By Nick Hinds / Photos and video Dan Patrinellis and Mike Hagadorn
Don't buy the hype about big waterfalls and huge freestyle tricks. First and foremost, whitewater paddling is about fun. Carving in and out of eddies, surfing the occasional wave and just plain reading and running Class II and III whitewater—those are the things that feed a boater's soul.
There's a reason that the Dagger RPM—the quintessential playful river-runner—is also the best-selling whitewater kayak of all time. Kayak companies have introduced a number of new downriver boats with plenty of playful DNA in their evolutionary history. We recently put five of them through their paces on one of the Northwest's classic river-play runs, the Class III Skykomish. We also subjected the fleet to some more demanding laps on Class V Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee, the logic being to test the upper limit of each boat's performance envelope.
We enlisted a crew of seven test boaters, varying in height, weight and shoe size, as well as paddling experience and style. Through trial and sometimes error, we found that while each boat has its particular strengths and weaknesses, every one of them left us smiling.
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Special thanks to our test crew: Mike Hagadorn, Dan Patrinellis, Scott Waidelich, Jed Hawkes, Ben Kinsella, Katie Campbell, Alyson Hinds, Ellie Wheat, Ian Barrett and Mike Harms.