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Old 07-25-2015   #1
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,928
Transition from IK to Hardshell

So a seed was planted last autumn that my wife and closest boating buddy Ariel might benefit from purchasing a hard shell kayak. It took a while for the seed to grow but I think we are both finally convinced by that idea. Any recommendations? We do have some local friends to help her learn and perfect her roll and other basics. As my posts highlight we tend to take things slow in building up to harder whitewater but I am looking for any insight that might help her gain confidence while changing equipment. Any classic pitfalls to avoid? Equipment to buy that might not be obvious to an IKer? Some context might help:

1) Being in Cedar means limited access to daily runs and the experience that comes from repetitive runs on the same stretch
2) Most of time is spent on multi-day trips, though we will visit shorter stretches to build up confidence first (and pool sessions before that). Realistically she will be kayaking runs like Deso, the Juan in a slow build up to places like the Main and Westwater further down the road.
3) She is a tall, strong woman which I assume will affect the type of boat we need to eventually purchase.

Being a rafter I just don't have a lot of insight to offer her on specifics so some help would be appreciated. Questions I currently have:

1) River runner to fit our normal style of boating or first learn in a play boat?
2) Used or new?
3) Take formal class or learn from friends?
4) Good first runs for a newbie hard sheller in western colorado or Utah?

Sadly we are looking at a timeline closer to next spring before can purchase a kayak, likely longer if its a new one; the reality is my medical debt and her student loans just limit us in that regard. But any insight we get here should help us make some decisions and save up effectively.

Thanks in advance.


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Old 07-25-2015   #2
Duluth, Minnesota
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 175
1) The whole river runner vs playboat thing really comes down to her personality. If she really wants it, then a playboat paddled often will teach her far more in a year than 3 years in a river runner (usually). Hard edges and low volume reward good technique and spank you for bad. On the other hand, if you're worried about scaring her off of kayaking, a river runner is generally a much more stable and forgiving ride.

2) Used. No reason to spend $1000 for a boat she may want to sell in a month. There are so many good designs in the past few years that picking up a good used boat should be pretty easy. Or, borrow. Most kayakers have a few boats and are willing to loan them. That'd be a good way for her to decide what she likes.

3) If you have friends willing, go that route. There's nothing wrong with paying for instruction but might as well save the money for #2 above. Plus with multiple friends you get multiple teaching perspectives. There are a lot of really good instructors out there but I've seen just as many that can't paddle competently in class II. I don't think an instructor has to paddle hard class V all the time but they sure as hell shouldn't be leading a trip on a class IV run and swim 3 or 4 times.
**Get some hand paddles. Rolling a kayak with hand paddles is soooo easy. You can focus on the correct body mechanics without having to worry about a paddle. Usually people want to just pull themselves up with the paddle and you spend all your time fixing that instead of really concentrating on the important parts.

4) Can't help you there.

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Old 07-26-2015   #3
Crested Butte, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1987
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 298
The Jackson Karma is a stable, forgiving, comfortable and easy to paddle kayak. It is popular with older paddlers for these reasons and would be good on the type of runs that you listed. It has a fast hull speed which is good on flat water and handles whitewater without being too edgy or aggressive.

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Old 07-26-2015   #4
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Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 255
Hey Phillip! Your wife will benefit from enrolling in a multi-day introduction to whitewater paddling class. This is where she should start. One of the most important aspects of starting with a class is that she'll make paddling friends who are starting at her level in addition to developing a basic skill set.

As for the boat, she should start in a river runner, not a play boat. Beginners need time to focus on managing basic skills such as eddy turns, edging, and basic paddle strokes. All of these basic skills need to be practiced on class 2 and 3 water and a play boat will have her upside down, a lot. Rolling typically comes a little later in the progression of kayaking skills, so a boat that is more likely to keep her upright will present her with a significant advantage. Most seasoned kayakers have at a river runner or creek boat and a play boat. The play boat should come later.

One common mistake beginning paddlers make while shopping for their first used boat is that they buy the first reasonably priced kayak they find without knowing if the boat is a good fit. This is what I did and the kayak I bought was too small for my weight. At the time, I was 210 and the boat I bought had only 52 gallons of displacement. I have pictures of me on the river with the stern partially dropped below the water line. That boat had me squirting through holes a lot and I couldn't control the edges effectively, so I swam a lot. This is where a multi-day class comes in handy. Your wife can try whatever boats the instructors have (they should have multiple sizes, and possibly different brands, of boat if they're properly outfitted) and she can talk to the instructors about getting into a boat that is the right size for her body. She should also shop boats on line and look at the weight ranges that are stated for the different boat sizes available. She should also consider demoing boats before she buys. A properly sized boat can have outfitting that doesn't work for her. A friend of mine has a Liquid Logic Stomper that is the right size, and the boat performs well for him, but the outfitting puts his legs to sleep for some reason.

One of my favorite runs on the Western slope for beginning paddlers is Glenwood Canyon from Grizzly Creek to Two Rivers park. It's all class 2 at moderate flows and the entire run is adjacent to a bike path. There are no surprises on this run. You also have the option of running all the way to South Canyon which includes a drop through the Glenwood play wave and a run on South Canyon rapid, an "easy" class 3 wave train.

Good luck to your wife on her adventure!

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Old 07-26-2015   #5
cedar city, Utah
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 1,928
Thanks for the input so far!

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Old 07-26-2015   #6
GJ, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2011
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 478
Originally Posted by restrac2000 View Post
Thanks for the input so far!

Best advice I've gotten since I started paddling 4 years ago:

"One day in the playpark teaches me more than a month of creeking".

And while I'm much more interested in backcountry adventures, I also want to have the skills and confidence to be there. Unbelievable how much can be learned by deliberately heaving yourself into holes repeatedly.
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Old 07-26-2015   #7
Sacramento, California
Paddling Since: 2012
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 232
I tend to agree with Nessy, but there is always the compromise of getting a playful river runner. Going straight to a playboat might lead to frustration and quitting, but something like a Jackson Fun/Fun runner, or Dagger Axiom will give you the ability to be a bit more stable, and still be capable of surfing should you enjoy it.
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Old 07-26-2015   #8
Fruita, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2014
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 39
+1 on the play park

While I am using and Alpacka and not a hardshell, I went with a hardshelling friend to the play park in Montrose and learned so much in a comfortable and low consequence environment!
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Old 07-26-2015   #9
Paddling Since: 96
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 1,373
No, on the play boat.Yes on lessons. Good technique and good habits are best learned first time around. Friends teaching could be good if they are in the small group of boaters that are actually technically sound. My opinion, there are excellent instructors and programs out there, find one. I don't agree about hole playing vs creeking/river running. There are supremely important things to be learned about paddling that a hole won't teach you. The holes will be there after good technique is learned. Agree that a Karma is a very friendly boat. You can find them used and if they haven't been pounded down too much mank they will be fine for something like the San Juan.
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Old 07-26-2015   #10
Keystone, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2009
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 37
I agree with Phil U & Nessy - the play park is a great place to progress your roll & other skills in a relatively safe situation but better to do after a foundation of skills is built river running in a river runner....unless your wife would prefer a steeper learning curve starting with a play boat.
A group of us went kayaking this summer with a gal in an older style play boat - she had been in the play park mostly and said she was up for paddling 3- 3+. We ran the Fractions section from below the Numbers to the BV play park and she flipped 10 times with 8 combat rolls and 2 swims. Great roll but hardly any river reading skills and no foundation of good paddling technique.
Best advice I received when starting out: "Get a river runner and one that is a more modern one."

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