REVIEW: Whitewater Long Boats

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Long boats are awesome fun. Nothing beats the glide and speed of a long boat across whitewater. And with the continued success and marketing appeal of creek races like the Green, Russell Fork and White Salmon, we find ourselves at an exciting time when there are now options from almost every manufacturer. I’ve been paddling a long boat since before long boats were cool and have owned all of them at one time or another. I’ve also worked with several manufacturers in varying capacities as they have developed and refined their offering. As a result, I am often asked which is best, which one should I purchase or what’s the difference. So below is my long term review of the three primary long boats on the market today: the Dagger Green Boat, the Jackson Kayak Karma Unlimited and the Liquidlogic Stinger.

But first generalities. All three of them are heavy at right around 55 lbs. All three are fast and capable of eating up miles of river or winning any of the creek races out there. We’ve scientifically measured the speed of all three in linear conditions and the speed difference is less than 2% across these three boats. So the bottom-line is that the person you put into the boat makes the difference. All three have great outfitting and your personal preferences will determine which way you lean. Lastly, all three of these boats are ridiculously fun and I don’t know about you, but that’s one of the most important things I look for when I go kayaking. I’ve pegged my fun-meter paddling all three of them, so read on and learn more about what makes a long boat an essential addition to every ones quiver.

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THE GREEN BOAT (Weight: 55lbs / Length: 11′9” / Width: 24.25” / Volume: 95 gal)
The Dagger Green Boat was first to market and as the name suggests, the boat was designed with the Green Race in mind. Here’s a great video outlining the history of the Green Boat.

The Green Boat is the most dynamic of the three. It has a slalom kayak like need to want to lean and carve unlike any of the others. That feeling can be disconcerting to a less skilled paddler looking for more initial stability, but once you master the potential the boat has to offer, then you won’t be disappointed. Also, the bow of the Green Boat is almost magical in its ability to punch holes and waves while staying dry so the boat doesn’t loose speed. These traits are just part of an overall package that is performance orientated and that really connects the paddler to the river and what’s happening beneath them. The boat responds quickly to re-acceleration out of rapids and begs for more. Of course, when paddling a long boat, things don’t always go as planned and the Green Boat fits nicely in the middle of the three in terms of its ability to recover a line. Moving the seat all the way forwards enhances the Green Boats attainment prowess and maximizes its waterline length and therefore speed when racing downstream, but it also makes the boat much harder to recover. It’s a remarkably fine balance and most paddlers will prefer the seat centered. Where the Green Boat is let down is with its low knees. If you are a big and/or inflexible individual then you will instantly recognize how low the knees are and the strain it can put on your hip flexors over time.

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STINGER (Weight: 55 lbs / Length: 12′5” / Width: 24.25” / Volume: 100 gal)
The Stinger started life as essentially an elongated version of Liquidlogics popular river runner, the Remix. Production of these early prototypes was limited to runs out of composite molds, allowing Liquidlogic to take on the competition on their home river, the Green. The boats evolved over the years and were named the Remix 100 and Remix Hungee. The boat continued to evolve over a period of years until we got the Stinger which we know today. The first thing you are struck with by the Stinger, is its asymmetrical length. It’s a whopping 7 inches longer than its nearest competitor and all that additional length is in the stern. As a result, the Stinger is the fastest of the three on paper because that longer stern prevents the boat from squatting under speed. This boat is a missile both upstream and downstream. It’s stable too with a ton of volume including a large bow which tends to noisily slap every wave it moves thru. But this speed, length and great tracking comes at a penalty. Get the Stinger off line and forget about recovering it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that (for the most part) smaller lighter paddlers seem to be doing the best in the Stinger at creek races, where the waterline would not be fully engaged and they wouldn’t have to wrestle the boat as much. The Stinger is super comfortable for larger paddlers with a nice low seat and comfortable knee position. The boat paddles best with the seat centered or just back of center and it’s also available in a XP version with a rear hatch and drop down skeg, making it a great option for a self supported river trip.

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KARMA UNLIMITED (Weight: 56 lbs / Length: 11′10” / Width: 25” / Volume: 94 gal)
The Karma Unlimited (UL) is the new kid on the block and is a logical addition to the Jackson Kayak family sharing the same lineage and sweet hull design as the popular Karma creek boat series. The Karma UL comes at the long boat category with a seemingly different set of priorities. With the UL, usability appears to have been the focus as it is the most predictable, easily recoverable design of the three, built on top of an elongated version of the Karma creeker hull which already offers quick acceleration and great stability. As a result, the Karma UL does not paddle like it’s 11’10”. You don’t notice the size of the boat and it feels more like a 9’ creeker. Keep the Karma flat and simply sweep the bow into compliant direction. It really is that simple. But what is makes up for in usability it gives up in speed. The UL feels the slowest, least dynamic and doesn’t give the paddler the feedback of acceleration, speed and glide that the others offer. We like the seat one hole back from center, but the higher seating position more common with todays play boats, coupled with moderately low knees, does compromise comfort for some folks. We also found the flat deck to be a bit of a wet ride. The design is also available as a Karma Unlimited Rock Garden (RG) giving you added deck rigging, a rear bulkhead & hatch and a drop down skeg. The uni-shock bulkhead also makes it super easy to access the bow for additional storage, making the Karma RG and great choice for extended self supported river trips.

So there we have three great boats and three completely different takes on the longboat. If I were focused on the Green Race or something similarly difficult, I would own the Karma UL. What it gives up in speed it more than makes up for in predictable usability and when racing class 5 it so often comes down to avoiding mistakes to maintain momentum and take the win. If I wanted a boat for easier whitewater with the occasional race and a few attainments, I’d own a Stinger. The blistering pace this boat achieves is mind boggling and it attains with ease. However, I personally own a Green Boat at the moment. As stated above, the speed of all three of these boats is very similar and I wanted a long boat I could race competitively, kill it doing attainments and do a ton of general river running. But above all else, I want a long boat that is fun and the dynamic nature of the Green Boat maximizes that aspect for me.

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UPDATE: May 24, 2016

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SOUL WATERMAN DISTRICT 11 (Weight: 46 lbs / Length: 11′6” / Width: 23.5” / Volume: 84 gal)

Today I had a chance to spend a few hours with Corran Addison of Soul Waterman and paddle their new range of kayaks including the District 11, their whitewater racing kayak.

It’s 11’6” long and 23.5” wide but these numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of this unique boat. The bow is influenced by a downriver kayak and the stern by approaching something like the Dagger Axiom. The District 11 also has minimal rocker and low volume. As a result, the profile of this boat is unique, striking and very different from the boats mentioned above. Although my time in the boat was brief and I did not have time to compare to the other boats in this review side by side, my seat of my pants speed-o-meter tells me that this is one fast boat. My favorite attainments on my local river were one or two stroke affairs and downstream in the chop, the District 11 felt as fast and alive as the Liquidlogic Stinger, (if not faster). But like the Stinger, that speed comes at a price. At my weight, the boat did become “locked in” under speed and you have to wrestle with it to get back on course or make a course correction. A drop down skeg is standard on this boat so that would help with straight line control but without the skeg deployed, there was still some confusion as to whether to off side lean the boat like a downriver boat or inside sweep like a slalom boat. The low volume bow also makes it a bit of wet ride in large waves, but given the rest of the layout of this unique design, you’d race in this boat in the flats and smaller whitewater while just keeping things under control on the hard stuff, (just like how I feel about the Stinger). From my perspective the District 11 ultimately drops in somewhere between the Liquidlogic Stinger and the P&H Hammer in terms of on water feel.

In summary the District 11 is a ridiculously fast kayak that does require a bit of a learning curve and would be better suited to easy to moderate whitewater environments for most of us piloting it. However in skilled hands, it would be really interesting to see how this unique boat by innovator, Corran Addison, would stack up against the competition on some of the bigger whitewater creek races.

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