CHOOSING the right Whitewater Kayak

You may have recently done a family rafting trip and spotted the nifty kayak guides. You may have a partner or family member who is pretty proficient at whitewater kayaking and spends most of their conversation time drooling over kayak videos. Either way, your interest has been piqued and you may have already done a beginner kayak school. The next step is acquiring your own gear and, when the time comes, choosing the right kayak.

Where do you plan to paddle?

A lot of South African rivers offer the opportunity to trip down and mess around on smaller waves on the way down. They are often seasonal and at times have lower volume requiring a bit more manoeuverability. Many kayakers, however, enjoy traveling further afield to experience longer continuous creeking. Locally we have a few areas to pull some surf moves on standing waves and of course we have the ocean. (For more on South African rivers grab a copy of Run the Rivers of South Africa by Celliers Kruger).

Sometimes we think a kayak looks sweet because we see someone else styling in it. Often in the case of women and smaller paddlers a little playboat looks custom made for you. Consider where you live and what you want to get out of your kayak initially. As you continue your journey your kayak armada will grow.


Different water requires different kayak designs.

To understand these differences let’s have a look at the features of a kayak:





The bow is the front of the boat, the “nose”. It may be longer or shorter and have more or less volume depending on the kayak.





The stern is the back of the kayak, the “tail”. Again, the volume and shape of the stern depends on the purpose of the kayak.










The deck is the top of the kayak and it’s design affects the volume distribution.











This is the bottom of the kayak and essentially the point of contact with the water. Hull shapes may be planing – sit flat on the water, or displacement – are more rounded and “cut” through the water or semi-displacement.


The edges or rails, along the hull may be sharper (usually termed harder) or more pronounced, or they may be rounder (or softer). Sharper edges make the kayak more manoeuverable whilst rounder edges pivot easier but are not as affected by features (rocks, holes waves).


Think of the bottom of a rocking chair, the more continuous the curve the more the base of the chair sits on the floor. In kayaking the lower the rocker the more the boat has contact with the water and the faster it is. It is usually slower to turn. A high rocker means a slower vessel but one that turns easily. Where this curve begins, relative to the centre as well as the shape of the curve also determines the performance of the boat relative to the water it is paddled in. Creeking boats for example tend to have low, continuous rocker with a progressive curve allowing for better boofing.


How the volume is distributed around the kayak can determine how it reacts under different conditions. Riverrunners and playboats will generally feature more volume around the cockpit, making the ends “pointier’ and easier to move around. Creeking boats however have volume distributed to the bow and stern  making it easier for them to punch through waves and resurface from drops.


What will you be doing with your kayak?

Which “kayak” can I use to face whitewater head on?


Hydrospeeding/ riverboarding is an exciting up and coming extreme sport and Fluid has the Anvil, perfectly designed for hitting the water face-level.



Which kayak can be used to surf standing waves and ocean waves?

Playboat – NemesisDope

Surf kayak – Element



Playboats are generally short in design, have planing hulls and edges. Most playboats feature a gradual rocker profile with very little kick at the end. If you are planning on running long stretches with a playboat you will find yourself struggling to gain distance and responding to every wave or eddy line on the way down. On a wave however, with enough practice you will be able to surf and throw moves like spins and cartwheels among others.




 Which kayak can be used to trip down rivers and play on waves along the way?

Riverrunner – DetoxSpice


Riverrunners tend to be longer than play boats and feature a combination of displacement hulls with harder edges. this combinations allows for efficient river running, with the additional benefit of turning on edge for quick playboat like movements. A riverrunner is a fantastic versatile kayak for rivers with the type of features that require quick manoeuvering or that offer play waves along the way.







Which kayak can be used to head down continuous whitewater stretches and possibly huck waterfalls on the way?

Creekboat – SoloBazooka


Designed with higher volume and longer length, a creekboat enables you to run long continuous stretches of whitewater  and punch through holes in the same way a Landrover handles South African potholes. Consistent volume distribution, rounded edges, displacement hulls and a progressive rocker mean that less time is spent reacting to holes, waves and features and that there is quicker resurfacing when running bigger drops. The length and rounder edges means that you won’t be surfing out of a wave easily if you get stuck in one!


Which kayak would I use to do longer trips and over-nighters?

Expedition Kayak– Bang and Big Bang


Creeker in shape and a bit longer for addition of rear hatch for stowing away gear.








Which kayak can be used to perform in slalom competitions?

Slalom boats – Donsa


Slalom boats are long, have low volume overall and less in the stern allowing for quick turns. Although classified under Fluid’s competition boats, because of it’s speed the Donsa has often been used in down river races too.


Which kayak is ideal for a beginner to learn about running rivers?

Whitewater sit-on-top – the Do It Now


The hull design is like that of the creeking boats but is slightly wider for stability. There is no cockpit, the paddler sits on top with his legs secured by knee braces. Ideal for beginners, but also great for those weekend warriors who want to run up to grade 3 rivers.


 When can I say “I have enough kayaks”?

Never! Once you start your paddling journey you will want to access water in as many ways as possible and your kayak store will expand. Speak to your nearest dealer or Fluid team paddler about demoing a kayak or contact the Fluid office directly. You never know which aspect of kayaking you will love without trying!