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The Ultimate River Runner/Creeker Discussion

18367 Views 24 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  SKeen
I am creating this thread because I am in need of a river runner/creeker and I would like to assemble all of the pros and cons of the different models out there right now. Most of the reviews that currently can be found for the different models are by sponsored paddlers or the reviews just don't really say much. I am looking for input from real paddlers, not professionals or retailers who have an obvious interest in making the boat sound good. That being said, I am going to start by discussing me, my paddling style, experience, what I am looking for in a boat, and the models I have considered. Though I obviously am interested in getting input to help me find the ideal boat for me, feel free to discuss other models if you would like.

I am 6' tall, 190lbs without gear (plus or minus 5 pounds depending on PBR intake). I have been paddling off and on for 5 years. I am comfortable in class 3 to 4- river running in my playboat and am looking to step up to class 4 (eventually 5) creeking and also big water. I am looking for a boat that will do well both on big water runs (Upper Gauley for ex) and creeking runs.

One of the the most important characteristics I am looking for is a boat that will keep me safe and inspire confidence. When I am going to be using this boat, it is going to be for stepping it up. I want a boat that I know will take care of me when I get in it. I don't want an edgy boat that I will have to worry about funny cross-currents or catching edges. That being said, I would like enough edge to aid in catching eddies. The second most important characteristic I am looking for is maneuverability and ability to hold a line. I don't want a boat so long/difficult to turn that it is hard to boat scout a line and be able to make a last minute move. I am also looking for a boat that is great at punching/going over holes; I prefer going over holes to through them. Of course, boofing is important too.

I am currently considering the follow boats:

1. Jackson Karma (M) - I have heard nothing but good things about this boat. However, I don't know how much of that positive buzz is from real world paddlers or how much of it is Jackson generated hype. It doesn't really look like an elegant kayak and almost appears to have some kick rocker at the stern which concerns me since historically I haven't liked boats with kick rocker. I am also concerned that the length could make it less maneuverable. At 86 gallons it should float me well.

The pros that I have heard:
-Rides up over cross-currents and boils without being disturbed

2. Liquid Logic Stomper (90) - I have heard lots of mixed reviews of this boat. It looks like it would fit the bill nicely for me in that it has some soft edges that will help with catching eddies but hopefully will not get caught at inopportune times. The negatives I have heard about this boat is that it handles "funny" and has a tendency to not track well and spin out on eddy lines. Any additional input on this boat would be greatly appreciated.

3. Liquid Logic Flying Squirrel (95??) - Obviously this boat is too new for much info to be out on it, but most of the comments have been glowing. My concern is that this boat is waaaay too long for my boating style. My weight puts me between the 85 and 95...but to be honest both are longer boats than I would prefer. If it somehow has good maneuverability at its long length, then I would interested.

4. Pyranha Burn III (L) - The Burn is supposedly great at both big water and creeking. One concern is that it is too edgy for my taste (for a creeker anyway). As I mentioned before, when I am stepping it up I don't want to have to worry about sharp edges catching funny cross currents and throwing me off my line. The large is also only about 78 gallons which sounds kind of low but we all know the volume figures should be taken with a grain of salt. Overall I am less interested in this boat due to its sharp edges.

5. Dagger Mamba (8.1??) - This boat sounds pretty good on paper. Soft edges that are present only on the bow will help with catching eddies but will not catch funny currents. However, I am probably a little heavy for the 8.1 but am not big enough for the 8.6. It is also relatively low volume compared to the other boats.

6. Fluid Bazooka (M) - I don't know a whole lot about this boat. I was considering buying one when they were like $400 but they didn't have any mediums left.

7. Wavesport Recon (83??) - Haven't heard much about this one. Supposedly it leans heavy on the creeking side of things; though if it is a planing/semi-planing hull boat with edges, I don't know why it wouldn't be good for big water.

The rest:
-Pyranha Shiva (M) - Not as interested in because it is displacement hull
-Dagger Nomad (8.5) - Displacement hull
-Remix (79??) - Too long, not enough volume in stern
-Wavesport Diesel - Too edgy
-Feel free to discuss other modern river runners/creekers as well

TL;DR version:
Let's discuss and give real world reviews of all the current river runners/creekers out right now.
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You're overthinking it. Paddle the boats you might want to buy. Chances are your skills aren't yet developed enough to be so picky and specific about what you want in creek boat.

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Have admittedly not paddled half the boats the boats on your list, so I recommend you send me each boat, I will paddle them for you, and give you a thorough report on the best one.

Of the ones I have paddled, I'd say Mamba 8.6. It's just super comfortable and forgiving and you don't have to be an advanced paddler to take advantage of the design. You are certainly not too large for it.
I'm 5'11" and 185 pounds (winter goal to be at 175 for next season) and paddle a Mamba 8.1. It doesn't seem like it lacks in volume or that I over weight it (specs go to 220). For class 3-4 creeking, sometimes I miss my Mamba 8.0, which does supposedly lack in volume but was an awesome, responsive boat for almost anything. Of other creekers I've paddled & owned, I liked the Mamba (8.1) better than the Burn and the Super Hero for basically intangible reasons. More than anything, I would say it was because my first "big boat" was a Mamba and the other models haven't felt right, whereas the 8.1 was just a bigger, wider version of the 8.0 with the feel I was used to. And I prefer the outfitting. So anyhow, I can't give you the level of analysis you're looking for, but so far, I'm a Mamba guy. I'm maybe a half a season ahead of where you are at--comfortably paddling front range class 4 mank towards the middle and end of this season.

If you're considering buying new (which is really your only option if you want to be picky, which it sounds like you do), Confluence will put your demo fees (25/day) toward your new purchase, up to $100 I believe. They have Dagger, Wavesport and Jackson and used to have Liquid Logic although I assume that is changing with the Direct-to-consumer model LL is using, although they may still have a few 2014 models. Other paddle shops (e.g., Golden, CKS) typically have a similar demo-to-own options.

If I had to summarize, there is no "best boat" (although Jackson seems to indoctrinate raving fans out of people, who would have you believe otherwise...) and a lot of it comes down to preferences, which are individual. In the end, there are at least 15-20 current models that would work well to get you safely down the creek, all of which have their proponents. Your best bet will be to Demo until you find one you like, or just pick one and drive it until you get used to it and like it. :)

Lets paddle some time, you can try my boat if you like.

PS, if you want deep analysis of gear, and the Buzz isn't biting, try posting your bait over at Boatertalk--seem to be some serious gear heads lurking over there. :)
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You're overthinking it. Paddle the boats you might want to buy. Chances are your skills aren't yet developed enough to be so picky and specific about what you want in creek boat.

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Agreed. If you have the skills, all the options you listed will work great. No need to be so picky. Its less about gear, and more about technique.
I agree with the other posters who have stated that any of these boats can be paddled in Class IV-V if you have the skill set.

I have paddled a Stomper 90 for the last 2 years though, so I will offer my opinion. I think that it is a great boat, definitely geared towards running Class V. It is really stable, boofs very easily (If you can't boof the Stomper, you just can't boof), punches through holes without getting spun, and resurfaces well. I think the semi-planing hull is a good compromise. At my weight (170) the edges do not trip, but I can engage them if I want to snap into an eddy.

The Stomper spins more easily than some creek boats due to the semi-planing hull and big rocker, so it might not hold a line as well as some, but it still holds a line way better than the Jefe. It is more of a creeker than big water boat, but it does fine in big water as long as you stay on top of your boat angle.

The Stomper 90 should fit you and float you well.

The only real downside that I can think of is that if you are going to be paddling more moderate Class IV, you might want to get something a bit more sporty (edgy) like a burn or Mamba.
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Might be the wrong time of year to get all the demo options you might want to know about. Most of the good kayak shops have sold off their demos by now, so they can replace them with the newer models in the spring.

It does seem like a good choice to demo the boats you are asking about just based off the level of questions you're asking and the amount of info you have already gathered. I would go down to Confluence now and in the spring and take a demo over to the park, do a bunch of drills, paddle down to the shop, and switch out as many times as possible. You can most likely try several boats in one day for one price and then roll that money into a new boat.

Everything else is just an opinion.
I have a lot of answers to your questions but this is probably the answer you need to hear the most.

Pay $600 or less and buy any used creeker made in the last 5 years that roughly fits your weight. Paddle it until it breaks and then figure out what creeker you really want. No one is making bad boats. Barely anyone can afford a quiver and the modern "creek" boats do a really good job of being well versed at everything. Even when they aren't they are all more stable and predictable and faster than your playboat. Use the money you save to take a kickass paddling trip. That will do more to help you to "step up" than the perfectly selected creek boat.
Thanks for all the replies. I especially appreciate Jmack's and BenR's input; that is the kind of real world paddling information I am looking for.

I do realize that I am probably "overthinking" the choice, but I just would like as much information and opinions on the different boats so I know what to expect. Believe me, right now I am looking for a cheap used river runner/creeker, but it doesn't hurt to have as much information on the different boats out there to help inform my choice.
I agree with all these guys too; try out a boat, if it works great, if not move along.

As for the boats listed, here are my 2 cents on the ones I have paddled.

Remix 79: Amazing boat, super fast, makes ferries and eddy hopping easy with just enough edge. I have paddled this primarily over the past 3 seasons for personal boating and teaching, and have to say I'd buy another one tomorrow.

Stomper 90: Have had one since they came on the market. Like JMack said, if you can't boof the stomper you can't boof. The continuous rocker profile does make it spin out if you aren't paying attention, but can be managed if you balance your seat position. The edge has a tendency to "mushy" if you aren't right on top of it when making moves.

Mamba 8.1: Be a big boy and just paddle the 8.6. I have been using one for teaching the last 2 months, and it's a completely different boat compared to the original Mamba. The hardest thing I have run in it has only been Shoshone (IIIish) but I was making the hardest moves available and was not disappointed in the boats performance. The edge goes from your ankle to just behind your hip allowing you to really drive it towards what you are wanting to do, ferry, peel out etc. It boofs super easy and is almost as fast as the Remix.

Fluid Bazooka: A good friend is one of their team paddlers and I was able to very briefly demo his Large. Super comfy, once you learn the edges they are crazy stable (secondary stability through the roof) it boofed pretty well and resurfaced very predictably. Can't really offer much more than that however.

Dagger Nomad 8.5: This is the creek boat that I grew up in. Stable, predictable, forgiving and just the right amount of edge to make it super snappy but not tripping over it. The nature of this boat was the confidence booster I needed 7 years ago as I was delving into running class V. My only complaint on the boat was the seat was uncomfortable, and their warranty sucked ass (a $140 shell turned into a $600 boat with no warning or second option after I turned in my old shell).

Hope this helps and just to clarify I do not paddle for any manufacturer; I am an instructor with access to multitudes of boats from several companies.


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What I've learned, being here in Boise, being exposed to a large paddling scene who paddle pretty every type of river/creek you can think of...

There is no consensus opinion about a boat.

I'd say the Remix has long been the favorite boat, and the standard by which all other boats are measured. But a lot of really good boaters don't like it. The Jackson Karma has gained a lot of popularity, and again, a lot of really good boaters don't like it. Same with the Mamba. Same with the Stomper, the Burn, and the Villain. A lot of raves for Prijon too.

What you don't see a lot of out here are Fluids, Bliss Sticks, and Wavesports.

One boat that is starting to get a lot of hype, and which people are trading in their LL's and Jacksons for, is the Zet. I find that boat is for whatever reason getting a lot of people saying good things about it.

Point being... if you take 20 kayakers and have them paddle the same 5-10 boats, they will all have different impressions about that boat, often contradictory.

So just go paddle them and see what you like. You can't shortcut that step, no matter what people and/or the internet tells you about a boat.
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Karma M is what you want

BoozeJockey, you should read my Karma boat review published on the 4CRS blog.

There are no terrible boats amongst your choices these days, but you likely do want the best performance your money can buy. That, no doubt, would be the Karma M for you. Read my review. It qualifies this opinion. I firmly believe that most of the competing designs of recent have attempted to incorporate some of the design that the Karma debuted when it revolutionized the market, but none of the others pull a total design together like the Karma does. In my opinion, it provides the best total performance. With that said, you may or may not need to customize the outfitting to accomplish your ultimate fit. If you do, let me know and I can supply some photos of what I did to the M. BTW, I am not sponsored by anyone. I've have just been around a long while to know about boat designs and performance. Best wishes for your boating enjoyment.
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I haven't paddled many boats but I currently own a Fluid Bazooka. Its a great creeking boat with nice bow rocker. It also has a somewhat shorter bow which makes boofing very easy and fun. This also makes it a less optimal big water boat. I haven't taken it down a ton of big water yet but I would prefer to have a Mamba or Burn III if I paddled a lot of big water.
Thanks again for the additional replies. I am very appreciative of the input everyone has provided.

I have another question, not about a specific boat, but more about boat design in general: Why are boats with edges supposed to be better in big water?

I can see how edges would be beneficial for catching eddies, but I feel like they could be a hindrance in big pushy water for everything else. For example, when peeling out and performing a critical upstream ferry where you want to keep your ferry angle, I feel like edges would give something for the pushy current to grab onto and blow your bow downstream and ruin the ferry angle. Additionally, just in general I would think edges would be something for pushy water to grab onto and trip someone up on in big water where there can be funny cross currents and boils that occur unexpectedly.
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Good questions. A boat designer can probably give a more proper answer, but I'll take a quick stab.

Edges tend to be talked about in the same context as planing vs displacement hulls, i.e. boats with sharper edges tend to have more of a planing hull shape. A planing hull shape tends to ride more on top of the water and have less hull to push through the water when making moves.

For ferries, think about surfing a wave. It's the same principles that make planing hull boats with more edge able to ferry easier. You can carve on the edges to maneuver and planing out on the oncoming water actually reduces the tendency of the bow of the boat to get blown downstream.

In terms of boils & cross currents, to some extend I think you're right, however I think other characteristics such as the parting line and shape of the sidewalls have more to do with the boat's ability to be forgiving in these features than degree of edge. The edge and planing features allow for easier maneuverability in big pushy features. I.e. the edge allows you to use your hips to manipulate the direction of the boat more and the planing feature has less drag through the water and therefore is easier to adjust and move.

One more thought. If/when you end up in a hole, edges help you get out.
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Big water doesn't have as much rock to trip up on. Getting a little sideways over some mank can be pinny or flippy for hard edged boats. Most modern creek boats have found a way to slid water and rocks slip off the side of the boat easier so this is less of an issue than it used to be.

The thing about an edge is you can engage it to get the benefits of a hard rail. This can help carving or even just locking into a line. You can also disengage the edge and let the boat wash out and spin easily. With less distinct edges you will tend to be closer to a washout all the time. It's why boats like the Jefe are terrible at holding a line and boats like the burn are great at it. It's also why the Jefe is probably the easiest creek boat to turn.
Lots of good stuff on this thread. You'd be hard pushed to find a really bad creeker these days. It is often down to your paddling style, the water you paddle on on and your preference of outfitting that may be the deciding factor.

I've paddled pretty much everything that is available and have owned a Stomper, Recon and now a Squirrel.

A few thoughts on the Squirrel - Liquidlogic Flying Squirrel 95 Vs Wavesport Recon 93 | Unsponsored
You're overthinking it. Paddle the boats you might want to buy. Chances are your skills aren't yet developed enough to be so picky and specific about what you want in creek boat.

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You will learn to paddle whatever you get. Just like each car drives differently, so does each boat. I suggest just sitting in each to see which fits best. A good fit goes a long way to good boat control, confidence and happy paddling.

Since you live in Denver, you're go-to Class IV/V will be Clear Creek. If you really plan on paddling a lot consider a used boat since you'll end up breaking whatever you get within a year or two.
Unless you buy a prijon! So far I have three full seasons of front range IV-V mankin' and it's still going strong. Knock on wood!

I love my Pure XL. It is very responsive to paddler input so if you have it dialed you can make it do anything you want but if you are a beginner you may find it twitchy as it doesn't just plow down the river the way my nomad used to.
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