One question that is starting to come up from time to time is what playboat you should get. Now I will say from the start that nobody on a forum can tell you which boat to buy, but you can glean some incidental info from people’s experiences. There have definitely been some designs to avoid over the years!
So what I am going to do here is offer a rundown of the different boats to look at, both older designs that are still known to perform well, and also more recent designs. There is one other caveat to this. Many of the newer designs, with very few exceptions, are much nicer to paddle, and more comfortable, than the old designs. But if you are on a budget and cannot afford the latest models, there are still some great boats out there. There’s even a relatively recent one that you can now pick up new for only just a bit more than a lot of used boats go for!
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every boat. Instead I have listed the boats below because they are known to be good, and allow you some sort of chance, or even an excellent chance in many cases, to perform most modern aerial moves if you want to. So please don’t write to me saying I missed off the Pyranha Acrobat or some such thing!
One thing I would say is to consider three things when buying. Do not buy any playboat without first sitting in it with playboat footwear on (if you think you’re getting into one in your 5:10’s, think again!) and preferably try it on the water.
Secondly don’t just buy one because it is cheap. Buy what you can afford, but don’t go uber cheap below that level just because you can. Generally I would suggest going for the most modern, well regarded design that you can afford and are happy to sit in.
Buy the size that’s right for you. I’ve seen people buy big playboats (in one case a Jackson Mon-Star) due to a lack of confidence in going over. This might sound a good plan, but going over, a lot, is part and parcel of play boating. It’s kind of the point! But don’t mistake that for thinking you’ll be unstable and be capsizing all the time if you take one on a river run. You won’t. They are surprisingly paddle able on trips. Though I usually prefer the speed and skip of my Ripper for running rivers.
The G-Force is a classic design. It is dated by todays standards, but the great thing is they come up regularly on the used market, they are comfortable and fun to paddle with no nasty surprises. This is the boat that started me on my freestyle journey, and it is also the one that got Emily hooked too!
The G-Force is quite slicey on both ends, and it doesn’t have the volume to really pop if you want to do loops, but don’t mistake that for meaning that it can’t loop. It certainly can. Flat water cartwheels are also easier due to its low volume ends, and you can certainly start to learn your spinning and blunt chops with one.
You might find it a bit slow on a wave in some cases, in which case that brings me to the G-Force’s successor, the Kingpin. One amazing fact about the G-Force is that you can still buy one new from some places for around £500.
The Kingpin, while still a boat from the early 2000’s (2003 to be precise) exhibits many more modern design traits than the G-Force, and is generally regarded as the one to go for over the G-Force if you can find one and are buying a boat of this vintage. Which you probably can, because just like the G-Force they regularly come up on the used market.
Again a perfectly valid playboat if you are just starting out, need to find something inexpensive on the used market and want to have some fun. As per the other boats, these older models have some limitations compared to modern boats, but as you can see from the video below (featuring an Agent 6.4), they can still do the business when asked!
Bliss Stick RAD
The Bliss Stick RAD was way ahead of its time when it was released in 2003, and amazingly it still cuts the mustard as a great playboat even now. Okay, so modern boats will be easier to initiate etc, but the fact remains that if you find a RAD on the used market in your size, you can’t really go much wrong.
One thing to look out for is splits on the rear deck where the central pillar has been bolted in. This is the one weak spot of the original design (I think some later versions of the RAD changed the bolt position and don’t suffer from the issue).
Regardless, this is a great playboat boat to find on the used market.
Bliss Stick Super RAD 180
An even better version of the RAD, which Bliss Stick brought out in 2005. If you are the right weight for this one (max 80kg I think) and it’s what you can afford, run, don’t walk, to go and try it out.
Bliss Stick Smoothy
For a company that hasn’t updated its play boating catalogue in a long, long time, Bliss Stick has a rather amazing heritage when it comes to excellent freestyle boat designs. The Smoothy is another well regarded one.
Coming out in 2008, the Smoothy is very, very rare to find on the UK used market, and like the Super RAD 180 it is only available in one size. So both larger and smaller paddlers won’t be able to take this one on.
Wave Sport Project
Not to be mistaken with the Project X (mentioned in the next section), the Project was the predecessor to the Project X.
Generally well regarded they occasionally come up on the used market.
Mid-2000’s to 2015(ish)
This is the era in which playboats really start to progress.
Jackson Star series (2007-2010)
2007 was when the Jackson playboats really started coming into their own. The 2007 model Star series is regarded as one of the ‘golden’ models, although the 2010 model is the one that is mostly sought after. They are harder to find on the used market though. The 2013 version of the Star is not really well regarded.
Jackson Rockstar 2012
The 2012 Rockstar is a design that splits opinion. But I’ve heard enough people going against the grain and saying they really like it to include it here. This model comes up quite regularly on the used market, but watch out for potential cracks where the back band rope comes out of the side rim. On later boats Jackson changed the position of the rope exit points to help prevent this.
Jackson Rockstar 2014
This is one of the most sought after versions of the Rockstar, and as a result it comes up very rarely on the used market. And when it does they are usually snapped up pretty quickly. It’s an utterly fantastic playboat, although some people might not get on with the foot room for their size.
The 2014 does have one design flaw though. The cockpit rim can be prone to cracking both on the side and at the back, so inspect any used boat very carefully. It isn’t a matter of if a 2014 will crack on the rim, but when.
Jackson Rockstar 2016
Another excellent design. The 2016 Rockstar tends to appear more often on the used market than the 2014, and it is a great boat. I felt like my feet were more restricted in the 2016, so as always try sitting in one first.
Having said that, I can do flatwater bow initiations in the medium almost as easily as the small (which is technically my ideal size). So have a go in the size up if this is the case.
Wave Sport Mobius
The Wave Sport Mobius was the company’s most up-to-date playboat design before it was restructured. The Project X is now Wave Sport’s current design.
The Mobius was a bit of a Marmite boat (some loved it, others not so much), but they do very, very occasionally turn up on the used market, so worth a look as long as you can try it out.
Wave Sport Project X
The Project X is a bit of an oddity because it is actually Wave Sport’s previous generation playboat (the Mobius being the latest). But while the Mobius was discontinued, the Project X lives on and is still being manufactured. The really, really good news is that you can buy one brand new for an absolutely stonkingly cheap £650.
As a result you will now see quite a few of them turning up at play spots around the country. I don’t have any personal experience of the Project X to call upon, other than I hear mixed things about it. But at the same time it seems to have gained a bit of a modern cult following who really love it. So again, sit in one, and if you can, demo it.
I can now add the Dagger Jitsu to this list. This is currently my boat, albeit with heavily modified outfitting, and I might be giving a home to a new kayak baby soon. 🙂 But the Jitsu was quietly discontinued by Dagger, and so far it looks very unlikely that the company will replace it, which is a great shame as it seems Freestyle is increasing in popularity once again.
That said, the fact that the Jitsu has been discontinued, along with newer designs now desirable by the play boating deities, means that this very modern design comes up regularly on the used market in great condition, and for an affordable price too. It’s a little heavier than rival boats of the same generation and it has some high performance edges on it. But don’t let that put you off considering it.
The Pyranha Jed has gained a huge amount of popularity in the last couple of years since Jackson boats went up hugely in price, even on the used market.
The Jed is quite an edgy boat with a very high performance hull. These are not the friendly rails and side walls that you’d find on a Jackson boat! The Jed apparently works particularly well on waves such as that found at Hurley. This is definitely a boat to try out on white water first before you buy as it won’t be for everyone.
The good news is that Jeds come up frequently on the used market, and even brand new they can be had for £650 in some cases.
I hope this guide is useful to someone, and I apologise in advance if I have made any mistakes with technical accuracy. Finding information on the older boats is often quite difficult even with resources such as Playak being available. As I mentioned at the top of this article, this isn’t an exhaustive list of every older playboat available. Just the ones that I feel will be useful to people if they want to learn modern tricks, or at least something to help start them on the road to them. But as I have also said during the article, please, always try a boat out before buying it. This is particularly important when it comes to play boats. One person’s gem is another one’s trash can. Play boats often split opinion as to what is good. But as you have seen, there are some models that the majority of people think are good too.