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4 Best Whitewater Kayaks for 2020

Discover four of the year’s best whitewater kayaks from Dagger, Liquidlogic, Pyranha and Verus Kayaks. Whether you’re looking for a whitewater kayak for downriver play, or ultra-fast creeking, or one with lightning-fast speed for challenging creeks, Paddling Magazine has rounded up four of our top picks.

The Best Whitewater Kayaks for 2020

Rewind from Dagger

Price: $1,259
dagger.com 

Meet Dagger’s next whitewater icon—the Rewind. The ultimate downriver playboat for paddlers of all abilities, the Rewind over delivers on what boaters want and need from a modern whitewater kayak, including piercing river running capabilities complemented by an exciting play-ability that allows you to add new tricks to your arsenal.


Alpha from Liquidlogic

Price: $1,099
liquidlogickayaks.com

Liquidlogic started the nine-foot fast creeker river runner revival and the Alpha is the latest creation in the class. This machine has a large smooth transitioning bow rocker and flatter center hull section. Longer boats no longer have to be hard to paddle. This baby is nimble! The subtle kick rockered stern profile is modeled after the Braaap, which gives it a predictable quick carving fun feel on the water.


9R II from Pyranha

Price: $1,249
pyranha.com 

The 9R kickstarted a creek boat design revolution; now it’s time to raise the bar with the 9R II. This sports car of a kayak is an exhilarating ride on any river, its narrow width not only increases the 9R’s dynamic speed, but also offers immense connectivity, effortless rolling and lightning-fast edge-to-edge transitions.


Gladiator from Verus Kayaks

Price: $1,099
veruskayaks.com

The goal of the Gladiator was to create a displacement hull with a smooth rocker that transitioned from bow to stern. The Gladiator is 76 gallons, which lends itself well to being what Verus envisioned as a playful creeker, somewhere between a half slice and full-blown creek boat. Its versatility makes it a perfect match for challenging creeks or substantial eddylines ideal for stern squirts.

Best Hard Boards for 2020

Discover six of the year’s best hard boards from Bishop Boards and SIC Maui. Whether you’re looking for a fishing board, race board, family board or all-around board, Paddling Magazine has you covered. Discover the top six hard boards for 2020 below.

The Best Hard Boards for 2020

Grouper from Bishop Boards

Price: $1,849
bishopboards.com

Finally a shallow-draft SUP. The Grouper needs no fins due to its revolutionary tri-hull and full-length keel. Straight tracking and super stable. No worries getting to those skinny water fishing spots, launching or landing. The flat deck has tons of real estate to set up your gear, coolers and rod holders with 13 deck attachment points. Under nose anchor point and huge weight capacity. Dimensions: 11’8” x 34”.


Tao Fit 11′ x 34″ – Tough Tec from SIC Maui

Price: $779.95
sicmaui.com

The Tao Fit is a versatile, stable board for families, fitness and fishing use. Designed for all-purpose flatwater use, it’s now available in rugged and affordable Tough-Tec construction. Includes FCS 2 tool-free center fin, grippy yoga-mat full-length deck pad, deck bungee and 10 high load-strength accessory attachment points.


Dinka from Bishop Boards

Price: $1,179
bishopboards.com

Bishop Board’s has brought a select group of features to the new Dinka. Combining soft chines in the nose and an aggressive drop-down rail in the tail allows it to pop up, paddle higher, easier, and be more predictable and crank turns with a tight rail profile. As always, Todd Bishop used single to double concaves, continuous rocker and rails to give you drive. 6’11”, 7’11” and 8’11” available.


Okeanos 11′ x 28″ from SIC Maui

Price: $1,499.95
sicmaui.com

Okeanos is named after the ancient Greek god of the sea and was further inspired by the NOAA Ship “Okeanos Explorer”. This new series is focused on fitness, touring and voyaging the unknown, so thus the name was chosen. The Okeanos shares similar DNA with the RS series, however, this board is made for recreational paddling and journeying rather than racing.

Paddlefish from Bishop Boards

Price: $2,149
bishopboards.com

Todd Bishop has been working on the progression of SUPs and the Paddlefish delivers. The revolutionary nose and tail keel sections allow it to slice in and out of the water, creating smooth drive and glide—something found in kayaks and canoes and missing from paddleboards. Removing the standard center fin allows it to also turn easier, stepping back with one foot, which is quicker and more stable. 14’x27”, 12’6”x25”/26”


Bullet 14′ x 30″ SF from SIC Maui

Price: $2,899.95
sicmaui.com

The 2019 Bullet takes the best of this timeless all-purpose, does-it-all design and re-invents it with new attention to rocker, tail width and volume distribution, all packaged in stunning new graphics. Available in two constructions, three lengths and multiple widths to fit riders of every skill level and size. Starting at $1,599 in DF construction and $2,599 in SF construction.

P&H Sea Kayaks: Virgo Day Touring Kayak First Look

The Virgo takes day and weekend trips seriously. This performance polyethylene touring kayak is inspired by the well-loved Scorpio, a P&H sea kayak for making miles. The Virgo is influenced by its efficient design but is built specifically for paddlers who want to make the most of day and weekend trips. Like the Scorpio, the Virgo tracks straight when flat, and will swing effortlessly on edge. At 14’5”, its waterline provides good hull speed for short to medium journeys, while its shorter length keeps the boat’s weight manageable at 53 pounds.

Length: 14’5”
Width: 23”
Volume: 83 gal
Weight: 53 lbs
Load: 121-220 lbs
phseakayaks.com

“The Virgo has plenty of speed and maneuverability with the features of a day and weekend kayak,” says P&H Sea Kayaks’ Mathew Wilkinson.

P&H Virgo Construction

The Virgo is constructed from a rugged Corelite X material, which is a three-layer sandwich of polyethylene. Corelite X increases hull stiffness when compared to Corelite, which allows it to cut more cleanly and efficiently through the water. The Corelite X material is also between six to 13 pounds lighter than Corelite, which makes the boat easier to handle both on and off the water.

“It’s nice and light on the roof,” adds Wilkinson.

P&H Virgo Accessories

The Virgo features bow and stern main hatches, plus a bow mini hatch. The bow mini hatch allows for extra storage so you can keep on water essentials close at hand—like drinks and sunscreen. Each of the hatches features a top-notch dry hatch cover, thanks to KajakSport.

Also included are full deck lines and elastics for versatile storage and rescue options, as well as P&H’s Connect outfitting, which has an adjustable backrest and hip pads for comfort and control. The Virgo is available with a Skudder, which offers the best of both a skeg and a rudder. Paddlers can partially deploy it to work as a skeg, or fully deploy it to work as an ultra-efficient, under-stern rudder.

Available in Sunbeam yellow, Lava orange, Ocean Turquoise blue.

7 Best Life Jackets for Kayaking in 2020

Discover some of the year’s best life jackets from Salus Marine Wear, Stohlquist WaterWare and Kokatat. Whether you’re looking for a PFD for an adventure just out your back door, or a PFD that will keep you safe on the trip of a lifetime, these versatile life jackets will keep you protected on the water.

The Best Life Jackets for Kayaking in 2020

Capri by Salus Marine Wear 

Price: $169
salusmarine.com

The Capri offers superior fit and comfort. It’s soft and feminine on the outside, yet strong and practical on the inside. The roomy and contoured top, combined with fleece hand-warmer pockets, two zippered security pockets, full-length reflective trim and a unique splash of feminine styling make the Capri a welcome companion on any open water adventure.


Ebb from Stohlquist WaterWare

Price: $99.95
stohlquist.com

One of Stohlquist’s most popular PFDs is now offered in Graded Sizing for the ultimate fit. The higher mesh back flotation fits more comfortably above the tall seat backs found in today’s rec/touring kayaks. The exclusive Cross-Chest Cinch harness eliminates ride-up, and the added internal ventilation helps keep paddlers cool during long days on the water.

Hustle and Hustle R from Kokatat

Price: $139.95
kokatat.com

The low-profile, side-entry Hustle PFD has two stacked and sculpted GAIA PVC-free floating foam panels that wrap around the torso to allow optimal comfort. Covered in 210D high-tenacity ripstop nylon with adjustable, padded shoulder straps and three side adjustments for secure fit. A large front pocket allows for secure internal organization. A single lash tab on the front for accessories.

Stepping up, the Hustle R provides guides, teachers and rescuers a full Type 5 rescue vest with the same fit and comfort as the Hustle in a pull-over vest. The Hustle R adds quick release safety harness and O-ring and protected rescue tab lash tab. The Hustle R is covered with tough, dependable and stain-resistant 500D Cordura.

Saco PFD from GUL Performance Apparel

Price: $175
gulnorthamerica.com

The versatile Saco PFD delivers ultimate protection, comfort and peace of mind, whether enjoying whitewater adventures or flatwater touring. Featuring an anatomical fit, this pullover, low-profile PFD utilizes Gul’s Infinity+ failsafe shoulder strap system. Incorporates a Spacer Mesh Liner, 3D webbing, anti-ride-up waist belt, spacious Slimline front pocket, reflective details and EaZZy glide straps.

Ungava from Salus Marine Wear

Price: $169
salusmarine.com

Ideal for kayak touring, the Salus Ungava is a unisex-style vest with all of Salus’ trademark features, including soft foam, round edges and contour fit. Additional features, including hand-warmer pockets, the ability to attach a quick-release belt, zippered security pocket, mesh drop-down pocket for quick access, five lash points and added reflective trim, make the Ungava a welcome companion on any water adventure.

Nomad from MTI Life Jackets

Price: $89.95
mtilifejackets.com

MTI’s new premium universal vest. Large cargo pockets with stretch mesh offer secure storage for must-carry items like a smartphone. Stash sunglasses in the elastic loops without fumbling to open a pocket. Features upscale Oxford and ripstop nylon fabric finished with reflective material and adjustable padded shoulders and handy tethered signal whistle—because a vest with so many bells deserves a whistle.


Betsea from Stohlquist WaterWare

Price: $129.95
stohlquist.com 

The women’s specific Betsea features the ergonomic Wrapture-shaped torso that wraps around the body for a close, low profile and comfortable fit. The Cross-Chest Cinch harness keeps flotation positioned low on the torso, eliminating ride-up. Interior sculpted cups and Stohlquist’s exclusive Graded Sizing ensure the perfect fit. Also available in Petite size (75 to 125 pounds) for smaller paddlers.

Oru Kayaks: 3 Best Folding Kayaks for 2020

Discover three of the year’s best Oru kayaks. These ultra-portable, origami-inspired designs are perfect for paddlers with limited space for storage or non-traditional means to get to the water. They’re also perfect for paddlers who want to go light, go fast and go now. With a range of kayaks to meet your needs whether out for the day or out touring, Oru has a kayak that can suit everyone.

The Best Oru Kayaks for 2020

Inlet from Oru Kayaks

Price: $850-$950
orukayak.com 

Oru’s lightest, most portable, and most affordable boat yet, this kayak is the definition of fun and was built to accommodate spontaneity. When not in use, stash it in your closet, throw it in your trunk, or check it on a plane to make paddling part of all of your adventures. Built dimensions: 10’ x 30”. Boxed dimensions: 40” x 18” x 12”. Weight: 20 pounds. Max load: 300 pounds. Assembly time: under 5 minutes.


Beach LT from Oru Kayaks

Price: $1,299
orukayak.com

Designed for beginners on flat water, this hardshell origami kayak is perfect for day trips, picnics and casual fun with friends and family. When not in use, stash it in your closet, throw it in your trunk, or check it on a plane to make paddling part of all of your adventures. Built dimensions: 12′ x 28″. Boxed dimensions: 33″ x 12″ x 29″. Weight: 26 pounds. Max load: 300 pounds. Assembly time: 5 minutes.


Haven from Oru Kayaks

Price: $1,999
orukayak.com

A tandem model that can convert to a single, this hardshell kayak is great for fishing and camping—bring the whole family. Dogs too! When not in use, stash it in your closet, throw it in your trunk, or check it on a plane to make paddling part of all of your adventures. Built dimensions: 16′ x 31″. Boxed dimensions: 34″ x 16″ x 29″. Weight: 40 pounds. Max load: 500 pounds. Assembly time: 15 minutes.

Kokatat Huck 50 Throw Bag with Belt

In a rescue emergency, every second counts. Kokatat’s new Huck 50 Throw Bag with Belt is designed to deploy quickly and reliably. The 50-foot, quarter-inch, floating polyethylene core rope has a maximum strength of 1,465 pounds.

The stuff bag has stiff sides for easy packing. The mesh top allows the rope to dry and the bag floats. The fully adjustable belt can be worn on the waist or lap.

Quick-release buckles detach the bag in an instant for a fast response in any conditions. For a heavy-duty option, the Huck 70 Throw Bag includes a 70-foot Spectra rope with a maximum breaking strength of 2500 pounds in a tough Cordura bag.

Kokatat Hustle and HustleR PFDs

Matt Porter with Kokatat Hustle R PFD
Matt Porter with Kokatat Hustle R PFD

For whitewater and touring paddlers, Kokatat released the Hustle paddler vest and HustleR, rescue version PFD.

The Hustle is a full-function, Type 3 side-entry life vest with a large pocket for gear and single lash-tab for accessories. The Hustle is constructed out of free-floating GAIA foam that is formed to fit the torso and covered with ripstop nylon.

Three-sided adjustment dials in fit for comfort and safety. Stepping up the HustleR, guides, teachers and rescuers get a full rescue vest with the same fit and comfort as the Hustle in a pull-over vest.

The HustleR adds quick release safety harness, O-ring, protected rescue lash tab and is a Type 5 vest.

The HustleR is covered with tough, dependable and stain-resistant 500D Cordura.

Pakayak Bluefin 14 Packable Kayak

Live in a fifteenth-floor apartment? Drive a compact car? Travel the world in an RV? Packable and inflatable kayaks are one of the fastest-growing segments of the market and Pakayak has entered the race with a unique solution to small space and easy travel.

On the surface, the Bluefin 14 looks like any rotomolded kayak touring kayak. The foam seat, leg pads and solid bulkheads make the Bluefin a quick, comfortable and capable weekender. But, unlike other touring kayaks, the Pakayak Bluefin 14 breaks down into six parts that fit inside each other like SOLO cups.

The kayak packs into a large travel bag with all-terrain wheels capable of crossing sand, rocks and even climbing stairs. The components are held together with stainless steel clasps and silicone gasket with 300 pounds of pressure. The kit even comes with a large towel to stage the kayak for assembly.

We tested the system and were able to build the kayak in three minutes. Even though the Pakayak packs into a suitcase, it still paddles close to the performance of a traditional touring kayak.

Bow and stern hatches allow the boat to be packed with camping gear and bulkheads behind and ahead of the seat keep gear dry. Best yet, Pakayak can be shipped anywhere in a few days.

It’s a Bloody Roller Coaster

There’s no perfect road map to becoming a successful business owner, but some routes are less traveled than others.

Simon Coward was introduced to whitewater on a trip to New Zealand when he was 18, and then spent his formative years raft guiding and chasing whitewater around the globe. By his own estimate, the Australian-born paddler has dipped blades in at least 25 different countries.

In 2005, Coward’s rambling river life led him to Canada, where he took a job as the kayaking director at Aquabatics, a Calgary-based whitewater retailer. Four years later, Coward purchased the 10-year-old business, plunging headlong into the murky waters of paddlesports retailing.

“I didn’t have a university degree and didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Coward. “So, I figured it was probably as good a bet as any.”

Under Coward’s leadership, Aquabatics became a dirtbagger’s utopia. The staff spent days creeking together, locals came in to talk shop, and community outreach efforts included grassroots events and instructional paddling programs helping grow Calgary’s local paddling community.

“If Aquabatics disappeared tomorrow, I think it would be a big void in the local paddling community,” said Coward. “Not just from a product standpoint, but connectivity.”

Coward’s investment in strong community ties and developing a dedicated staff—including six full-time, year-round positions—has produced a healthy return. In the past decade, the company’s revenue numbers have tripled, and this past spring, Coward opened a second store in Edmonton.

While the dirtbag vibe remains, the revenue spike is the result of long hours devoted to the analytics-driven process of business management. While correctly forecasting next season’s trends is always a daunting task, Coward’s crystal ball is a little less hazy when he gazes south.

“We just need to watch the U.S. very closely and see what’s going on there,” Coward says. “I feel like the Canadian market is a good three to four years behind the U.S.”

While whitewater had always been the shop’s bread and butter, Coward has seen steady growth in the recreational and touring markets. Last year, Aquabatics saw “unpredictable” growth in kayak fishing sales.

This year brought a softening in the fishing market and a rise in inflatable kayak sales. “It’s a bloody roller coaster,” said Coward. “It’s up and then it’s down.”

But Coward isn’t one to cry about it. While offering car racks and snowboards has helped bolster sales in the off-season, he’s currently busy trying to crack the latest puzzle stumping the paddling industry: How to not only survive, but capitalize on the rise of cheap boat sales at big box stores.

“I’m a firm believer that retailers are really whiny as a group,” said Coward. “I think we all talk a lot about the big box bit, but we don’t actually look at the opportunity that more people are being exposed to paddling than ever.”

The river teaches you to accept the challenge and always look for an opportunity. It seems this lesson was not lost on this paddling dirtbag.

Photo: Pierre-Luc Cormier

Bottom Fishing

COMPANIES ARE FINDING PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITY IN THE SPACE BE TWEEN BOX STORE KAYAKS AND PREMIUM MODELS. PHOTO CHRIS KIMLING

Remember the rent guy? He ran a viral campaign for governor of New York in 2010 based solely on the platform, “Rent is too damn high.”

Kayak Bass Fishing’s Chad Hoover channelled the Rent Guy in a recent YouTube video, asking “Have fishing kayaks gotten too danggone expensive?”

With top-of-the-line pedal kayaks retailing well north of $3,000, it’s a fair question. An engineering and design arms race has given rise to ever more capable fishing kayaks, with prices to match. But those top-tier boats are just the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the market is in entry- and mid-level kayaks, and retail prices in those segments have actually come down.

Hoover says he paid a little more than $750 for his first retail kayak in 1997. Today, an angler can buy a comparably equipped kayak for . . . $750. In fact, anglers can pick from dozens of fishing kayaks in this price range. “There are more kayaks under $750 now than there were when I got into the sport 22 years ago,” Hoover says.

At the top of the market, kayak anglers have more quality options to choose from than ever before. Now many of those features have trickled down to the entry-level offerings from prestige brands, with competition generally holding retail prices below $1,000.

“When competition kicks in, we as a consumer always win,” Hoover says. “Always.”

That’s great news for kayak anglers. But can manufacturers and dealers also win at this price point?

Vibe Kayaks co-founder and CEO Josh Thomas thinks so. He got involved in kayak fishing about a decade ago, and recalls watching the price of brand-name fishing kayaks increase significantly as the sport rode a prolonged boom into the 2010s.

“I understand inflation and I understand economics, but three years earlier these boats were $750 and suddenly they’re $1,100? That’s not real inflation,” he says. “That’s artificial inflation based on demand.”

ADJUSTABLE SEATS AND OTHER PREMIUM FEATURES ARE TRICKLING DOWN TO MID-MARKET KAYAKS. PHOTO COURTESY WILDERNESS SYSTEMS

Sensing an opening in the market, in 2013 Thomas co-founded Vibe to fill it. The company quickly carved out market share with full-featured fishing kayaks at the sub–$1,000 price point. This so-called middle market filled a widening gap between premium fishing kayaks and the legions of thin-plastic imitators crowding big box store aisles. Established kayak brands seized the same opportunity, with Wilderness Systems, Old Town, Jackson Kayak, Native Watercraft and others offering capable ready-to-fish models for less than $1,000.

“The sweet spot in fishing kayaks is an innovative fishing platform in the $800 to $1,000 range,” says Paddleyax owner Steve Marshall. “When I started in 2016 no one was really there. Now Vibe is there—they came up in price to get there—and everybody else has come down,” says Marshall, who sells Vibe, Bonafide, NuCanoe and Crescent Kayaks out of his flagship store in southern Virginia. He moves additional Vibe inventory through affiliate retailers in three states.

It’s a volume game, he says, but retail margins are still strong.

The same holds true for manufacturers, at least anecdotally. It may be that Thomas was right about artificial inflation a few years back, but another factor is design and manufacturing improvements allowing companies to produce better kayaks without breaking the bank.

“We didn’t take a hit on margin,” Bonafide CEO Luther Cifers says of his company’s sub–$1,000 fishing kayak, the RS117. “We knew our budget, so the question became how to squeeze the most functionality and features out of that budget. If you mold in geometry, it’s free,” he says.

Though Bonafide is positioned as a premium brand, with flagship paddle models retailing for $1,300 and $1,600, Cifers says the lower price gateway model has been a boon for the whole line.

“You’re bringing more consumers to pay attention to the brand,” he says, noting that kayak buyers come in two broad categories— those who can’t afford a premium kayak, and those who just don’t want to spend the money. A capable $1,000 kayak helps the “can’ts” get to “cans,” and helps the “don’t wants” think a little bigger.

“Once they want it, they have to talk themselves out of it,” Luther says. “But you have to give them the opportunity to want it.”

Photo: Chris Kimling