Beginner kayaker in her first whitewater kayak

Buying Her First Whitewater Kayak

Author: Betsy Bevis

Kayaker: Ashley White

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Ashley White, a local, avid paddler who has embraced the thrilling world of whitewater kayaking. Her journey began with a simple curiosity, then a desire for knowledge and experience, eventually purchasing her very own kayak. This interview explores her motivations, challenges, and experiences in choosing and buying her first whitewater kayak. 

Ashley White with kayaking instructors

Whether you're enjoying your first-ever boat or on your 16th, the first time you fall in love with paddling and purchase your first boat is one you will never forget. Ashley did not fall in love at first run with whitewater kayaking. But a change in the weather rekindled her interest, leading her to enroll in an introductory Whitewater Kayaking Course at NOC to build her confidence in a boat on her local waters. After a great weekend on the river, she was hooked. The next step was clear… "How do I do more of this?" The answer was investing in her own boat. Within days of wrapping up the course, she headed to The Outfitter's Store and met retail guide Walt, who helped her find the perfect fit from head to toe. 

Her first choice would be the toughest: which boat? When selecting the right boat, she relied on her personal connections and the advice of NOC Paddling professionals instead of pouring over Google searches and blogs online. With her instructor's recommendations and her personal experience in the Jackson Zen 3 and the Dagger Code in her second course, she was excited to leave with a Pyranha Machno.

While boat differences such as size, stability, maneuverability, and material were abundant and difficult to navigate, Ashley did not have buyer's remorse. Overcoming anxiety about executing whitewater techniques was not boat related, she realized. "I get in my own head. Sometimes I worry too much about chasing the perfect fit, or it is the right boat based on everyone else's words." She found confidence with the help of NOC Paddling School instructors and friends in the kayaking community. She made the right choice on her boat, paddle, and other gear. 

Ashley White with kayaking friends

Walking out of The Outfitter's Store with her new boat, Ashley was excited about all the opportunities she now had to paddle. She vividly recalls heading straight to a nearby lake to try it out. Fueled by enthusiasm and a sense of self-discovery, she figured out outfitting techniques from local professionals through her own practice and online resources like YouTube. 

We asked Ashley what information she would pass on to another first-time kayak buyer. She stated, "I would encourage them to try different boats! Ask questions and seek guidance from outfitters and experienced paddlers. You never know who else is out there also kayaks, so talk about it with others! "There are a ton of groups on Facebook that are great resources for first-time kayakers, and, of course, I highly recommend taking a course or two with the NOC Paddling school. They're eager to help get you started on the right foot!"

Owning her own boat has significantly enhanced Ashley's whitewater kayaking experience. It has allowed her to progress rapidly, make new friends, test her limits, and push herself further. The first boat she owned serves as a reminder of her journey and a testament to the growth in her sport. 

From a beginner to a confident paddler, Ashley's whitewater kayaking journey showcases the power of embracing new adventures. Her experiences in learning, selecting, and owning a whitewater kayak provide valuable insights for anyone considering delving into this exhilarating sport. With the proper guidance and personal experience, one can discover the joys and rewards of whitewater kayaking.


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The Nantahala Outdoor Center started as a small whitewater rafting company in 1972. Since then, our passion for the outdoors has expanded into whitewater kayaking and canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, SUP, ziplining, and international adventure travel! We lead the industry in outdoor adventure and invite you to read our thoughts on all things outdoors.