Hop on your local Craigslist page one day and search the term “kayak.” After you weed through all the Walmart specials, decked out fishing boats, 14 foot long sea kayaks and Sit-on-tops, you’ll be left with those in the whitewater genre. Set the price limit low, I’m talking like $200 (here in Colorado, anyways) and you’ll likely be left with arguably my favorite type of boats: old school, slicy boats.

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Stern squirting at Ender Rock on the Number’s Section of the Arkansas River. Photo by Nelson Jones

You may ask yourself, “How could someone’s be so stoked on old school boats? They’re uncomfortable, unforgiving and come in ridiculous colors!”

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Nelson Jones showing off some perfect squirt technique in a classic boat, the Dagger RPM. Photo by Fred Morrison

The first two are valid points, but only to an extent. The third is a great positive for me personally. Some of these old school boats, the RPM, the XXX, the Session, the Ultrafuge, and EZ series among others, were designed at what many consider to be the golden age of kayaking, and more specifically freestyle kayaking. Whitewater parks were popping up like weeds across the country, new tricks were invented on a daily basis, and boat designs were coming out faster than lunchtime orders at McDonalds.

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Splatting down Number 1 on the Arkansas River in a classic Wavesport Forplay, circa 2000

The cool thing about boating in that day and age, was that the tricks and moves were things that any one could learn how to do. Cartwheels, enders, squirts, splats and spins were moves that a competent boater could pick up in a day. It didn’t take a man-made feature to accomplish any of these moves either, they were just things you could do while working your way down river.

That is the beauty of old school boats. They were designed to make the river a playground. Your home run becomes full of endless possibilities. Old school boats were designed to excel at this aspect of kayaking. In my opinion, down river play is the future of kayaking.

Why, though?

  • Any one can do it. The moves are not complex like today’s freestyle moves and can easily be learned with a little practice.
  • It makes any whitewater that much more fun. You can turn class 3 into 4 by choosing the hardest lines and turning them into playful ones.
  • It develops your skills and confidence.
  • IT’S FUN!!!

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I think Nelson’s facial expression says it all when it comes to old school boats. Photo by Fred Morrison.

So here is my recommendation. If you don’t have an old school style boat sitting around, check your local Craigslist and see if there are any gems. Kayaking companies are also starting to take note of the increase in popularity of down river play and old school style boating. Jackson re-designed the Fun series in 2015 to be slicier, longer and better for down river play. Dagger has the Axiom, which is similar to the RPM but with much more comfortable, modern outfitting and a planing hull. Pyranha’s Loki looks like it came straight out of the 2000’s, with a low-volume bow and stern, making splats and squirts easy as pie.

There are lots of options out there. Trust me, you won’t regret trying any of them.

Boats/boardsFree runnnerKayakingRiver runners

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