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How to choose a whitewater kayak

When choosing the correct kayak, there are many factors to consider. We recommend visiting your local Dagger dealer to assist in this decision. The information provided here will help you understand our product line and steer you in the right direction.

Step One – Paddling Style

Where do you want to kayak and what will you be doing? Dagger whitewater kayaks fall into 3 general categories. Each category has a unique combination of size options, outfitting, performance features, and safety for the intended uses (outlined below).

Many Dagger kayaks are designed with performance features from multiple whitewater categories. Once you’ve determined generally what type of kayaker you want to be, it is important to schedule a demo with your local Dagger dealer to find exactly the right boat for you.

Attributes Playboats Riverrunners Creekboats
Ideal Types of Water Moderate to high flow rivers, with waves General whitewater, high volume rivers, shallow runs Steep, technical water, rocky environment
Trip Duration Day trips Day to overnight Day to weekend
Skill Levels Intermediate to Advanced Novice to Advanced Intermediate to Advanced
Example Activities Surfing, vertical moves, aerial maneuvers, other freestyle moves Front-surfing, catching eddys, attainments, ferrying Boofing, navigate highly technical water, vertical drops

Step Two – Performance Characteristics

Once you’ve gotten a general idea of your paddling style, you are able to narrow it down more precisely by understanding the performance characteristics that are typical for each category. Below is a chart of how each performs relative to the other categories in each characteristic.

Characteristic Playboats Riverrunning Creekboats
Looseness on Wave Very Moderate Limited
Aerial Tricks High Limited Some
Acceleration Low High Medium
Boat Length Shorter Longer Longer
Safety Features Moderate Moderate High
Definitions
  • Looseness on Wave – How easy it is to spin a boat while surfing a wave.
  • Aerial Tricks  – Designed to leave the surface of the water, use in freestyle moves.
  • Acceleration  – How quickly you can attain speed from a stopped position.
  • Length – Overall length, generally better speed and tracking.

Safety Features – Features designed for safety during situations such as boat impact, quick exiting of boat, retrieval of a trapped boat

Step Three – Features and Outfitting

Once you’ve decided on a kayak model or two that fits your needs, looking at the features and outfitting can help in making your decision.

Cockpit: Options include thigh braces for boat control, hip pads for tighter fit, adjustable backband for back support and posture, pleasure wedger for thigh height adjustment.

Bulkheads and Footbraces: Located in the bow (front) of the boat, bulkheads and footbraces offer rigid foot support. Some models include adjustable foam footbraces for easy customization.

Frame Construction/Support: Look for features such as D-bone welded-in seat track, which offers hull rigidity and horizontal stability. Safety step out walls provide more rigidity between hull and deck, also offers easier exiting capability in an emergency situation.

Sprayskirts: A must-have for all whitewater kayaks, a sprayskirt offers a water-tight seal, keeping the cockpit from taking on water, including “rolling” underwater. Find a Harmony sprayskirt that fits your kayak by using our sprayskirt fit chart guide.

Finally, we offer a variety of sizes in all of our kayak categories to comfortably accommodate paddlers of all proportions. The best way to ensure the right fit is to schedule a demo with your local dealer.

Check out Team Dagger Member Anna Levesque's take on choosing your whitewater kayak on her blog!