Waka Tuna Review
The Tuna was originally designed by Bliss-Stick with input from paddling legend Sam Sutton. A few years later Sutton bought the mold and moved production from New Zealand to the Czech Republic under the name Waka Kayaks. The Tuna took a while to pick up steam, but it’s become extremely popular after some well known pro paddlers got on the train last year.
Hoping for a fast and sporty–but forgiving–ride, I hopped on the bandwagon when I bought a Tuna this spring, and the boat has not disappointed me so far. I paid full retail price for my Tunas, so I have no conflict of interest here.
To put it simply, this is the most fun creekboat that I have ever paddled. I spent the entire winter of 2014-15 paddling the ZET Raptor, an aggressive river running design. The Raptor was undeniably fun, but it was also challenging to paddle correctly. The Tuna takes those characteristics—fun and fast—and combines them with a relatively forgiving character.
The Tuna’s generous bow rocker is a big factor in its ability to carry speed. I can easily keep the bow on top of the water in big crashy waves and tricky foam piles. The Tuna is just as easy to boof as my old Nomad 8.5, but the planing hull and edges maintain speed, tracking, and control out of drops in a way that the Nomad (or a Stomper) never could.
Speed comes at a bit of a price because it means that you can really easily run into trouble if you carry that speed in the wrong direction. The edges and planing hull that give such a great sensation when you are in the right line will also make it more difficult to correct your mistakes when things go a little awry. I’m not saying that the Tuna is hard to paddle, but it’s also not “stupid simple.” I think that tradeoff is more than worth it.
I returned to paddling a Raptor and a Nomad for a few weeks early this summer, and I spent most of my days on the river simply wishing I had a Tuna instead. To give you a visual idea of how the boat performs for paddlers who aren’t Evan Garcia or Aniol Serrasolses, are a few POV clips of my time with the Tuna in the Pacific Northwest and Norway:
Waka vs Bliss-Stick: Durability and Volume/Sizing
The question on a lot of people’s’ minds is: “Is this boat any different than the Bliss-Stick version?” The differences are slight, but they are there.
The first difference is in durability. When Sutton moved production to the Czech Republic he moved into the old Necky Factory. The Bliss-Stick factory was basically an old sheep shed with a homemade boat oven, so the factory change seems to have led to drastic improvements in durability compared to the old Tuna. I took my Tuna down many low water Little White Salmon laps this spring, and even grinding over numerous cheesegrater-esque basalt rocks didn’t break it. So far, I am confident that the hull will last.
The second noticeable difference is the volume. At ~80 gallons, the old Tuna felt like a relatively small creekboat. The claim is that Waka pumps air into the hull as it cools out of the mold, which keeps the plastic from shrinking. That could all just be rumors and hearsay but, on the water, the Waka Tuna floats me much higher than the Bliss-Stick. I am 170 lbs without gear, and would not hesitate to recommend the boat to someone weighing 10 lbs more than I do. When we lined up the Waka and the Bliss-Stick, the Waka has noticeably more volume in both the bow and the stern. If you’re over 185 lbs though, you’re probably too big for the Tuna.
Outfitting and comfort
One of the things that I love about the Tuna is the position of the thigh braces. They hang low under the cockpit, which keeps my legs a little bit straighter when I am seated in the boat. This leg position feels like it gives me more control over the direction and angle of my bow but does not compromise side-to-side stability.
The seat is comfortable, but the back band is not. A little more padding in the backband would certainly be nice. Beyond that, the outfitting is basically what you would expect of any creekboat. It’s relatively simple, pretty easy to adjust, and works just fine.
Now, here is the catch. If you live in Europe, then congrats! This boat is easy to purchase at a variety of retailers. If you live in the US then you are probably out of luck for a while. Evan Garcia brought in the first container last spring and the word is that a second container will arrive in January. I highly recommend buying one before they sell out.
The unfortunate side effect of having so few boats in the US is that the warranty is a bit sketchy. If there aren’t really any extra boats around, then you’re pretty out of luck if yours breaks. Paddle with care—I’m still treating mine like a newborn baby and avoiding all rocky seal launches.
The Tuna is an absolute blast to paddle and still offers a relatively forgiving ride that many will enjoy. I’ve now purchased two Tunas at full price and I have no regrets. They’re hard to get in the US, but they’re worth it.
—Read David Spiegel’s review of the Pyranha 9R Creekboat on CanoeKayak.com
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