At some point in the past 20 years, boating got way too serious. Every new model was designed for charging hard in gnarly conditions. Sure, surf kayaks built for aerial maneuvers and creekboats with hulls that plow over waterfalls helped push the sport. But most boaters were left behind. This year we’re giddy to report that the pendulum has swung back to accessibility. Most of the boats we tested had playful designs suitable for intermediate conditions, from Class III whitewater to forgiving beach breaks.
Liquidlogic Mullet ($949)
The biggest story right now is river play—boats with larger bows and low-volume sterns that are maneuverable in eddy lines and ideal for rock splats. This year’s standout is the Liquidlogic Mullet, which boasts the largest front-to-back difference in volume. It made even simple seams on Washington’s White Salmon River more fun, thanks to an endless ability to sink into the current for tricks.
Jackson Kayaks Antix ($1,199)
If you’re into surfing glassy water and ripping snappy turns, the Jackson Kayaks Antix is your craft. While it has high volume, a maneuverable bow, and a small, sliceable tail, its flat-planing hull felt fast and nimble when skipping along waves.
Dagger Kaos 10.2 ($749)
Unique in their own right, both boats take cues from the bestselling whitewater craft of all time, Dagger Kayaks’ RPM. The Greenville, South Carolina, company is still in the game with the RPM’s modern cousin, the seafaring Kaos 10.2. Its sit-on-top construction frees paddlers from having to lock into a spray skirt, and hearty thigh braces allowed us to use our body weight to rail into turns. Though less sprightly than the other kayaks on this page, the Kaos isn’t reserved for beginners (or the wealthy, at that price). The three-fin setup and aggressively rockered bow may not be built to handle tricks, but they give experienced boaters the capability to pump down the line and work up some serious speed.