C&K On Assignment: Whatever Floats your Boat

By: Conor Mihell

At the start, I wondered if I'd assembled the right crew of paddlers to test a quiver of touring kayaks for Canoe & Kayak magazine at Port Townsend, Wash.'s West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium. British Columbia's Hurricane Riders (www.thehurricaneriders.com) are among the freshest faces of extreme paddling—they seal launch from 20-foot cliffs and surf the notorious foam pile of Skookumchuck Narrows on the biggest tidal exchanges in 16-foot sea kayaks; watch their web videos and you'll see they are a breed apart from the typical touring paddler. At least I knew I had come to the right place: The island-pocked waters of Puget Sound are the birthplace of the ruddered, North American touring style of sea kayak we'd come to review. We had a fleet of seven boats to test, a mix of brand new and tried and true designs.

Within minutes of saddling up and hitting the water for a test drive, Hurricane Riders and Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak staffers Kim Hannula and Marty Perry had quelled my concerns. They sprinted, carved, edged and rolled countless times. Their unbridled enthusiasm drew sideways glances from volunteer safety boaters and glares from anglers as they dodged fishing lines to slalom through the uprights of a nearby pier. In an hour-long tour Hannula and Perry offered thoughtful insight and colorful commentary. ("I'd love to surf this boat in a huge tidal race," said Perry of the maneuverable yet fast Looksha Elite.) Later on, Mike Darbyshire, another Hurricane Rider, and Perry playboated the Wind 535 and speedy Epic 16x in standing waves where a 20-knot wind intersected an ebbing tide. It was all photographer Gary Luhm, C&K's Nick Hinds and I could do to keep up to our hooting and hollering testers.

In the end, Hannula, Perry and Darbyshire left me wondering just what's possible in North American-style sea kayaks—beyond their typical application as gear-hauling multi-day tourers. But I had no doubt that in the hands of the Hurricane Riders it'd be easy to find out.

To read the full review, check out the March issue of Canoe and Kayak, on stands now.