What are the Best Boats for a Beginner Whitewater Kayaker?

The decision to learn the sport of kayaking is a very exciting road filled with risk, reward, happiness and adventure. However, this road is filled with many turns, the first of which is the decision of the type of kayak to buy. In this post we will outline basic considerations for a new paddlers first boat.

1) New or Used?

  • At Love Boat we encourage all new paddlers to buy used boats. Why? Simply because new boats can be expensive (upwards of $1200!). We believe that it takes time to truly understand what you want in a boat, so we suggest finding a used boat that fits comfortably, isn’t cracked, and is under $400 (because of resale value). If you decide you hate kayaking, you can always get your money back on a used boat. Selling a new boat, however, can be a bit more difficult.


2) Creek boat, river runner or play boat?

  • This is one of the more difficult questions due to our first suggestion, but it is very possible to find all three types of boats under this $400 price range, so let’s look at all three:

  • Creek Boat:

    • Pros: Lots of volume which can mean more buoyancy and added stability. Comfort is a big plus on creekers and you shouldn’t have a problem spending long days in the boat. Bonus: these stay upright with more ease than other boats! A definite plus for beginners learning the basics.

    • Cons: Creekers are big boats which for beginners can make it tough to handle. When you swim it is definitely more difficult catching your boat, getting to shore, and draining a large creeker, so you should always have float bags. We like the Watershed Futa for overnighters, or maybe some blown-up, empty wine bags :)

  • River Runners:

    • Pros: Boats like the Dagger RPM, Liquid Logic’s Braap, Dagger’s Axiom, and the new Pyranha Ripper are all good at building a solid skill-base for moving on the water; i.e catching eddies and ferries. Most of these boats will have enough volume without a ton of boat to maneuver.

    • Cons: When you look at most of these boats you find they have squashed tails which can make them a bit squirrely on the stern. For some ,this slim stern can make the boat tough to paddle and more susceptible to water’s undercurrents and hole action. Additionally, it can be hard to find these boats if you are tall (6’5+).

  • Play Boats:

    • Pros: Learning to paddle with a play boat will sure up your roll. Living in Missoula, the majority of people learn and practice their playboating skills at Brennnan’s wave. Folks that practice surfing will naturally flip over a lot, meaning lots of roll practice. You will also develop a few different types of rolls with a better understanding of body movement.

    • Cons: Sometimes play boats can be a little unruly when learning and paddling down-river. The things that make play boats so fun on waves can have you spinning and bracing through rapids.

large volume creek boat

large volume creek boat

play boat

play boat

river runner, notice the squashed stern

river runner, notice the squashed stern

3) Things to look at when buying your first boat

  • When you go to buy your first boat, you want to look for a few things:

    • First, look inside the boat to examine the outfitting to answer a few questions: Are all the pieces there? (Ie, Ratchet straps, bulkhead with screw or string if Jackson kayak.) What does the seat look like? Is it torn, does it have padding, is it even there?

    • Second, check out the top of the boat at the bow to stern (front and back). Look for cracks or welds on the bow. Make sure that all grab loops are there and secure. Does it have a drain plug? Silly, but they are nice (also easy to replace).

  • Lastly, flip it over and look underneath. You are again looking for cracks and oil canning which is a large dent typically under the seat. Scratches are superficial.

cracked play boat

cracked play boat


In the end, all this information is useless. Your first boat doesn’t matter! You can learn to roll a barrel and people take all sorts of crafts down river. What really matters is that you get out and paddle! None of these boats are going to make you a better paddler. In reality, what’s going to make you better is getting on the river and having FUN. Everyone gets caught up volume, length, this and that. Just buy something that fits okay and isn’t completely destroyed. Kayaking isn’t rocket science, so don’t make it so difficult. If you aren’t feeling sure about your skills, we got you! Love Boat offers courses for beginner and intermediate paddlers, so we will help you to hone the skills necessary to get out and enjoy yourself. Once you get the basics down, then you can start to think beyond learning and towards FUNcionality. Now, go find you a boat!