How to Choose Your First Multisport Kayak
Your Skill Level / Category
One of the most difficult decisions you’ll need to make in your Coast to Coast preparations is your choice of kayak. There are a lot of different makes and models out there, and each design aims to strike a balance between speed and stability.
If you go for a boat that is too advanced for you, you’ll be out of control and potentially upside-down a lot of the time. We call this scenario being “over-boated”. You’ll have a terrible experience, be less safe on the river, and will spend more time emptying your kayak than paddling it. You really want to avoid this.
On the flip side, if you choose a kayak model that’s more conservative than you need, the risks aren’t as bad as over-boating, but it can leave something to be desired. At worst, you might feel frustrated with the relatively slower speed. But at least you’ll have your dignity intact.
On this journey, each person’s skill level progresses at a different rate. Often, I encounter people who have spent some time flatwater paddling, sea kayaking, or rowing, and they assume that these experiences will easily translate to grade 2 kayaking. This is not usually the case.
Most people find learning to kayak on grade 2 surprisingly difficult.
So, my advice is to postpone buying your first multisport boat until after you’ve completed your Grade 2 Course. At this point your instructor will inform you which level of boat they recommend. This will be noted on your grade 2 certificate as either: Stable, Intermediate, or Elite.
We all come in different shapes and sizes. The most important factor for boat choice being your body weight, but also your height to a lesser degree.
Each different kayak design has a specific weight range for the paddler, within which the boat should handle well. If you’re too far outside of the ideal weight-range for the boat you’re in, your kayak will misbehave.
I believe the impact that this can have on your stability is often overlooked or underappreciated.
This is not a review of every multisport kayak out there. Rather, it’s just my list of recommendations based on what I’ve seen work for people during my time on the Waimakariri River.
Super-Stable Multisport/Sea Kayaks
Start with the Barracuda Beachcomber.
The Beachcomber is arguably the easiest boat to get down the Waimakariri Gorge. If you like the slow and steady approach, this is a safe bet.
Upright = Speed
In my experience, the Beachcomber suits a large range of paddlers between 65-95kg.
If you’re above 95kg, the Beachcomber is going to feel less stable for you the more you weigh, especially if you’re also quite tall due to your higher centre of gravity. In this case you might want to try a larger-style sea kayak. The new “Ruahine Whio” looks like it might be good for this size range, however I am yet to gain experience with it personally.
If you’re on the lighter end of the scales, then consider the Barracuda Enigma instead, which will feel just as stable as a Beachcomber for paddlers up to about 65kg.
For paddlers between 65-85kg, the Enigma can also serve as a more advanced option than the Beachcomber, but not quite at the difficulty level of the stable multisport kayaks described next....
Stable Multisport Kayaks
These kayaks represent the stable category of racing kayaks and are noticeably more difficult to paddle than the Barracudas. Most people find that they need to put in a lot of time and practice to be solid in these boats by Coast to Coast in February. But if you’re up for the challenge, it’s totally achievable.
In my experience, the Aspire best suits paddlers in the 75-90kg range. The JKK Eclipse 5.7 is another option quite similar to the Aspire and works for paddlers between 70-85kg.
If you’re smaller and lighter, I suggest you find an Eclipse 5.2 or Paddling Perfection Saracen 5.2. Both seem to handle well for paddlers up to 75kg.
For the larger athlete in this ability range of around 85-95kg, I think the Wildabout/Ruahine Shadow is a good choice. The most noticeable difference will be that it has more room in the cockpit, which can accommodate larger hips and thighs.
If you’re around 100kg or more, then I suggest you keep an eye out for an old DMK Raider. It will likely take a few well-placed wanted ads to find one, but if you do, this could be a good option.
Intermediate Multisport Kayaks
Want to go even faster? You really want an intermediate boat for your first Coast to Coast?
Learning to kayak in an intermediate multisport boat is a pretty bold move, that most novices ultimately find too challenging. Many athletes who take this path assume they’ve got plenty of time to get used to the boat, only to find that the lack of stability holds them back from being able to relax and progress on the river.
But if you insist, here are my recommended intermediate boat models…
The JKK Total Eclipse is your classic intermediate boat. Fast enough to be competitive, you’ll often see the Total Eclipse near the top end of race results. It suits the mid-sized paddler of about 75-85kg.
Too light for the Total Eclipse? Then I suggest trying the Flow Rockstar. It’s actually more of an advanced boat for a mid-weight paddler, but for a lighter athlete under 65kg the Rockstar can feel surprisingly stable, while still being wicked-fast.
At the heavier end, I recommend trying the Ruahine Gladiator. JKK also makes an extra-large version of the Total Eclipse (JKK Total Eclipse XL) which is a bit longer than the Total, and has a larger cockpit.
Elite Multisport Kayaks
Beyond the intermediate kayaks, things get a bit silly for a novice paddler doing their first Coast to Coast. Sure, I’ve seen a couple teenagers manage to paddle Sharps and UFOs in their first season, but these are the exceptions to the rule. If you’re tempted, have a go at sitting in a Sharp or UFO on a flat pond and you’ll quickly understand why I’m not going to bother recommending any models in this range.
Pictured above: My Flow Aspire
Choosing the right boat for your size and skill level is key to your success on the river.
Take your time. Don’t be afraid to try different models before settling on one.
And once you have your first boat, be open to switching. If it’s not working out, a boat change might be just what you need to take your paddling to the next level.
Please comment below with your questions, experiences, advice for others, for personalised multisport kayak advice.
Happy boat hunting!