first appeared in Whitewater 2008
Winter kayaking takes two things: dedication and dependable flow (three if you count drysuits). So when this year's crop of new kayaks was ready for a test drive, we dragged some core paddlers off the couch (or ski slopes) and started looking for water. Like that faithful pal you can always count on, Washington's Skykomish and the mighty Colorado almost never fail to deliver. We turned to them in our time of need and plied their waters with six brand new hunks of plastic to bring you a full report on the state of whitewater craft. Each kayak endured a rigorous six-point inspection, rated on things like maneuverability, downriver speed, boof-ability (creekboats), and big trick potential (playboats). We're delighted to report the forecast is calling for partly gnar-stomping action with a chance of nasty aerial maneuvers, and a revolutionary outfitting system moving in from the southeast. Read on to find out why.
The Magazine Editor
Name: Kate Stepan
occupation: C&K gear girl
favorite rapid: Tunnel Falls on Colorado's Gore Canyon
backyard run: Pacific Ocean/Kern River
fun fact: This trip was the first time Kate ever wore a drysuit.
Name: Scott Waidelich
occupation: marketing guy, C&K Kirkland branch
favorite rapid: Richochet on Washington's Icicle Creek
backyard run: Robe Canyon
fun fact: Once made a girlfriend sign a contract guaranteeing him eight paddling days per month
Name: Sam Drevo
occupation: owner/founder of eNRG Kayaking School in Portland, Oregon
favorite rapid: Spirit Falls on the Little White
backyard run: Clackamas
fun fact: His resume includes beating EJ at the 2001 Gorge Games White Salmon extreme race.
The Paddling Journalist
Name: Joe Carberry
occupation: editor, PaddlingLife.net and Steamboat Magazine in Colorado
favorite rapid: Jake's, North Fork Payette
backyard run: Big South Fork of the Poudre, Colorado
fun fact: Joe once swam two miles of the Boise River at flood after getting worked in 36th Street Wave.
Pyranha Rev (medium) $1159, pyranha.com
L: 6 ft 2 in
53.1 gal, 31.4 lb
Available in 3 sizes
This year, Pyranha owner and chief designer Graham Mackereth started with his successful 420 playboat and began to tinker. His goal was a solid all-around playboat, and he hit the bullseye with the new Rev (short for "revolution"). Two rounds of prototyping, including extensive input from team riders at the Gauley, produced a blunting machine that carves like Kelly Slater on the WCT, yet is still quick and stable enough downriver. With three sizes on the rack, Pyranha will roll out at least two more by late spring–allowing paddlers to go smaller for throwing it around or size up for running bigger water. The medium Rev we tested adds an inch of length to the small/medium 420, shaves an inch off the hull width, and pumps in seven more gallons of volume. It's balanced well with a little more stern volume than the 420, and ample room around the knees and cockpit area for getting in and out; Pyranha's Connect 30 outfitting makes it easy to nail the fit inside.
Field note: Prefers wave play.
Wave Sport Fuse 56 $925, wavesport.com
L: 6 ft 6 in
W: 25 in
Available in four sizes
Anyone who's written off "river-runners" as boats that are simply too big to play and too small to run the shit should definitely check out the Fuse. For 2008, Wave Sport replaced the EZG river-running line with this all-rounder, which throws down harder and loops bigger than its predecessor thanks to more volume in the nose. Designer Robert Pearson also perfected the waterline on the Fuse for exceptional downriver prowess. Still not convinced? Go to doubleyouess.com and check out the photos of Team Wave Sport paddlers beta-testing the Fuse on the Russell Fork and West Virginia's Class V Lower Meadow. Non-pro testers were also able to initiate the Fuse with ease, splat every rock on the river, and catch eddies like we would in a creekboat. If you're looking for full-on playboat, you best look elsewhere. But if you've been searching for the elusive "one-boat quiver," you can stop here. Plus, Wave Sport's soft seat and hip pads still allow for one of the most snug and secure fits on the market.
Field note: This boat does it all and still fits into a longboard bag for travel.
Fluid Nemesis $930, fluidkayaks.com
L: 6 ft 1 in
W: 25.5 in
51 gal, 32 lb
Available in three sizes
With tight lines ideal for wave and hole moves, this boat is definitely more of an ally than your nemesis on the water. Designed as a hardcore playboat, the balance is fantastic; initiating bow stalls, stern squirts, and nostril-plugging flatwater loops is a snap thanks to even volume distribution in the nose. One less-than-statuesque tester had no trouble throwing the medium Nemesis' 32 pounds around, and the Nemesis also surfed well with solid speed and bluntability on Shoshone's All Day Wave. The medium had plenty of foot room and one 6-foot-1, 188-pound tester claimed he is the ideal proportion for its 51 gallons. Fluid owner and designer Celliers Kruger has used his Zambezi testing grounds to insure the Nemesis can handle most big water scenarios. Unfortunately–or fortunately–we borrowed California Team Fluid paddler Greg Speicher's boat, which had custom outfitting so we didn't get to examine the factory goods, but Kruger assured us Fluid has worked hard on achieving a comfortable fit.
Field note: Prove your manhood by paddling a hot pink model (don't worry, it's available in 3 other colors, too).
Bliss-stick Mystic $850 (+$85 shipping), bliss-stick.com
L: 8 ft
W: 26 in
73 gal, 47 lb
Available in 2 sizes
From the company that brought you the SCUD (short carving utility device) in 2006, here is a creekboat that actually makes sense. Though its semi-planing hull doesn't really have the displacement for easing the landing off waterfalls, the Mystic is fast, tracks well, and resurfaces faster than you can say, "Beam me up, Scotty!" The sharper edges feel right at home grabbing eddies in tight boulder gardens, and the pronounced rocker makes it corner like a Porsche roadster.
The thigh-brace outfitting swivels inwards on a track to hug your legs and an innovative recessed well molded in front of the seat holds most boxes smaller than the Pelican 1150. At 47 pounds, it's a chunk–a tradeoff for a beefy layup and a reinforced seat platform—all designed to keep you safe for years of use. Bow and stern pillars, beefy grab loops, and multiple attachment points complete the Mystic's creeking resume. Smaller paddlers will appreciate the Mini-Mystic, a 7-foot-6, 64-gallon model (recommended weight range 110-185) available for the first time this year.
Field notes: Make sure your skirt can accommodate the mondo cockpit.
Liquidlogic Remix 69 $1,049, liquidlogickayaks.com
L: 8 ft 9 in
W: 26 in
69 gal, 43 lb
Available in 4 sizes
The Remix aims to make everything about paddling easier, from rolling to regaining bloodflow in your toes, and it seems the good ol' boys at Liquidlogic hit their mark once again. Once ACA-certified tester called it an instructor's dream, but don't write it off as an entry-level kayak. Hard chines allow advanced paddlers to execute wide, arcing peel-outs or slice up Class IV ferry moves, while the long planing hull satisfies the need for speed. Four sizes—the 59, 69, 79, and a 47-gallon kids' model—make it easy to tailor the fit (our 140-pound tester dubbed the 59 "sporty" and the 69 "floaty"). And the new outfitting has lived up to the hype: quick drying, easily-adjustable recycled plastic cushioning delivers support right where you need it—and nowhere you don't. This sleek, yet stable ride is for those who don't quite need a creekboat or others who simply like to just cruise (and surf big waves on the fly).
Field note: Fast and roomy, the 79 would be the ultimate expedition boat.
Jackson All Star $995, jacksonkayak.com
L: 6 ft 2 in
W: 25 in
54.5 gal, 30 lb
Available in 4 sizes
EJ and Co. pumped up the legroom and softened the rails on this high-performance playboat last year for more pop and smoother edge release, garnering props from big trick specialists like Jay Kincaid and Stephen Wright. After a few surfs, we concur—one tester called the All-Star hull "second to none" for it's super-loose rails and added bounce to the ounce. Slightly shorter and a hair narrower than the more intermediate Fun (with the same volume), the All-Star is a niche playboat designed to get vertical. "If you're an expert paddler you can get it downriver," testers said, so don't expect a cakewalk through the meatier stuff. And it seems Jackson outfitting still garners a love/hate response—though the newest addition to the inflatable family, the Happy Seat ($50), adds support under the knees which Jackson claims keeps the legs (and weight) in the center of the boat for better balance while carving and rolling.
Field note: Prefers to play in holes.