Emrick Blanchette in the Braaap. Photo by Francois Brassard
By Charli Kerns
One of the latest boats to hit the whitewater scene might also be the one causing the most confusion among paddlers. What is the Liquidlogic Braaap, really? Is it for play, river-running, or steep creeking? Well, that depends on whom you ask.
Pat Keller, the head designer of the boat, wanted the Braaap to take on slalom characteristics for agility and speed. I can attest that final product turns on a dime and blazes along eddy lines. Don't be surprised if you find yourself pretending there's a gate to whip around on your local run.
Here are some guidelines to help you determine what the Braaap is to you.
Pat Keller hucking Spirit Falls on the Little White Salmon. Photo courtesy Liquidlogic Kayaks
It's a creek boat if…
…you're a smaller paddler who wants a boat that will pick apart your paddling technique. The Braaap doesn’t have the training wheels of most modern creekboats — high volume ends and an extra-stable hull shape — and it will likely teach you a few lessons as you get the hang of it. If you’re already in the upper echelon of kayakers, however, you’ll have a blast firing up the Braaap in Class V.
I’m a C-1 paddler who falls somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum. While paddling the Braaap, I found the significant volume and rocker in the bow combined with a fast, rounded hull allowed me to maneuver around easily, going through and over holes — with a single blade. Remember, the Braaap is 69 gallons, five gallons more than the latest Dagger Mamba Creeker and just under five gallons under the small Pyranha Shiva.
One of the lessons the Braaap teaches comes with paddling speed and body position. It's not a new Dagger Nomad or Pyranha 9R, so if you lean back, you'll power flip. Paddle slow or with the current and you'll power flip.
Rolling isn’t difficult in the Braaap – once you learn how to roll correctly. Like a good teacher, it will pick up on every right and wrong thing you do until you're rolling like a champion. Be patient and you'll be rewarded.
Charli Kerns running Bear Creek Falls on the Cheoah River in North Carolina. Photo courtesy Sarah Ruhlen
It's a river runner if…
…you're building your way up to the harder stuff and, again, are willing to learn. I've heard time and time again that the Braaap "will make you a better paddler," and I believe that to be true. As a slalom-style boat, the Braaap wants to be type-writered in waves, darting from one side of side of the river to the other. You're not going to punch through holes if you mess up like you would the 2016 Nomad or Shiva. You will flip, but you will learn, and when you finally grease your way through a monster rapid, you’ll be grateful for every bitch slap. (I took a Braaap down the Grand Canyon, and I finally dialed it in after flipping in nearly every rapid on the first 150 miles of the journey.)
Overall, the Braaap can come across as intimidating to newer paddlers, but I promise if you're willing to learn the hard way, the lessons will stick with you, and once they do, nothing from the Colorado to the Linville can stop you in the Braaap.
Photo courtesy Liquidlogic Kayaks
If you want more play…
That high rocker on the Braaap’s stern and bow and surprising amount of volume given its slicey look make stern squirts and pirouettes more difficult than in, say, the Liquidlogic Mullet or Dagger Axiom. But then again, put the right person on the right eddy line — like on Cat's Pajamas on the Ocoee River or the eddy right after Nieces Pieces on the Green for instance — and they'll be looking up at the sky all day long.
The Braaap is reviving of an old era of boating, and it’s an addicting one.
"There has been a trend to make river running boats bigger, more stable and easier to use, which is a great thing because it does make the sport more accessible to people starting out and better for those who are focused on running harder stuff," says Shane Benedict, co-founder of Liquidlogic. However, that focus on ease of use, Benedict says, has taken away some of the feel of paddling a kayak. The result was the loss of techniques like the S turn, outside edge turn, stern squirt, splat, and pivot turn, all of which Benedict and Keller wanted to bring back. "The Mullet and Braaap both are aimed directly at making kayaking exciting and more dynamic without compromising the ability to paddle downstream," Benedict says.
After a few months of paddling the Braaap, I’d say they succeeded.
Sidebar: If you want even more play…
If the Braaap is your full-volumed performance river runner, you’ll find a more playful river runner in the Party Braaap. The Party Braaap has the same bow and hull design as the Braaap, but its stern deck has 2.5 gallons less volume, making it concave. That significant drop in volume makes for much easier stern squirting, wall splatting, surfing while still being pinpoint on river running.
For the bigger paddler, the Liquidlogic Mullet will be a better fit. Plenty of bow volume not only for boofing over river and creek features but also for your legs and feet (a novelty among slicey boat designs past and present). The Mullet, like the Braaap, adopted its hull shape from modern slalom boat design, but the kick rocker behind the seat lets the Mullet tilt back for snappy carving turns into eddies and for quick pivots.
Also, take a look at the Dagger Axiom. The Axiom 8.0 has similar bow volume to the Braaap, which lends confidence on the creeks or bigger water river running, but it’s more playful on the eddy lines.
The Pyranha Loki offers an entirely different take on downriver play. Even the medium has 18 fewer gallons of volume than the Party Braaap. Its bow is much slicier than any of the boats mentioned above, making it by far the easiest boat to get end-to-end in the right hole. The new-school design still gives it plenty of bow rocker, if not the volume, to make summer runs down the Green Narrows a real treat.
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