By Nick Hinds // Photos by Mike Hagadorn
Sometimes you fall hard for a new kayak, like you might for a snowboard, bike, or possibly even a significant other. The boat is what you dream about. It becomes who you want to spend more time with, who you dance with on the water. The first time I saw the Large Pyranha Machno in person I thought, ‘Maybe this could be something that could last.’ Maybe.
My four and a half-year relationship with a Pyranha Everest ended well, followed by two years going steady with a Dagger Mamba. Most recently, I had some flings with the new Dagger Nomad and Pyranha’s 9R (both size large), depending on the paddling event.
Yes, there have been others in my creekboat quiver, with colorful appearances by the Wave Sport 93 Recon, not one but four Prijon Embudos, two Jackson Mega Rockers, a Liquidlogic Jefe, Wave Sport Y, even a Dagger CFS for good measure. Is 12 too many rocky relationships for bumping, boofing or beatering down countless Class IV and V rapids over my 18-year creeking career? I say no. When it comes to the delicate balance of buoyancy and performance, of speed and control in tough rapids, boat design is a true art that I can endlessly appreciate.
Back to that first sight of the large Machno: I knew there was something to be desired. Especially with my, shall we say plus-sized, 6-foot-4 frame that demands plus-sized foot room and ample volume. On tougher whitewater, the large 9R still felt a little to gamey for my 220 pounds, while the large Nomad didn’t show me enough carving or edging. So I was looking for a certain type of new boat in my life: One that could both bring alive the Class III-IV and yet help me handle the V’s with confidence. I had also come to the conclusion it didn’t exist. There were only two kinds of creekboats: One that is really confidence-inspiring; or, a fast river-runner. I wanted to be dialed in my boat when it was time to step on a Class V, but I felt most dialed outside of rockered bulbous creekbats, zipping around in sleeker vessels with harder chines. The solution, if there was one, was to go steady with one creekboat.
The magical unicorn arrived with the Machno, a single creekboat that got me excited to rip around the river, hitting eddies, carving a bit, surfing some, but ready to rip into some big, frothy whitewater. I eased into the boat with a trip on Washington’s Skykomish River at medium flows, making mental notes on needing some more padding on the new and improved thigh hooks, which comes provided. (Peel carefully, just enough to sneak the thin foam under and around the entire new thigh pad for added comfort.) After gluing in the bulkhead foam and shimming out the hip pads, and I had a solid fit in a well-outfitted cockpit with a solid front plastic pillar. The front bulkhead is also easy to remove for multi-day packing space, or for filling with a small front float bag to keep the river gods happy and ward off swims. I also added two rear floats, a throw bag, and a pin kit for a total, all-in dry weight of only 57 pounds.
Day Two test-float was on Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee at around 4000 cfs. Launching into some pushy big water was a stellar start to putting this boat through its paces. It did what I asked, was very predictable and held a line well. Even though it is a very buoyant kayak, the nose is shaped in a way that pierces holes well, punching with momentum and coming out the other side stable. It rides high with 98 gallons of float. Dropping an edge and traversing around features worked well too, with last-minute corrections still easily make-able.
While the 9RL punched holes a bit cleaner while holding an edge a degree better, it was harder to correct angles set, leaving me feeling less confident. On the other end of the spectrum, the Nomad would get floated farther off course when punching a big feature or easily spun out when trying to ferry in pushy water. Corrections were easy, but you had to keep an active blade in the water at all times to keep cruising straight. With the Machno, I expected the big water to push me around. However, I found that I could wait a little on strokes, cruising with a more-planing hull and performing in an unexpectedly pleasing way. It rose to the occasions again and again, running some bigger lines that cleared up any doubts about this boat's performance on higher-volume runs.
The third and fourth dates were the same, classy fun times on Tumwater, then a quick lap on the Upper Green, my local Seattle-area Class III-IV gorge. More paddling, more pleasure on easier rapids, practicing creek lines all the way down the river. I had a blast boofing, hitting tiny eddies, surfing some, and generally enjoying myself. Maybe this one will last!
I decided me and Machno we ready to head back to my favorite Seattle-area Class V section: Robe Canyon of the Stillaguamish River near Granite Falls. The level was 5.65 feet at the stick gage — a medium to large level, depending on who you ask, but either way, a true test of whether the Machno was really the one. The first few rapids went well. I felt good as the boat took care of my usual lines quite smoothly. Finally, I was paddling with more confidence, in a crisp boat that stayed on top of the water to help me get where I needed. The one issue I had out was likely user error, though it yielded a quick roll to avoided hazards downstream. The rest of the 7-mile run flew by with the Machno skipping out of drops, the wide piercing bow propelling the nose up and the gradual front rocker profile planing to push the boat up and over drops. On steeper boofs and tougher lines, my stern stayed afloat but didn't push me off lines. I got off the river feeling strong.
The wait was over. I had my new go-to creeker.
The Machno and I are now exclusive.
—Read more boat reviews from Nick Hinds on the latest crop of river-running whitewater kayaks.
—Check out the latest C&K Field Tests.