought a whitewater kayak before, some of the terms that are used for the features can be a little confusing.
Here’s a quick guide to explain what they mean:
Chines are the edge of the kayak where the bottom of the kayak joins the side of the kayak. The type of chines that are on a kayak influence the way you can handle the kayak.
- Hard Chines
Hard chines have sharper edges and allow the kayak to be more agile. You will also have more control over a kayak that has hard chines. This will mean less work when you are paddling since they track better.
However, hard chines make the kayak get caught in currents or even stuck on rocks or obstacles more easily.
- Soft Chines
Soft chines have more rounded edges which means they are less affected by water conditions and are less likely to get stuck on obstacles.
Kayaks with soft chines don’t track as well as ones with hard chines so you may have to paddle more to keep moving in a straight line.
The rocker of a kayak is the lengthwise curve from the bow (front) to the stern (back) of the kayak. The rocker helps the front of the boat move up and over the water. A kayak with a higher rocker has more of a curve compared to one with a lower rocker.
A higher rocket will make the kayak more maneuverable and able to move over waves or obstacles easily while a lower rocker gives your kayak better stability and tracking.
3. Hull Type
The hull of the kayak is the shape of the bottom of the boat and can affect how the kayak moves along the water. There are two main hull types:
- Planing Hull
A planing hull is flat which means that the bottom of the kayak is flat. Kayaks with a planing hull will move over the surface of the water instead of moving through it.
Having a kayak with a planing hull will allow you to move with more agility and give you more flexibility to maneuver your kayak. However, if you are kayaking in flat waters, it may slow the kayak down.
- Displacement Hull
A displacement hull gives the kayak a more curved bottom. A kayak with a displacement hull will sit deeper in the water compared to a kayak with a planing hull.
Since the kayak is more submerged, it will be more stable and can move better in a straight line. It will also be less affected by currents or even mistakes with paddling that beginners often make.
The Different Types Of Whitewater Kayaks
There are many types of whitewater kayaks and it can be helpful to know the different types so that you can choose the best beginner whitewater kayak.
1. River Runners
A river running kayak or a river play kayak is one of the most versatile kayak designs and is a great choice when you are looking for a whitewater kayak for beginners.
If you have gone recreational kayaking on a lake before, you will find the shape of the river runners fairly familiar as they have a fairly moderate displacement hull.
River runners got their name because they can move quickly along fast-flowing rivers due to their shape and size. You can even maneuver shorter river runners to perform some simple tricks once you become more familiar with using them. Kayak river running is a lot of fun and is not as intimidating as you may think it is.
2. Play Boats
If you were drawn to start whitewater kayaking because you’ve seen other kayakers performing fantastic tricks on the water, then chances are they were using a playboat. This is also known as freestyle kayaking.
Playboats are constructed to be shorter with planed hulls that allow whitewater kayakers to be able to maneuver their kayaks in amazing ways.
Since the playboats are shorter than other whitewater kayaks, they are very agile and provide a lot of control over the movement of the kayak.
3. Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks
As the name implies, whitewater inflatable kayaks are made from strong PVC that can be inflated when you want to use them and deflated when you are done.
Inflatable whitewater kayaks are great for whitewater kayaking since they are extremely durable. The best inflatable river kayaks are made to withstand the impact of bumping into rocks and other obstacles as well as large waves that you may encounter while whitewater kayaking.
They are usually shorter and wider so that you can navigate easily while you are whitewater kayaking.
Inflatable whitewater kayaks are one of the most popular whitewater kayaks for beginners due to how portable they are. You won’t even need a roof rack to transport these kayaks since the size once they are deflated is about the size of a large suitcase.
Creekers (or also known as creek boats) are meant for navigating narrow waterways. They are usually between 7.5 and 9 feet long and have plenty of space for you to store your gear.
Creek boats have more of a curve or a higher rocker which keeps them on the surface of the water. This prevents the front of the kayak from diving into the water too much.
Creek boats are not the best kayaks for a river that is wider with stronger currents since they can be more easily pushed around by the currents.
5. Long Boats
Long boats are longer than the other kayaks on this list and are usually more than 9 feet long. The additional length makes long boats the kayak of choice for whitewater expeditions since they can hold more gear.
Due to the length of long boats, they are not a great choice if you want to perform tricks on the water but they are great for long trips down the river and moderate rapids that you may encounter along the way.
Longer kayaks are harder to maneuver so long boats are best for stronger paddlers with more experience.
How Do You Pick A Whitewater Kayak For Beginners?
You may be new to kayaking altogether or you may already have a flatwater kayak. It’s important to know that the best kayak for whitewater and flat water has different features. Here are the things to consider when choosing the best beginner whitewater kayak.
You will need to choose a kayak that can handle rougher conditions since it is common for your kayak to bang into rocks when you are whitewater kayaking.
Choose kayaks that are made out of inflatable PVC or rotomolded polyethylene as they are hardier than kayaks made from composite or ABS plastic kayaks.
When you are choosing a whitewater kayak, you will need to consider a few different things to choose the right size kayak.
The kayak needs to be large enough to fit you and your gear while being agile enough to handle the conditions that you will face while whitewater kayaking.
Try to avoid choosing a kayak that is too long so that you can easily navigate it when you are out kayaking. If you are stuck between sizes, it’s better to go a size up as this will give you the most flexibility.
When choosing whitewater kayaks, always opt for one that has a rocker. The rocker is crucial for making your kayak more manageable and making it easier to ride over waves and obstacles.
4. Hull Shape & Size
Look for kayaks that have a planing hull as this will ensure that you can move well over fast-moving water.
You will also want to consider the size and interior volume of the hull as this is where you will store your gear and any necessities for your trip.
As a beginner, you should be looking for kayaks that have a soft chine. This will make it easier for you to navigate the water current and obstacles when you are whitewater kayaking.
Since you will have to carry your kayak from your car to the water and back, you need to make sure that the kayak is not too heavy for you to carry. Lighter kayaks are also easier to maneuver when you are out on the water.
Some brands are more well-known than others in the whitewater kayaking world. By choosing your first whitewater kayak from these brands, you are more likely to be able to find more reviews, resources, and support when you are using them.
Here are some of the best whitewater kayak brands:
- Prijon whitewater kayaks
- Dagger whitewater kayaks
- Jackson whitewater kayaks
- Riot whitewater kayaks
- LiquidLogic whitewater kayaks
- Old Town/Necky whitewater kayaks
With that said, don’t be afraid to try out a less popular brand as there may be some innovations that you could benefit from. Always check out whitewater kayaks reviews from other users so that you can get an idea of the kayak before you buy it.
8. Sit-On-Top Kayaks Vs Sit-Inside Kayaks
The main difference between sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside kayaks is that sit-inside kayaks are enclosed while sit-on-top kayaks are not.
Whitewater sit on top kayaks are a great choice for beginners since they are very user-friendly. They are easy to get in and out of and you won’t feel confined. When you are using a sit-on-top kayak, you are almost guaranteed to get wet.
Whitewater sit-inside kayaks offer more protection from the elements since they are covered so you will stay warmer and dryer. Recovering if your kayak tips over can be a little more complicated since water will usually enter the kayak.
Both types of kayaks can be used for whitewater kayaking even if you are a beginner. It will mostly depend on your preferences and what you are most comfortable with. You may also want to take into account whether you will be doing most of your whitewater kayaking in warmer or colder weather.
What Kind Of Kayak Is Best For Whitewater?
Out of the various types of kayaks, river runners are one of the best and versatile for moving swiftly down different rivers and are very popular among whitewater enthusiasts. Since their shape combines that of play boats and creekers, river runners usually have a semi-planing hull that offers a lot of stability.
Are Sit On Top Kayaks Good For Whitewater?
Sit On Top kayaks or SOTs are great for kayaking. As long as the rapids are not Grade 3 or above, it is absolutely no problem to go whitewater kayaking in a sit on top kayak. A great option to spend family time or day trips on the river is the Emotion Spitfire Sit-On-Top Kayak.
I hope that you’re ready to give whitewater kayaking a try now that you know about the best whitewater kayaks for beginners, the different features, and how to choose the one that is just right for you.
Whitewater kayaking is a lot of fun and you will have a great time even if you are just starting. Making the transition from flatwater kayaking to whitewater kayaking is easier than you think and you won’t regret trying it out.
Good luck with choosing the right whitewater kayak! This is your first step towards many whitewater kayaking adventures ahead of you.