Top Five Beginner Whitewater Kayaks


Emily Little / Thursday, October 1, 2020

Within the huge variety of whitewater kayaks available, there are better kayaks to learn in than others. Some of the latest, greatest kayaks, such as the 9R, are designed to be paddled in harder whitewater and would slow down your learning. In my opinion, after many years of paddling, these are the best top five beginner whitewater kayaks.

Dagger Mamba

A planing hull creek boat, this kayak is very stable and forgiving. I think it is the best big volume beginner whitewater kayak with edges. The edges help new kayakers learn how to feel different currents. As a larger volume kayak, there is enough time to brace before flipping if you read the currents wrong. New paddlers will be thankful for this when they start to learn how to carve in and out of eddys. Because of the flat bottom, Mamba’s are great for learning how to surf as well. You can catch little waves and feel like a rockstar.

Dagger makes three sizes:

  • 7.6, small
  • 8.1, medium
  • 8.6, large

The cons to these kayaks are that they are leaky and heavy. The many screws loosen over time and let water in. One way to combat this is by putting duck tape over the screws and to occasionally tighten them.

Many Mambas can be found for sale, used, on facebook groups or new in most stores selling whitewater kayaks.

Jackson Fun

Marketed as a play boat for running rivers, this beginner whitewater kayak is great for learning. It is long enough to be fast downriver, but small enough to force paddlers to maintain good balance. I am partial to this boat for beginners because I learned in a 2 Fun. When I was learning to kayak, creek boats were not widely used for beginners and smaller, edgy boats were more common.

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Also, the playfulness of the Fun series makes new kayakers want to learn how to surf and stern squirt meaning they are constantly flipping over. This is great because you get so much more roll and bracing practice, advancing your skills quickly. Plus, they have enough rocker to start to learn how to boof.

Jackson used to make five sizes:

  • 1 Fun
  • 1.5 Fun
  • 2 Fun
  • Fun
  • 4 Fun

Some people are against the Jackson Sure-Lock outfitting system, using ropes instead of ratchets to secure yourself. Nonetheless, I found this system great for micro adjustments to get used to how a kayak is supposed to fit.

Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to find Funs as Jackson discontinued the line. Still, look around on the marketplaces for used ones. The have been replaced with the Jackson Antix.

Dagger RPM

On the market for over 20 years, the RPM is a classic kayak. It has a displacement hull making it easy to paddle in a straight line and is long enough to be fast. The slicey stern gives the boat great carving ability and teaches new paddlers the benefit of leaning forward in rapids. However, lazy boaters will find themselves catching the stern in the water and flipping. The RPM is a favorite beginner whitewater kayak and kayak for advanced paddlers because of its playfulness around eddy lines and sleek ability to surf.

Dagger makes two sizes:

  • RPM
  • RPM Max

New kayakers that only paddle RPMs might have problems switching to a different kayak with edges. Edges will become more important for carving and tracking when paddlers move to more advanced whitewater.

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Because these boats have been around for so long, there are used ones floating around for sale. The older boats do not have the best outfitting, so you made need to work to get the fit right. In 2018, Dagger released another round of RPMs and RPM Maxes with new outfitting.

Liquidlogic Remix

This is a river runner, creek boat with a lot of stability. It has a displacement hull and is known for its speed. In addition, there are soft edges to help new kayakers learn to feel the currents, especially when entering and leaving eddies. The rocker in this kayak makes it great for surfing. Reviews say that it is easy to roll, but stable enough that you do not have to be rolling all the time. Critics also rave about Liquidlogic’s cushy and easily adjustable outfitting. You will want to keep this boat in your fleet as it will continue to perform as you progress to harder whitewater.

Liquid Logic makes three sizes:

  • 59
  • 69
  • 79

A downside to the Remix is the volume distribution. Even with float bags, some new paddlers have found the way the boat fills with water after a swim causes it to be hard to get to shore.

Again, these boats can be found used or new on social media or your nearest whitewater store.

Pyranha Z.One

The young sister kayak to the Pyranha InaZone, this was designed to be for beginner whitewater kayakers and kayakers returning after a long hiatus. It has a planing hull with sharp edges, making it very stable until you tilt the wrong edge up. This feature helps new kayakers learn how to tilt, edge, and lean instead of just using paddle strokes to maneuver. The long back end will help new kayakers find the speed needed for surfing. What is more, it is a great playboat for beginners. It can be used at park and play surf waves and eddies or for learning to paddle downriver.

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Pyranha makes three sizes:

  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large

If you are a new paddler that can only paddle bigger volume rivers, the Z.One might not be the best kayak. It lacks volume and might cause a beginner to feel swallowed in rapids.

A relatively new boat, it might be hard to find used Z.One’s, but keep your eyes open. If you are willing to splurge, Pyranha will ship it to your house!

What other boats do you think are best for beginner whitewater kayakers? Comment below.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>