THE FIELD CREW Ken Pitta Joe Carberry
Occupation: Manager, Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Favorite Run: Washougal, Wash.
Last swam on: Oregon Coast at 12ft.
Occupation: Electrician, owner/
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Favorite Run: Wilson above seven ft.
Last swam on: Molalla River, Ore.
Occupation: Head of athletics, University Child Development School
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
Favorite Run: Johnson Creek, Idaho
Last swam on: South Fork of the American (Golden Gate), Calif.
Hometown: Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Favorite Run: Anything with water
Last swam on: Upper Papallacta, Ecuador
THE FIELD CREW
Winter is a brutal time to test boats. Ice forms on goatees, digits won't close around paddles, and beer freezes. But winter is when boat manufacturers debut their new wares, and if you want to read about them in the spring, someone has to review them
Someone, in this case, was four everyman kayakers who
met one January weekend in Portland, Ore., where weeks of winter rain had the creeks running strong and cold. Our test posse took to the steeps on Washington's East Fork of the Lewis at a mind-numbing 2,500 cfs and surfed Oregon's Wilson River at a touch under 8,000. Oh yeah, it was good. Even better, every boater got to manhandle six brand-new rides and then talk about them until he was hoarse.
The testers started with a first impression of each boat, then hopped in the driver's seat and critiqued every feature. They rated the boats on a scale of 1 to 5 in categories ranging from maneuverability to outfitting. Then we averaged the scores to bring you C&K's certified analysis of the latest greats.
Jackson Mega Rocker
L: 8 ft., 6 in., W: 27 in., 93 gal.
Eric Jackson recently signed expedition gurus Ben Stookesberry and Jesse Coombs to help with creekboat design, and the Mega Rocker is proof that he got what he was looking for—a big, tough extended trip SUV.
First, a caveat: We tested a demo version of the Mega Rocker, and some of the outfitting treats were missing. That made this particular boat a little tough to fit. We had trouble maneuvering this big boy, making us pine for the familiar fit of the Rocker (Jackson has re-marketed its creek boat line in three sizes—Punk Rocker, Rocker and Mega Rocker). The bigger version made us feel like we were swimming without actually getting wet. Still, we got a taste of the Mega Rocker's potential, and we were impressed.
The bow now features the "Uni-Shock," a new bulkhead system designed to protect against pitons, and Jackson amped up the volume for quicker resurfacing and took most of the edging out to create a forgiving craft, ideal for multi-days. The cross-link plastic is typical of all Jackson rides and one of the upstart company's best qualities. But the inflatable "Happy Feet" and "Sweet Cheeks" outfitting still garner mixed reviews. Maybe we need to study the online instruction manual a little more, but until we figure it out, inflatable outfitting makes as much sense as pumping up your Reeboks before shooting hoops: flashy, but not always practical. Still, the Mega Rocker will make for a strong
expedition offering and boaters will adjust to its size after a few days on the river. In short: The Mega Rocker is for mega men (and women).
"Can you say Ocean Liner?"
"A big-boy bobber."
"Stays on line like said Ocean Liner."
"If you can get paddle purchase, it's airtime."
"Hard to keep this good boat down."
"We need more experience with the outfitting system."
Heavy artillery in the wrong hands
is a recipe for mayhem. The Pyranha Ammo is the weapon of choice for those who surf their way down big water runs. The Ammo fits into the playful creekin' genre: bulbous enough to handle the meat but sized right to pull nasty moves in between the gnar. Unlike previous similar designs, it has enough volume to store gear; we stuffed an SLR camera-sized Pelican case in the back.
The outfitting is solid, though testers had trouble gripping the tiny ratchets with cold hands. The hull is true to Pyranha form with edges in the right places. We threw this thing down on a swollen steep creek, but we need to put in a bit more research time to see how the Ammo handles big, pushy water.
Female paddlers will love this boat; the size and mobility is a perfect fit for smaller boaters. Be sure and size the boat to your numbers: heavier than 195 pounds, go for the large. The Ammo is the most fun, agile creek boat of the lot—a boofing machine that's quick as a six-shooter.
Small—L: 6 ft. 9 in., W: 25 in., 58 gal.
Large—L: 7 ft. 2 in., W: 25.5 in., 64 gal.
"Anywhere we wanted to go."
"Mr. Sulu. Warp speed. Now."
"Tail might get stood up in places."
"Made for it."
"Backband system could use some work."