The Best Whitewater Kayaks of 2018 – Tested & Reviewed

In the beginning, choosing a whitewater kayak was easy—there was usually only a handful of models available, and you simply picked the one you fit into and could afford. Now, there are dozens of models and more introduced every year. Some are designed for vertical tricks, others for speed or response time. Once you start comparing volume, hull design, soft vs. hard chines, and rocker length, it is easy to drown in information before ever hitting the water.

In the following review we will examine the most popular models, discuss their key features, and share what we liked or did not like about each one. While nothing beats an actual test ride, this review will help you wade through the information overload and set you up for picking out your very own whitewater kayak. Once you see what we have to say, try to borrow a couple of test boats and see if you agree.

Best Whitewater Kayaks - Comparisons 

8 Best Whitewater Kayaks - Reviews 

1. Pyranha Machno

By combining two of their previous models, the Shiva and the 9R, Pyranha has developed a craft that feels right at home on a wide range of waters. Whether you are a beginner tooling around your local Class III or an advanced paddler speeding down your favorite Class V, the Machno is able to meet all your needs, making it an ideal choice for those who can own only one kayak.

Its improved design allows for fast response, often making you believe the kayak is doing the work and you are along for the ride. It is obvious that the designers learned from past achievements and failures, and also listened to their customers—the Machno’s attention to detail means you will not be sacrificing comfort to achieve performance.

What we liked

  • Fast, sporty, and responsive
  • Redesigned thigh hooks and softer hip pads for increased comfort and adjustability
  • Light weight 
  • Available in two sizes, regular and large

What we didn't like

  • The seat is not very comfortable
  • Can be difficult to correct
  • Increased volume means you sacrifice control, especially in the tail

2. Dagger Mamba

Dagger wanted to design an all-around kayak suitable for everyone from the novice to the die-hard paddler, and their answer was the Mamba. With an increased interest in whitewater kayaking, but fewer paddlers willing to forgo all other luxuries while spending every dime on a garage full of specialty kayaks, it is nice to see a design meant for many needs.

Much of the Mamba’s versatility is the result of a near-perfect combination of volume and just the right hull design. Of course, it is almost impossible for one kayak to handle every situation, so the Mamba is available in two models, the regular and creek. The latter includes a heavy-duty seat and center wall for increased durability for those planning on really testing the limits of their craft as well as their own.

What we liked

  • Portable
  • Stable design and rounded stern provides an easy-to-roll craft, perfect for building confidence in beginners

What we didn't like

  • Added volume makes vertical stunts difficult
  • Heavy

3. Pyranha 9R-L

Are you one of those paddlers who dream of riding a fast creek boat but find that your larger body size makes that uncomfortable? If so, the 9R-L was designed specifically for you. This big brother to the already popular 9R will not only provide the fit you are looking for, but the performance as well.

Even for a bigger boat, and when carrying larger riders, the 9R-L performs better than could be expected. While its size may remind you of a Cadillac, the way it runs will think you are in a sportscar. Although smaller riders may find no advantage to the added size, those of you who have found average kayaks a tight fit will find the 9R-L is just right.

What we liked

  • Size is of course the greatest advantage—this boat is designed for those 190-245 lbs
  • Comfortable—even after long days you will not blame the 9R-L for any aches or pains
  • Regardless of size, this boat is amazingly fast as well as maneuverable

What we didn't like

  • Durability leaves a little to be desired
  • This boat stays on top of the water, which can make transitioning difficult
  • Heavy

4. Riot Kayaks Magnum 80

When you name your product MAGNUM, your customers have big expectations. They want to be able to hit the biggest, steepest waters on their bucket list without failure. Riot has taken on the challenge, and they have delivered.

With a well thought-out design that includes the right combination of length and shape, you get big performance. You will punch through features, maintain momentum, and never lose control. Plus, the extra size allows for all-day comfort even if you are on the plus side.

What we liked

  • Improved seat & cockpit design makes this a comfortable ride, even on long trips
  • Roomy stern compartment offers plenty of storage, a nice feature if overnighting
  • With easily adjustable hip pads, even smaller riders will find it possible to enjoy this boat

What we didn't like

  • It needs more knee padding. Despite improvements to hip padding, the knees were neglected and will take a beating
  • Added size means less top-end speed. Although it will jump out of the hole with the first stroke, it peaks quickly too
  • Stern groove placement means you really need to tilt before getting desired engagement

5. Zet Kayaks Toro

Zet has a reputation for providing quality-built boats. With the Toro, they wanted to build on that by providing a design that was longer, streamlined, and more versatile. Those who have been lucky enough to take one for a spin or two all agree—Mission Accomplished.

The hybrid hull design allows the boat to sit high. It has an increased rocker allows for easy skimming and the lack of edges on the front 1/3rd prevents grabbing when you make first contact. But don’t worry, the extra hard rear edges mean it will still carve like a sharp knife without losing speed.

What we liked

  • Solid construction
  • Closed-cell seat design will not absorb water and provides extra level of comfort & warmth
  • Combination of hull redesign and rocker placement allows for quick acceleration and even tracking

What we didn't like

  • Lack of bow edge can make catching eddies a bit more difficult than expected
  • Only available in one size
  • Seat is difficult to adjust

6. Jackson Kayak Mix Master

If the name Mix Master reminds you of the good old days of the Beastie Boys, it is no coincidence. Jackson want to take you back to the early days of whitewater kayaking, but they did so in more than just the name—they brought back old school design as well.

The low-volume, high-performance hull is meant to remind you of those early days, perhaps even one of the watercraft you learned on. But the addition of modern materials and construction updates allow you to relive those days, or learn new tricks other boats cannot achieve without sacrificing performance. This kayak looks like an antique and acts like a spaceship.

What we liked

  • Improved ergonomics and shape
  • Excellent vertical possibilities—cartwheels, stern stalls, and squirts are almost second nature for this boat
  • Allows those who preferred early boats but enjoy modern materials to own the best of both worlds

What we didn't like

  • Currently available in only one size
  • Not suitable for beginners; pre-existing skills are a must before climbing into this cockpit
  • Not as versatile as some of the more modern designs

7. Liquidlogic Braap

The unique name is not the only thing unusual about this boat. With a long round hull, low-volume stern, and pronounced rocker, this is a craft that looks different than almost anything else on the water. 

And in the Braap’s case, different means good—good at squirting, surfing, and splatting. This boat is designed to be as fun as the name implies, and Liquidlogic has delivered just that, a boat which is fun to have and fun to show off to other riders. Although the specific hull design is as difficult to nail down as the name is to pronounce, it works.

What we liked

  • Designed for surfing—stern length lets you catch tough waves and the sharp design allows for easy carving
  • Fast turning ability and eddy lines
  • Operates well on a variety of water conditions

What we didn't like

  • Low volume makes this boat less forgiving than many others
  • Easy to flip
  • While it operates well on may waters, it is not perfect on any—there will always be some give and take

8. Wavesport Diesel

When a designer has a boat that works, they usually stick with it. After all, why fix what’s not broken? But that is exactly what Wavesport did—they redesigned the popular Diesel. But whether it is luck or lessons learned, they managed to improve on what many believed was already top-notch.

The current Diesel provides a better all-around boat—better fit, better versatility, and better performance. The original was once considered the go-to for both big water and creeks, and the current model has likely taken its place.

What we liked

  • Available in three sizes (60,70 & 80 gallons) 
  • Improved bow & stern decking allows for very predictable resurfacing
  • New aluminum thigh hooks are more adjustable and provide better fit for taller riders

What we didn't like

  • Front storage is difficult to access
  • A bit heavy, which causes it to be slower on the flats
  • Planing hull takes a little time to get accustomed to

Conclusion 

So there you have it, our review of 8 of the more popular and talked-about whitewater kayaks available. Some are new, others are new takes on the old model. There are those targeting bigger riders and others that allow even small paddlers to enjoy a bigger boat. In truth, there is a little bit of everything, and we think something for everyone. Hopefully, this includes a model you can call the best whitewater kayak for you too. Now, go forth and paddle!

David Valle
 

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!

  • Gregor says:

    Any input on the Jackson AntiX? How would you rate it in the above group?

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