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Flying down a rushing river riding giant waves is both thrilling and dangerous. It takes some paddlers many years and many runs to feel truly comfortable in Class IV or V rapids. And every river changes from year to year and season to season. When you’re just getting into whitewater river running, you need a solid vessel upon which to practice. In this article, we’re going to detail ten of the best beginner whitewater kayaks to purchase when you’re just getting into this adrenaline-packed extreme sport!

For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, check out the Best Whitewater Kayaks.

 

Quick Answer - The Best Beginner Whitewater Kayaks

  1. Advanced Elements Attack Pro
  2. STAR Raven I
  3. Dagger Nomad 8.6
  4. Dagger Zydeco 11.0
  5. Dagger Katana 9.7
  6. Driftsun Rover 120
  7. Riot Kayaks Magnum
  8. Riot Kayaks Astro 58
  9. Liquidlogic Remix XP 9
  10. Dagger Mamba Creeker 7.6

 

Comparison Table - Best Beginner Whitewater Kayak

PictureNameTypeLengthWeightPriceRating
Advanced Elements Attack ProAdvanced Elements Attack ProInflatable9’9”25 pounds 8 ounces$4.4
STAR Raven IInflatable9’10”38 pounds$$4.7
Dagger Nomad 8.6Dagger Nomad 8.6Solid8’6”48.5 pounds$$4.8
Dagger Zydeco 11.0Dagger Zydeco 11.0Solid11’2”48 pounds$4.1
Dagger Katana 9.7Dagger Katana 9.7Solid9’7”50 pounds$$$4.4
Driftsun Rover 120Inflatable8’6”22 pounds$4.5
Riot Kayaks MagnumSolid8’4”51 pounds$$4.4
Riot Kayaks Astro 58Solid6’5”39.8 pounds$$4.6
Dagger Katana 9.7Liquidlogic Remix XP 9Solid9’2”46 pounds$$$4.6
Dagger Mamba Creeker 7.6Solid7’7”44 lbs.$$$$4.8
PictureNameTypeLengthWeightPriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - The Best Whitewater Kayak for Beginners

Advanced Elements Attack Pro

Specs
  • Length: 9’9”
  • Weight: 25 pounds 8 ounces
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Weight Capacity: 225 pounds
  • Width: 35”
  • Cockpit Size: 20” x 12”
  • Inflatable Chambers: 3
Features
  • Includes Drainage Ports In The Bottom That Allow Water to Self-Bail
  • Heavy-Duty Hull And Independent Bladders For Double Wall Thickness
  • Covered Rear Storage Area For Dry Bags And Other Gear
  • Twelve-Inch Rise At Bow (Front) And Stern (Back) For Added Maneuverability
Advanced Elements Attack Pro

BEST FOR: COMPACT STORAGE

Sometimes you might not have storage space for a hard kayak. Or maybe you don’t have a vehicle that can safely transport a larger model. That’s when an inflatable kayak like the Advanced Elements Attack comes in handy. It’s a rugged inflatable kayak with a heavy-duty PVC hull that’s reinforced by independent PVC bladders for added durability. The rear storage area gives you the space you need to store gear and/or dry bags. The 12-inch rises at the front and rear of this kayak help with both stability and maneuverability so you won’t be likely to fall over or out while running rapids in this inflatable ‘yak.

STAR Raven I

Specs
  • Length: 9’10”
  • Weight: 38 pounds
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Weight Capacity: 220 pounds
  • Width: 38”
  • Cockpit Size: 18” x 12”
  • Inflatable Chambers: 3
Features
  • Stable And Responsive Design
  • Durable Seams For Improved Longevity
  • Easy-to-Use Inflation And Deflation Valves
  • Padded Folding Seat For Comfortable Paddling

BEST FOR: TRAVELING WHITEWATER KAYAKERS

This lightweight inflatable kayak is great for the adventurous whitewater seeker. The STAR Raven I has  a stable and responsive design that fares well from slow-moving flatwater to Class IV rapids. It boasts state-of-the-art welding technology for better abrasion resistance so that this kayak lasts longer. It’s easy to inflate and deflate with simple valves and the padded seat keeps you comfortable in an ergonomic paddling position.

Dagger Nomad 8.6

Specs
  • Length: 8’6”
  • Weight: 48.5 pounds
  • Type: Solid
  • Weight Capacity: 210 pounds
  • Width: 25.75”
  • Cockpit Size: 34.5” x 19”
  • Inflatable Chambers: N/A
Features
  • Ample Volume Keeps This Kayak On The Surface In Rough Whitewater
  • Sleek Shape Adds Strength And Security
  • Reimagined Design Keeps The Bow Up Higher
  • Adjustable Backband Allows You To Find A Comfortable Seating Position
Dagger Nomad 8.6

BEST FOR: SMALLER PADDLERS ON ANY WHITEWATER ADVENTURE

The Dagger Nomad 8.6 is the perfect kayak if you’re a smaller paddler and you want a boat that will remain useful as you improve your whitewater skills. The new design of this kayak added more volume to keep it on the surface in any whitewater conditions. This added volume also makes the kayak resurface more quickly. Inside the cockpit, an adjustable backband allows you to customize your seating position. The footrests inside the kayak also make it easy to find a comfortable knee bend so that you maintain a more efficient paddling position.

Dagger Zydeco 11.0

Specs
  • Length: 11’2”
  • Weight: 48 pounds
  • Type: Solid
  • Weight Capacity: 325 pounds
  • Width: 27.75”
  • Cockpit Size: 38.5” x 21.75”
  • Inflatable Chambers: N/A
Features
  • Stern Hatch For Dry Storage
  • Bungee Deck Rigging For Attaching Gear And/Or Accessories
  • Roomy Cockpit For Performance And Comfort
  • Adjustable, Ergonomic Seating System
Dagger Zydeco 11.0

BEST FOR: AGGRESSIVE DAY TRIPS OR OVERNIGHT ADVENTURES

The Zydeco from Dagger is slightly longer than more advanced whitewater kayaks, but it’s a great starter while you’re getting used to running rapids. It also has enough room and storage options to pack up all the gear you’d need for an overnight river trip. The stern hatch is perfect for dry storage and you’ll have bungee rigging for any gear that doesn’t fit inside the hatch. The seat is adjustable so you can find an ergonomic position that fits your paddle style and the cockpit is designed for the perfect blend between performance and comfort.

Dagger Katana 9.7

Specs
  • Length: 9’7”
  • Weight: 50 pounds
  • Type: Solid
  • Weight Capacity: 210 pounds
  • Width: 27.75”
  • Cockpit Size: 35.5” x 20”
  • Inflatable Chambers: N/A
Features
  • Adjustable Seating System With Leg Lifters For Added Comfort
  • Precision Adjustable Hip Pads And Thigh Braces
  • Adjustable Tracking System For Improved Performance In Adverse Conditions
  • Stern Hatch And Bungee Deck Rigging For Storage
Dagger Katana 9.7

BEST FOR: SMALLER PADDLERS 

The Katana 9.7 from Dagger Kayaks is perfect for you if you’re a paddler with a smaller build, or if you don’t require a kayak with a bunch of extra storage space. It’s a compact “crossover” kayak, which means it will still perform in flatwater but it’s perfect if you’re a beginner whitewater explorer.

The leg lifters in the kayak’s cockpit help you keep your knees comfortably bent without having to use your muscles to hold them up. This allows you to find a comfortable position. Hip pads and thigh braces can be adjusted to your body type and provide extra cushion and padding as you bounce around down the river. This kayak also comes with an adjustable skeg system that helps you track straight if you decide to take it out on flatwater.

Driftsun Rover 120

Specs
  • Length: 8’6”
  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
  • Width: 36”
  • Cockpit Size: 26” x 13”
  • Inflatable Chambers: 3
Features
  • Rigid Floor For Improved Maneuverability
  • Reinforced Material For Longevity
  • Adjustable Seat Makes It Easy To Find A Comfortable Position
  • Inflates In Just Six Minutes

BEST FOR: TRAVELERS WHO DON’T HAVE A LOT OF STORAGE SPACE

This inflatable whitewater kayak is a great choice if you like to chase the best river running conditions but you don’t have a ton of extra storage space in your vehicle. It inflates in just six minutes so you can get on the river quickly and the rigid design still allows you to make technical maneuvers with ease. The durable material is resistant to tears and punctures and this kayak comes with the full package of accessories. It includes a removable seat and footrests, a lightweight aluminum paddle, a double action hand pump, a removable tracking system, and a lightweight travel bag.

Riot Kayaks Magnum

Specs
  • Length: 8’4”
  • Weight: 51 pounds
  • Type: Solid
  • Weight Capacity: 230 pounds
  • Width: 26.5”
  • Cockpit Size: 34.3” x 19.7”
  • Inflatable Chambers: N/A
Features
  • Two Rubber Handles And Four Webbing Grab Loops For Easy Carrying And Secure River Riding
  • Adjustable Foot Braces And Comfortable Thigh Braces
  • Floating Backrest And Adjustable Seating System
  • Dual Flotation Bags In The Front And Back Add Buoyancy

BEST FOR: CREEK RUNNING

Riot Kayaks has worked hard to create the perfect balance between buoyancy and maneuverability in the Magnum 80. This kayak has the length and shape to make it through river features without losing too much momentum. Multiple rubber handles and webbing loops give you plenty of places to grab and carry this kayak. Thigh braces help to keep your legs comfortable and adjustable foot braces will help you maintain a proper paddling position so you don’t get a sore back at the end of your ride. This kayak also has flotation bags in the front and rear of the kayak for added buoyancy.

Riot Kayaks Astro 58

Specs
  • Length: 6’5”
  • Weight: 39.8 pounds
  • Type: Solid
  • Weight Capacity: 230 pounds
  • Width: 26”
  • Cockpit Size: 32.7” x 18.7”
  • Inflatable Chambers: N/A
Features
  • Hard Edges For Improved Maneuverability
  • Slim Cockpit For Efficient Playing
  • Floating Backrest And Adjustable Seating System
  • Two Rubber Grab Loops And Two Rubber Handles For Easier Carrying

BEST FOR: FREESTYLE PLAYBOATING

This is a dynamic playboat kayak with a shape that has been maximized to balance stability and maneuverability. This kayak’s slim cockpit where you sit will keep you safe and secure as you play around in the whitewater. The Riot Kayaks Astro 58 is equipped with a floating backrest and an adjustable seating system that will help you get comfortable and maintain an ergonomic paddling position for all day comfort. It also features two rubber grab loops and rubber handles to make carrying and transporting it a breeze.

Liquidlogic Remix XP 9

Specs
  • Length: 9’2”
  • Weight: 46 pounds
  • Type: Solid
  • Weight Capacity: 220 pounds
  • Width: 26”
  • Cockpit Size: 36” x 21.5”
  • Inflatable Chambers: N/A
Features
  • High Seat Back For Comfortable Ride
  • Retractable Skeg (Fin) For Better Tracking In Windy Conditions
  • Rear Dry Storage Compartment Keeps Your Belongings Safe And Dry On Your River Run
  • Adjustable Foot Pegs For Comfort
Dagger Katana 9.7

BEST FOR: WHITEWATER AND FLATWATER PERFORMANCE

The designers of the Remix XP 9 kayak were determined to bridge the gap between whitewater and flatwater kayak designs. This kayak has a high seat back to keep your torso upright and comfortable when you’re paddling all day. It plays off the many years of experience that Liquidlogic has designing high-quality whitewater kayaks, and then incorporates elements that allow it to perform better on flatwater as well.

The skeg is essentially a fin that drops down behind the kayak to help it track better in windy conditions or when you encounter strong currents. It also offers a dry storage compartment in the rear of the kayak to keep your belongings safe and dry. And the adjustable foot pegs will allow you to adjust to a comfortable position easily so you can get the most out of your ride.

Dagger Mamba Creeker 7.6

Specs
  • Length: 7’7”
  • Weight: 44 lbs.
  • Paddler Weight Range: 120-170 lbs.
  • Type: Solid
  • Volume: 64 gallons/242L
  • Width: 25.5”
  • Solo/Tandem: Solo
Features
  • Ideal for Smaller Paddlers
  • Adjustable Thigh Braces and Hip Pads
  • Adjustable Foot Brace

BEST FOR: SMALLER PADDLERS

There’s nothing like learning a new skill at a young age. Kayaking is no different. Dagger has been making iconic whitewater boats for over thirty years and we have included multiple models in this guide. The Mamba Creeker is for smaller paddlers (less than 170 lbs.) who are intent on running some serious whitewater or looking to hone their skills in a super stable model that’s also easy to roll. This is a great boat for young adults looking to up their game on the river and the high volume makes it ideal for taking those drops as it will remain horizontal and pop up quickly.

 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A BEGINNER WHITEWATER KAYAK

SKILL DEVELOPMENT

As a beginner whitewater kayaker, there are a handful of skills you should develop before heading out on the river. At the most basic, safety skills are imperative to make sure you know how to roll (literally!) with the variables that a river can throw at you. Understanding your skill level and investing in skill development is one of the first things to consider before you’ve even purchased a whitewater kayak. Take some time to research paddling classes or courses on the basics of whitewater kayaking in your area!

 

KAYAK TYPES

Whitewater kayaks can be broken down into five sub-categories. These categories are mainly defined by the kayak’s length, but there are some other factors at work here too. We’ll provide a brief synopsis of these whitewater kayak types.

Long Boats

Long boats are generally defined by a length of more than 9 feet. They’ll have a higher volume than their shorter counterparts and some can be considerably skinnier as well. They are best for extended whitewater expeditions because most include extra storage space. However, getting a longer kayak means you’ll sacrifice maneuverability.

Creek Boats

As their name suggests, these kayaks are meant for running creeks and narrow rivers. They’re usually between 7.5 and 9 feet in length and maintain a voluminous shape that helps them carry speed and negotiate difficult waters. These boats tend to have a large rocker and either soft or hard chines, depending on the needs of the individual paddler (more on rockers and chines below).

River Runners

Kayaks that fall into this distinction are actually about the same length as creek boats (7.5 to 9 feet). Where they differ, however, is in the hull design, which is generally flatter and includes less rocker. This gives these boats the ability to maintain more speed and control on straight line runs. They maintain adequate maneuverability, which makes them a great choice for learning on easy to moderate whitewater rapids.

Playboats

Playboats are generally 6.5 to 8 feet in length. In essence, these boats combine the maneuverability that skilled paddlers desire for freestyle paddling with the performance needed for navigating downriver. These boats are also usually characterized by symmetrical bow and stern designs.

Dynamic Freestyle Boats

Kayaks that fit into this sub-category are usually under 7 feet in length. They feature planing hulls that allow the paddler to execute surfing and aerial tricks. As you might imagine, these boats are best suited to experienced, skilled paddlers, but they’re also not meant for challenging whitewater because they are difficult to maneuver when running downriver.

 

CHINES

A kayak’s chine is the part of the boat that sits below the surface of the water. Chines can generally be categorized as “hard” or “soft.” Hard chines will give a kayak more stability and the paddler more control. A kayak with softer chines will be more forgiving to both the paddler and the water, which means it will forgive errant or erratic paddle strokes. However, each chine design comes with drawbacks.

Hard chines are more likely to get caught on obstacles in the river and cause you to lose control. They will also respond to currents and changes in water flow more than soft chines, which can make it feel much more difficult to control the kayak.

Soft chines, on the other hand, require much more input from the paddler. Because they’re more forgiving, you’ll generally need to paddle more frequently to get a kayak with soft chines to go where you want it to. They also don’t allow you to control the boat by tipping or angling it with your torso, which can be a helpful technique in some whitewater situations.

In general, a kayak with soft chines is better for shallower, rockier areas. A kayak with hard chines will provide more maneuverability and finesse techniques as your whitewater skills develop.

 

ROCKER

Rocker is defined as the amount of upward curve in the hull (or bottom) of your kayak. A larger rocker (more curve) will allow the kayak to ride over waves and obstacles more easily. It will also make your boat more maneuverable.

Less rocker (less curve) will make your kayak track straighter and capable of maintaining speed better. Most of the best beginner whitewater kayaks seek to find a balance on what you might call the “rocker scale.” This allows you to maneuver the kayak without too much effort, but still generate the speed you need to get through lower class rapids.

 

WEIGHT

The last factor to consider is a simple one: the weight of your kayak. Generally, a heavier kayak will be harder to maneuver but able to generate more speed. In turn, a lighter vessel is easier to maneuver but not as capable of achieving speeds that some larger rapids do require.

As a beginner whitewater kayaker, speed might not be the most important factor to you. But weight also comes into play when you’re transporting your kayak. Ultimately, you should make sure you’re comfortable carrying your kayak to get it to the water’s edge, or to portage a short section of rapids that you’re not feeling comfortable running.

 

 

FEATURES EXPLAINED

BOW

The bow is the front part of the kayak. It is generally where you’ll have an internal bulkhead for added flotation (but not always).

STERN

The stern is the back of the kayak. Many whitewater kayaks have a hatch for internal dry storage in the stern area.

FERRY

To ferry in a kayak is to cross a river from one eddy to another. Ideally, this is done without losing any distance downstream on your way.

BULKHEAD

The bulkhead of a kayak is essentially an internal compartment. This compartment is designed to act as an airtight and watertight section of the kayak’s body. The air that is trapped in this compartment provides the kayak with added buoyancy to keep the kayak afloat.

FLOATING BACKREST

This provides support for your lower back while sitting in your kayak. It can be adjusted to keep you in a more aggressive paddling position or to allow you to recline and relax on gentler river sections.

COCKPIT

The cockpit is the area where you sit to maneuver your kayak and navigate down river. Most whitewater kayaks are compatible with a spray skirt that goes over the cockpit to create a sealed compartment.

SPRAY SKIRT

This is a skirt that is worn by the kayaker. Generally made of neoprene, a spray skirt will seal off the kayak’s cockpit so that no water can enter while paddling.

READ MORE

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