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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.

Early-mid 2000’s

Dagger G-Force

Dagger G Force 6.1
My beloved G Force!

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.

Dagger Kingpin

The Dagger Kingpin

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.

Dagger Agent

The Dagger Agent

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

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

The 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

The Bliss Stick Smoothy in action on the Tryweryn

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

The 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)

The 2007 Allstar (the medium version of the boat)
The 2010 series Star series (MonStar shown)

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

Jackson Rock Star 2011

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

The Rock Star 2014. Pretty identifiable by the unique logo on the front quarter.

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

The 2016 Rock Star series. Easily identifiable by the ‘wedge’ shape on the top of the nose and the logo on the rear of the boat.

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. A nice looking boat, but sometimes divides opinion on the water.

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 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.

Dagger Jitsu

Dagger Jitsu 5.5
My Dagger Jitsu back when it was nice and shiny!

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.

Pyranha Jed

The Pyranha Jed

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.

Conclusions

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.

2 comments on “What playboat should I get if I can’t afford a new one?

  1. WetandMucky says:

    Ii I may, I can add a few comments on some of these boats from personal experience.

    Dagger G-Force – I have had a few goes in the largest model – G-Force 6.3 – I’m 6’3″ and a shade over 16st and I can paddle it quite comfortably, as mentioned it actually feels pretty good and for most people on a par with modern boats, it certainly doesn’t feel dated on the water.

    Bliss Stick Rad – This was widely regarded as being a huge leap forward in playboat design and by many as the ultimate play hull design for many years (obviously a subjective view) compare the side profile with newer boats and the differences are subtle, well ahead of its time.

    Wavesport Project – I had a Project 62 for a couple of years as my first real playboat and I learned loads in it, however I found it quite slab sided and I developed a kind of 2-stage process for rolling it, almost a double hip-flick process, it would roll onto it’s side easily enough but then needed some extra oompf to finish the roll off. I also had issues with the plastic splitting near the thigh brace bolts under the cockpit rim. – However I also know that my boat is sill in use today some 6 years later. The project was also the hull shape model for many carbon playboats of the time.

    Wavesport Project X64 – I had 2 of these, a big improvement in design over the original Project series, much easier to roll and more progressive on its edges, the only issue I found with both was that the webbing to the back band would creep through the ratchet buckles and pop out at key moments, like when trying to roll up in a feature. Many people still prefer this design over the Mobius which “replaced” it… Hence why it is still for sale at many dealers.

    Jackson Star Series – I had a superstar for a while and loved it, great shape and really great all-round playboat, I was a little on the heavy side for it meaning I could throw it around great, but struggled to surf with it as I couldn’t keep the nose above the water line! One issue to watch out with early Jacksons was he cross-link plastic issue, the cross link boats can be identified by the metal central pole down the hull, later linear plastic models had a plastic moulded centre. The issue with cross-link is that it is very difficult to weld and becomes quite brittle over time, I have known a couple of these shatter in use, one now hangs in the club house as an ornament.

    Jackson Rock-Star – Regarded by many as the ultimate playboat, has had a few design changes and tweeks as described above, I had a 2014 model which I found super comfortable and super responsive, its the boat I learned to front loop in a wave in (at HPP on a Freestyle course with Lowri Davies) – However I was cursed once again by Jacksons soft plastic and split the hull (I’ve split 4 different Jackson boats) They do flex a lot, try sitting in one on the grass and move your knees around to see what I mean, however they are great boats to paddle. The other wonderful thing with Jacksons is that the outfitting is so simple and easy to adjust, you can just jump in and go with very little messing around required.

    Dagger Jitsu – My newest boat and only paddled last night (15th May) for the first time at the Dee (Mile End Mill) – Again as mentioned above, it’s a bit of a heavy weight and with lots of adjustments available it needs a bit of fettling to get comfortable in, however on the water it’s a great boat and easily a match for my previous Jackson – I’m looking forward to getting to grips with it and hopefully finding my freestyle mojo again.

    Whatever you go for the main thing is to have fun with it, and the great thing about second hand boats is that it’s really easy to swap and change frequently without losing a ton of money! Another great article Simon, keep up the brain-dumping..!

  2. Todd Buh says:

    Jackson Kayaks have been around long enough to find a good buy on a used one. they are all easier to roll and better for surfing and tricks than the others mentioned. I bought a new star in 2010 ( my 2nd. star ) and still paddling it today, 9 years later. it’s been a great boat and holding up great. something my riot kayaks would never do ( had several that cracked on the hull or around the cockpit ) the old riot kayaks were great boats but disliked by many due to the hard edges and being harder to roll. I also liked some of the later wave sport boats ( when EJ was a wave sport paddler ) and David Knight was a big part of those designs ( who went with EJ to start Jackson Kayaks ) I especially like the A.C.E. series, very easy to get vertical and bow stalls were super easy in flatwater! having the recessed cockpit saved your skirt from all the normal abrasions they can get when upside down in shallow water and just looked better too.
    the g-force was much better than i expected and a fun little boat at the time but very slow hull speed, going from that to a jackson star had me in utter awe. I couldn’t believe how much faster the Jackson kayaks were compared to other boats I had paddled like the g-force and the ego before that. the Jackson’s had the speed of my old riot’s but not 7 or 8 feet long and a hull just as loose, if not looser. especially on rivers that didn’t have much current speed. I was breaking free of the surface and spinning on glassy waves on slower rivers like i only could on faster rivers before. and can surf waves so small, you wouldn’t think they are big enough to stay on. the jacksons are amazing on big. fast rivers, and just as impressive on class I & II rivers too. I would really like to update to a new rockstar, but my 2010 star is just as good now as when I bought it new in 2010, never lets me down, and always impresses me every time I am in it and I turned 55 rs. old this year !!
    kayaking since 1996 and still going strong
    I have paddled every brands latest playboats over the years and I will stick with Jackson Kayaks
    mostly because they are great boats, but partially because of the entire Jackson family, one of the nicest, friendliest, most helpful on the river families I have ever been around.

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