What Whitewater Boat to Get?
You will see paddlers on rivers in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes of boat, and the club has a selection in its pool of equipment for hire. This variety can be a bit confusing at first, but there is a logic for choosing a boat apart from the pretty colours!
Boats can be special-purpose (slalom, wildwater racing, creek racing, squirt boats) or more generally useful. There are general purpose boats useful on flat or very easy moving water, and a range of boats intended for more or less serious white water. Among the whitewater boats there is a range from playboats through crossover to creek boats. There is also a range from rather stable, forgiving boats which are easy to drive, but won't cope with the most testing conditions, through to high-performance boats from which experts can get fantastic results, but which do require a considerably higher level of skill to get anything out of. Higher performance boats tend to have better outfitting to keep the boater connected to the boat and in full control, which makes the boat somewhat heavier and, inevitably, more expensive. Over recent years, top-end boats have developed to have more safety features and better outfitting, so the price you'll pay for a "good" boat has increased faster than inflation. But, conversely, manufacturers often use their older moulds (which have already paid off their cost of creation) to make budget or "club" boats which are every bit as good as the same boats a few years ago, but priced much more competitively. These are typically much better value (and lighter to carry!) for those not yet paddling the hardest rivers. Any one model of boat will typically come in a range of sizes to suit different paddlers - manufacturers will give a range of paddler weights for each boat. If you come in at the heavy end of the range, the boat will be easy to throw around and drive into eddies, but won't float as well ad may not get you through big stoppers. If you are too near the low end of the range, the boat will tend to float high, get thrown around by the water and not go as fast, but may be a bit more forgiving for the less aggressive paddler.
Fluid mechanics is a complex subject, but in the simplest terms, longer boats go faster. This is because, as the speed increases, most of the energy goes into making waves (the wake) and the speed at which wavemaking resistance starts to exceed simple frictional resistance is proportional to the square root of the waterline length. Why is speed important ? Most rivers have flatter sections where you need to paddle forward to get the trip done, and if your short boat is making this twice the effort of those in longer boats, it's going to be a whole lot less fun. On the less flat sections, you may need a turn of speed to get to the line you want, or to punch through or pass over a stopper.On the other hand, short boats can surf on smaller waves, turn more quickly and generally do all sorts of tricks that are impossible in longer boats.
It's best to start in a (cheaper, light, more forgiving) boat aimed at beginner or improving kayakers. This will give you the basic techniques and enable you to feel what different aspects of the boat are good for. As you pick up the skills and want your own boat (or a better boat), the best advice is to try as many different boats as possible to get a feel for what fits best, and what boats perform best in line with the skills you have developed and the type of paddling you prefer and whether you want to be near the top or bottom of the weight range for a particular model. The club has a number of boats in its pool of equipment for hire which is a good starting point. You will also find that manufacturers bring boats along to events on rivers like the Washburn, the Tyne Tour or the Tryweryn specifically so people can try them out. The Tees barrage also has a pool of demo boats and typically charge a fixed amount for you to try one or several. Often, members will let you try their boats when we're at a park-and-play type of trip somewhere like Abbey rapids.
Club boats are documented on our Equipment for Hire page.