If a creekboat is like your spouse—loyal, bulbous, and willing to take the hits with you—then a playboat is your mistress. So curvy and fun, but interchangeable when something better comes along. And something usually comes along every year.
Level: Fading expert
Days Playboating/Yr: 30 to 150
Favorite Freestyle Move:
Favorite Play Spot: Suffocator on the Wenatchee River or Mill Wave on Lake Creek in Oregon
Moves He Can Do: All the basics: cartwheels, blunts, loops, tricky woos, sometimes donkey flips
Days Playboating/Yr: 150 to 200
Favorite Freestyle Move: Helix
Favorite Play Spot: Drunkard's Drop on the Wenatchee River
Moves He Can Do: Cartwheels, tricky woos, aerial blunts, loops, flatwater loops, donkey flips, and sometimes felixes
Days Playboating/Yr: 40
Favorite Freestyle Move: Flat spin
Favorite Play Spot: Rodeo Hole on the Wenatchee River
Moves He Can Do: Front surf, flat spin, bow stall, stern stall, stern squirt
This year, five companies are hoping they can convince you to take theirs home, which could prove to be more difficult than in years past. Over the last decade, playboat design has turned impossible moves into routine eye-rollers and persuaded some hungry up-and-comers to become starving professional rodeo kayakers.
This year's boats won't necessarily turn water into wine, but they will make everything a little bit bigger and hopefully a little bit better. In general, the designs have responded to the increasing demand for bigger air—both in holes and on waves. They're a little plumper and less slicey, which makes for great aerial photos. If your backyard play run isn't the Ottawa, Wenatchee, Slave, or Zambezi, the bigger-volume playboats could have you explaining why you didn't hit certain moves to your buddies in the eddy.
Each boat has a different personality (though two share the same name). Corran Addison's new company, DragoRossi, produced a craft like that bad-news bar chick with the tattoos and edgy personality your buddies warned you about—kind of risky, but so intriguing. Necky's Orbit Fish 55 is like that date you'd like to curl up with on the couch and watch a movie. It's big and comfortable, with very few surprises. Riot, Addison's old company, created a boat with a little edge, a lot of volume, and an incredible amount of convenience. Wave Sport's is perfect but predictable, and a little tactless. Dagger's is the all-American sweetheart—good at just about everything, but with very few surprises.
Three kayakers of varying skill levels, paddling styles, and tastes got to know each boat and its corresponding quirks so that you won't wind up with the wrong kind of playboat.