Think of the PYRANHA I:3 as a playboat for the people. Our six-foot-one tester was plenty comfortable in the seven-foot-four-inch model; a simple ratcheting thigh-brace system kept the fit snug. The wide planing hull lends stability for easy shots down tough rapids, and the boat's upturned bow makes punching through big holes a cinch. Meanwhile, its swallowtail stern improves responsiveness. Bottom line: The i:3's comforting predictability will help newbies make a smooth transition from banzai river runner to playboater. ($1,095; 828-254-1101, www.pyranha.com)
The new PERCEPTION BLAZE is another multitasking phenom. A high-rockered bow and stern stabilize the Blaze for blasting through technical rapids, and an easy-to-roll hull means less time upside down when the water gets too wicked. Want cartwheels and stern squirts? Find a powerful hole, get vertical, and the boat will go acrobatic. But perhaps the best news is that the largest version of the Blaze accommodates boaters weighing up to 280 pounds, making it a true kayak for Everymaneven the big boys. ($1,099; 800-595-2925, www.kayaker.com)
Named for and, apparently, modeled after those supercool 1980s-vintage action figures, the WAVE SPORT TRANSFORMER boasts removable tips for the bow and stern that customize the boat to the temperament of the river. Shallow holes call for the slim, inch-long bumpers, while the eight-inch tips are designed for cartwheeling in deeper water. Thanks to its flat bottom, the Transformer spins like a top with the slightest of strokes and surfs standing waves as nimbly as a true kahuna. Some paddlers may find it a bit too boxy and tough to roll, but for intermediate kayakers who want to quickly add tricks to their repertoire, the Transformer's hard to beat. ($999; 800-311-7245, www.wavesport.com)
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