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Boat Review: Dagger Super Ego

Image courtesy Dagger
Boat Review: Dagger Super Ego

Finally a real freestyle boat for people with long legs and big feet. At 6’1” this boat is big for me, with loads of knee room and a comfortable foot box. The slight bumps at the feet are effective and don’t hamper performance in any way.

The Precision Adjustable thighbraces and seat makes fine tuning and overall balance easy. The boat comes with tons of foam and a clever Thigh Booster that can be easily contoured or built up to provide leg support. An Immersion Research ratcheting backband completes the outfitting to ensure a snug, yet adjustable fit.

The volume in the Super Ego is more evenly distributed than some of Dagger’s other freestyle boats, which makes it more predictable while back surging or flatwater flailing. The super slicey nose ramps up quickly to knee volume creating comfort but also a big surface to vertical stall on. The stern, although shaped differently, offers the same slice and stall characteristics.

Stern squirting and flatwater cartwheels are easy, even with the relatively big volume. Very stable on end, especially the stern. On a wave this thing rocks. I found it easier to continue flat spinning rather than trying to stop it. Once the hull cuts loose it literally lifts off the water and skips through the spin. Beyond the original flick to get it going, it takes no effort to keep it spinning. Insane. Besides comfort, the hull is the second greatest selling point.

Being the shortest boat I’ve paddled, I found flat water/straight line speed slow. However, the Super Ego has no problem catching waves, as it accelerates to plane VERY quickly. Things seem t happen fast, as the short length allows change in direction so quickly. Paddling boily water the boat goes no where, and doesn’t provide much charge across strong eddy lines. It seemed easier to boof across eddy lines, to keep the nose up and water off the minimal deck.

Overall – the most exciting new design on the market. Comfort, wicked spinning, super slicey.

Specs

Length: 7’6″
Width: 24.5″
Capacity: 140-220 lbs
Volume: 51 gal
Cockpit: 34″x19″
SRP: $1520 CDN

This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2001 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Riot Groove C1

Photo courtesy Riot
Boat Review: Riot Groove C1

In 1994 while most of us were paddling displacement hull kayaks Ian Thomson and Paul Danks set out on a long drive to Florida fantasizing about and scribbling designs of a boat that could do more than ever before. They wanted it to be a C1 for the advantage of leverage and the total lack of C1 designs on the market. Four glass prototypes later the C1 Groove revolutionized paddling forever. Thomson and Danks pioneered the distinct planing disk, the clean release principal, hull concavity and the foil or airplane shaped deck coined new moves such as the green grind and the counter clock wheel (cartwheeling towards the pile). Now, seven years later, Corran Addison at Riot has tweaked the original shape slightly and the plastic C1 Groove sits among Riot’s concept prototypes.

What did we think of the Riot prototype? The most incredible plastic C1 ever built! The Groove measures in at 7’9”, is incredibly stable and has a familiar asymmetrical C1 feel. The cockpit is a true C1 racing shape, supporting your lower legs with the top of the deck, ah the good old days. Going from converted kayaks back to a real C1 is a revelation in stability – it’s like it’s supposed to be when you’re sitting seven inches off the water. The hull is twenty-nine inches wide at your hips, producing a planing surface that is almost three feet long and two feet wide. Remember riding those Flying Saucer toboggans? That’s the Groove on a wave, get it going down hill and hold on until you’re dizzy. The Groove has very little rocker and a long water line make it the fastest boat I’ve paddled in years. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of smoking past kayakers on the flats between sets. On a short, steep wave you need to keep this long, fast boat carving or spinning to avoid burying the bow and wide stern. At 165 pounds, I found ends in a hole and on flatwater to be no problem, incredible fast but less stable and smooth than newer kayak designs with more cockpit volume and more symmetrical hull shapes.

Coming from paddling converted kayaks it was pleasing to experience the characteristics that different a yak from a true C1. The Groove is a fast, stable, traditional feeling C1 that spins like a top. The market potential for C1’s is small and whether or not Riot will produce a plastic Groove is unknown. The Groove was so far ahead of its time that even seven years later, if released, it would be the hottest production C1 on any river. If they build it, people will come.

This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2005 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Cortez by Dagger

Photo: Dagger
Boat Review: The Cortez by Dagger

Features and Fit

The Cortez is Dagger’s highest performance polyethylene touring boat. The Cortez is sixteen and a half feet long with a narrow softly multi-chined hull. The deep hull is topped with a slightly rounded deck with little rise in the bow or stern giving the boat an overall pleasing but sausage-like like. A rudder is standard, along with full deck rigging of thick stout lines. The carrying toggles are burly, comfortable pieces with a clever bungy system to keep the bow toggle tightly retracted against the deck when not in use. This prevents that annoying rattle during transport or in crashing waves. The compartments store considerably large amounts of gear. One-piece, Sure-Seal rubber hath covers roll on easily and keep water out. The narrow hull allows for only a small hatch in the bow. Anything bulkier than a 5 litre drybag will have to go in the larger stern hatch. The bulkheads are welded plastic and proved to be solid and dry.

Boat Performance

Climbing into the Cortez, we note the large comfortable seat. Our bigger paddlers loved the roomy fit but some of the smaller paddlers would build up the hip area and add foam to the thighbraces. The adjustable backband is attached to the boat independently from the seat but doesn’t tighten forward enough to provide maximum lumbar support in an upright seating position. The cockpit is very long allowing for easy entry and exit but also contributes to an awkward forward placement of the thighbraces that take a little getting used too. The rudder cables run close to the leg area, noticeably coming in contact with the legs when working the rudder.

When putting the boat on the water it feels tippy or unstable initially. Paddlers used to wider kayaks may find getting into the Cortez is a little tricky requiring careful balance at first. Fear not, the wobbly initial stability quickly blends with rock solid secondary stability. With a moderate tilt of thirty degrees or so the boat stabilizes comfortably. But don’t stop there…the deep multi-chine hull allows you to confidently tilt the Cortez almost completely on its side making it feel extremely playful. The multi-chined hull reacts incredibly quickly to its tilts. When tilted it spins quickly – responding effortlessly to sweeps. This is by far one of the fastest turning boats of its class. Under power the Cortez carves through turns on both inside and outside tilts making for outstanding performance. Remarkably, the turning performance does not compromise the speed of the boat making it easily the fastest in Dagger’s plastic fleet.

The quick, playful performance comes at a cost to tracking ability. The Cortez weather-cocks almost instantly in the slightest quartering breeze. The weather cocking or turning into the wind is caused by a lack of lateral resistance at the trialing end of the hull – the same lack of resistance that lets the boat turn so quickly. Dagger went out on a limb with this design creating a boat that would always be equipped with a rudder. This way designers could concentrate on an alternate hull formation that performs as a non-tracking sporty day tripper with the rudder up and as a load bearing cargo hauler with the rudder down. The rudder deploys easily with a firm tug and instantly prevents weather-cocking. The rudder stows easily, retracting into a molded groove on the deck. The pedals operate smoothly and run freely on the standard adjustable sliders.

Dagger stepped out of the mold with the hull design of the Cortez. They’ve produced a sporty plastic boat that holds its own as a day tripper, wave surfer, and multi-day touring boat. Dagger markets the Cortez to intermediate and advanced paddlers but it should not be overlooked by the ambitious novice who sometimes prefers to play with tilts and strokes rather than rudders.

SPECS

Length: 16 ft 6 in

Width: 21.625 in

Weight rotomold: 54 lbs

Cockpit: 19 x 34 in

Rear hatch: 17 x 12 in

Forward hatch: 10 in round

SRP: $1995

This article first appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Gulfstream by Current Designs

Photo: Current Designs
Boat Review: The Gulfstream by Current Designs

The Gulfstream is a performance kayak incorporating classic British design features making the boat a pleasure to paddle. The boat comes equipped with a retractable skeg and a small day hatch behind the cockpit on the starboard side. The hull is a shallow ‘V’ configuration resulting in good tracking and excellent turning when tilted.

Features and Fit

The Gulfstream is a relatively light boat and is well balanced from bow to stern making loading and carrying reasonable. Current Design’s Gulfstream has a Swede-style upswept bow with a low, flat stern deck giving the boat an overall sleek look. The cockpit rim is set slightly under the level of the bow deck and combined with the recessed deck fittings, contributes to the aesthetically clean lines and functionally smooth deck surface for ease of re-entry during self-rescues. The perimeter lines rest snuggly on the surface but stretch enough to grab easily. The bungy rigging is positioned within easy reach. The rigging also includes an adjustable bowline. All paddlers commented on the Current Designs quality workmanship and amenities right down to the mermaid and dolphin graphic on the bow of the Gulfstream.

The Gulfstream has enough carrying capacity for expended trips. The day hatch add practicality by providing convenient storage for smaller items such as lunch, a first aid kit and sunscreen. It can, however, be awkward to reach in rough seas.  The larger stern hatch is somewhat reduced in size to accommodate the day hatch bulkhead making stuffing of larger dry bags difficult. The hatch covers are rubber, combining a gasket with a bungy fastening system. The cover is tethered but the bungy is not, so accidental loss is possible. A range of medium (170 lbs) to large (235 lbs) paddlers were comfortable in the Gulfstream. The larger sized testers were especially pleased with the roomy cockpit but the narrow seat created pressure points at the front edges of the seat for those with bigger legs. The fixed foot braces and padded knee cups ensured positive contact for the paddler. The backband provides comfortable lumbar support when properly adjusted and unclips to facilitate access to the area behind the seat. Smaller paddlers would do well trying the Gulfstream’s cousin the Slipstream.

Boat Performance

The ‘V’ hull made the initial stability feel a little tippy for smaller or less experienced paddlers. This improved with the addition of gear and forward momentum. The Gulfstream however, really wants to be put on the edge. The secondary stability was excellent. Without feeling unstable the Gulfstream can be comfortably tilted to the cockpit coaming both while stationary and under power.

The skeg deploys with a sliding toggle recessed into the right side, next to the cockpit. The system is smooth and offers various depths of skeg deployment. When deployed the skeg was extremely effective at locking the track of the boat in varying wind and swell conditions. It was also easily retracted for quick beach landings.

The style of the hull design and lack of a rudder makes turning the boat without tilt very difficult. It is necessary to use strong initiation strokes and moderate to aggressive outside tilt to turn the boat quickly. These characteristics make the boat feel very sporty and responsive with more advanced paddling techniques. Minor adjustments in direction are easily achieved with subtle tilt variations. The Gulfstream responds very well to this technique in preventing broaches while surfing or with a tailwind. The boat tracks into the wind well both with and without the skeg. Quartering winds cause weather cocking with the skeg retracted but with the skeg fully deployed, strong 40-50 km/h winds are no match for the hull of this boat.

The Gulfstream is a boat for paddlers who are midsize and up. The carrying capacity is sufficient for longer trips, gear just needs to be reorganized into the three smaller hatches. This boat really comes into its own when paddled aggressively under heavy conditions. The boat reacts quickly and precisely to an experienced paddler’s actions but is forgiving enough to be enjoyed by serious recreational paddlers. The Gulfstream is a boat many will grow into and few will out grow.

Specs

Length: 16ft
Width: 23.25 in
Weight glass: 52 lbs
Weight Kevlar: 46 lbs
Cockpit: 16.5×33.25 in
Rear hatch: 11×16.5 in
Forward hatch: 9.5 in diameter
Total volume: 92 US gallons, 360 litres
SRP fibreglass: $3395
SRP Kevlar: $3945
SRP rotomold: $1895

This article first appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Looksha IV Sea Kayak by Necky

Photo Necky Kayaks
Boat Review: The Looksha IV by Necky

Late this summer we had an opportunity to spend a week touring the Tangier area north of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was a combined holiday, scouting mission and boat test adventure on which we had a great mix of paddling abilities and boats. The Necky Looksha IV was one of the boats we took along.

The polyethylene Looksha IV – like its composite cousins – has low profile decks, a double chine and a rockered hull

Yes multi-chine hulls have many performance advantages but it also allows Necky to products a pleasingly rigid plastic boat. All the deck fittings around the cockpit are recessed into the plastic to prevent snagging during from-water re-entries. We did notice the lack of a perimeter grab line, which is now part of all the Necky’s newer designs.

Inside the Looksha IV the large cockpit and seat will accommodate just about any sized paddler although comfort was hit and miss

The backband will adjust up and down by removing a couple screws and reclines forward and back on a rope and cleat system. The storage compartments on the Looksha IV have foam bulkheads and the hatches are sealed with a double hatch system of neoprene and hard polymer covers secured with two webbing straps. This hatch system is simple and stayed dry for four days of normal touring conditions and seeped only slightly after extended rolling and playing in the surf.

The foot pedals are attached to the rudder wires with nylon webbing. There is a ladder lock adjustment ahead of the seat, which was greatly appreciated by tall paddlers who usually have to climb inside the cockpit head first to properly set the foot pegs. With the rudder locked in the up position and using the pegs to transfer power to the boat, we noticed the nylon straps stretched giving a spongy brake feeling with each stroke.

The most noticeable handling characteristic of the Looksha IV is the inspiring secondary stability – the type of stability generating confidence in paddlers who are not used to tilting to improve boat turning radius

Even our least skilled paddler was cranking the Looksha IV over and sweeping it around. In fact experimenting with the Looksha IV we found it takes more than a concentrated effort to push this boat past its stability zone, and when we loaded with gear its next to impossible.

During our rolling practice we noted the Looksha IV had similar righting characteristics. You had to keep your head down, righting the boat by pushing past its edge, and then rolling your body up. Rolling the Looksha is by no means difficult, its just different.

Between the secondary stability zones the Looksha is very nimble feeling and one of the quickest turning seventeen footers any of the paddlers have paddled

Straight-line tracking was moderate, and easily controlled by either quick tilts and minor correction strokes or by simply deploying the standard rudder. Tossed in with larger composite touring boats on our casual touring trip the Looksha was not left behind. Where it fit I the pack depending more on who was paddling it than the length or construction material.

The Looksha IV was the only plastic kayak we had along on our trip and it was a favourite of all the paddlers. It is capable of carrying its fair share of gear, it is nimble and stable. If the polymer Looksha IV gets the new upgraded outfitting we’ve seen in Necky’s new composite boats it will be one of the best general purpose touring boats around.

Specs

Length: 17 ft
Width: 22.5 in
Weight polymer: 62 lbs
Cockpit: 18×31.5 in
Rear hatch: 14.5×10.5 in
Forward hatch: 10×8 in
SRP: $1899 CAD

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Boat Review: The Sultan by Azul

Photo: Adventure Kayak Staff
Boat Review: The Sultan by Azul

The Azul Sultan is just under eighteen feet long and is quite narrow at 21.5 inches. The Sultan is available in fibreglass, Kevlar or carbon layups and while Azul’s specs show the fibreglass weighing 58 lbs, word from the factory is that they have it down closer to 50 lbs. Based on the Calypso’s unique performance oriented design, the Sultan brings these same attributes to larger paddlers or paddlers looking for added storage capacity and sea worthiness for extended expeditions. Azul has further increased the useable space in the hatches by contouring the bulkheads into the cockpit area. In addition to the increased volume the Sultan has large eighteen inch bow and stern hatches and an eight inch round day hatch all with watertight Valley urethane covers. The larger sized hatch in the bow is a pleasure for stuffing and storing gear, that could otherwise only go in the larger stern compartment. We are getting used to enjoying the convenience of a day hatch for both keeping things organized and quick at hand on extended trips or using it exclusively on day outings. To complete the outfitting, Azul has included full bungie deck rigging and perimeter grab lines.

Inside the Sultan, we enjoyed the long cockpit allowing even our tallest paddlers the ability to take out his 36 inch legs while still seated. The seat and thigh brace configuration didn’t seem to fit any of our test paddlers without some additional foam modification. It was simply a matter of either raising the seating position, which not all paddlers were necessarily into, or padding down the thigh braces for a more egonomic fit. Ensuring a proper fit is a must in any boat especially one like the sultan where much of your control and enjoyment is form being part of the boat rather than just sitting in it.

A retractable skeg is controlled on the left side by a simple rope and cleat system. The skeg springs down (and up if you happen to scrub it on something) and you control the running depth by cleating it off.

The Sultan’s large volume rides high and rolls with the water. This is both unnerving for some and a dream boat for more experienced paddlers. The long waterline and narrow beam produces a boat that accelerates quickly and maintains its speed with ease. The Sultan is one of those boats that seems about the same speed as the one your in, and then its paddlers smiles to you, winks a knowing wink and leaves you behind cursing in disbelief.

The single hard chine makes small adjustments in direction a quick snap of your hips at the end of a forward stroke. The long waterline of the Sultan that produces great forward speed means you have to aggressively tilt and sweep this boat around for a complete change in direction. Without the retractable skeg, lighter paddlers in an empty Sultan will notice that it weathercocks quite easily, there’s simply lots of boat for the wind to catch and not enough boat deep in the water to keep it going straight. Dropping the skeg half way, more gear and/or a heavier paddler fixes this problem immediately.

Who should paddle the Sultan? Experienced heavier paddlers looking for a larger volume sea kayak with a hard chine British feel will love the Sultan. The Sultan is an ideal guides boat capable of big water and getting to where you need to be quickly. In the words of an old friend and professional sea kayak guide who happens to have a sultan of his own, “Ah mon ami, c’est moi dancing bebe!”

SPECS

Length: 17 ft 10 in
Width: 21.25 in
Weight glass: 58 lbs
Cockpit: 16.5×30 in
SRP fibreglass: $3350

This article first appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Chilco by Seaward Kayaks

Photo: Seaward Kayaks
Boat Review: The Chilco by Seaward Kayaks

Seaward Kayaks has been building touring kayaks for twelve years and keeping with the times in 2002 they are introducing their first multi-chine design, the Chilco. Popularity of multi-chine designs is based on the fact this style of hull allows a compromise between the speed of a rounded bottom kayak and the increased stability, superior tracking and greater manoeuvrability of a single hard-chine design. Add a low profile deck and some clever outfitting and the new Chilco by Seaward is a great addition to their existing line of round bottomed expedition boats.

The Chilco is based on the Seaward Ascente and from a distance it is difficult to tell them apart. The Chilco is 18.5 feet long, 22.5 inches wide and available in depths of 12 inches or the higher volume 13 inches. The Chilco’s multi-chine design with a shallow V and long waterline makes this a boat that accelerates well and carries decent speed. The shallow V and low rocker also make for good tracking. The hard chines and a quick tilt are excellent for small changes in direction. The Chilco doesn’t carve an arc, it holds its edge and continues on course requiring further strokes to complete a full turn.

Because of the superb tracking, many of those who paddled the Chilco did not find it necessary to engage with the proven Seaward rudder system. Those who did found Seaward Kayak’s smartRUDDER foot pedals are braced solidly, with the rudder being controlled by tilting the pedals forward similar to the accelerator in a car instead of the more typical sliding action. We think this is a step above the traditional sliding system because it provides solid pedals for correction strokes and rolling while maintaining foot operated rudder control. The tilting pedals do, however, take some getting used to especially for paddlers with smaller feet who had to lift their heels to title the pedals forward.

The attention to detail on the outfitting on the Chilco is excellent. The composite hatch covers and neoprene gaskets are tethered by bungle cords to prevent loss. The fastening system of the cover is quick and simple – set it in place and criss-cross the cover with bungy cords.Seaward’s Self-Rescue System adds more rigidity than simply sliding your paddle under the stern bungy deck rigging when performing a paddle float self rescue; and new quick release straps make it easier to disengage the paddle once back in the boat. Instead of molding a seat from fibreglass and bolting it in place, Seaward contours a piece of foam and places it in a nylon shell. In a pinch, the seat can be removed from the boat and used as an emergency paddle float. Add to this setup the low wrap around backrest and the Chilco becomes one of the most nicely outfitted kayaks we’ve paddled.

Specs

Length: 18.5 ft
Width: 22.5 in
Weight: 56 lbs
Cockpit: 16×31 in
Bow: 72 litres
Stern: 122 litres
Total: 374 litres
SRP: $3460 fibreglass, $4050 kevlar

This article first appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: The Catalina by Prijon

Photo: Adventure Kayak Staff
Boat Review: The Catalina by Prijon

There are many reasons for purchasing a light-touring kayak. It makes good sense for small paddlers to get in a boat that fits proportionally. Others enjoy the sporty feel. But when it comes down to it, many paddlers do mostly day or short overnight trips and simply don’t need a full-sized touring boat. Instead, many want some of the touring features but in a lighter, easier to manoeuvre and economical package. The Prijon Catalina fits all these needs.

The Catalina is a nimble feeling 15’3” light-touring boat. Prijon uses a polyethylene plastic they call High Performance Thermoplast. Essentially this material is closer to fibreglass or Kevlar in terms of rigidity and weight but maintains the durability and low maintenance of plastic. Prijon is able to shape their boats with sharp lines creating more performance oriented plastic boats.

The Trihedral hull shape is a variation on a multi-chine design without the more common V shaped keel line. Jumping into the Catalina for the frist time, paddlers used to a very stable recreational or wide touring kayak will be surprised by how tippy or light and active the Catalina initially feels. They should be equally pleased by how quickly the Catalina rolls on to its more solid secondary stability. Putting the Catalina on edge quickly initiates a turn that will continue until you run out of forward momentum or you level off the tilt. It really is a quick turning touring boat. If long distance paddling is more your style the standard rudder works well for straight-ahead-Fred tracking.

We wondered if the rudder system was an afterthought to this hull design, tacked on for the North American market. In the up position the rudder lays on top of the stern carrying toggle, making it a nuisance to carry. Also, the pulley system t raise and lower the rudder is mounted too close to the cockpit rim, interfering with getting your skirt on. We also noticed that some skirts are difficult to get on the shallow cockpit coaming.

Inside the cockpit, the rudder is controlled by Prijon gas pedal footbraces that are now becoming popular on more expensive full-sized touring boats. The concept is that the foot braces lock into position and the pedals tilt to control the rudder. The sporty feel of the Catalina, or any other boat really, is more appreciated when you have taken the time to properly fit the boat to your dimensions. Instead of leaving you to maybe get around to adding outfitting foam, Prijon has answered the how-to-fit-everyone question by incorporating adjustable thighbraces and hip pads. An Allen wrench loosens the bolts so you can ensure both a comfortable fit and a fit that maximizes control of the boat. We think adjustable outfitting will be the next step for kayak touring companies who constantly battle with making the perfect cockpit ergonomics that will fit the greatest number of people.

Specs

Length: 15 ft 3 in
Width: 23in
Weight: 44 lbs
Cockpit: 18×32 in
Paddler Level: Beginner to advanced
Paddler weight: 90 to 225 lbs
SRP Trihedral: $2049 CAD    

This article first appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Pushing Rubber: Raft Guide Life

Photo: Rob Faubert

“Left back, right forward …STOP… forward paddle… FORWARD PADDLE!” Initially slow, the crew responded as I cranked on the oars, and after a heart-stopping second the raft picked up momentum in the direction I wanted. Whew. I’ve seen other guides tossed right into the forward section of the raft after a lapse of attention near a big hole while the kayakers carving waves nearby smirked and nodded to one another. As a first-year guide, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Nope. Summers as a raft guide were going to be about spending time on the water, meeting lots of cool people, making some cash and paddling every night. Well, maybe. 

ON THE RIVER

Every day, eight to twelve new people put their lives in your hands. It’s a big responsibility, and although guests often say they want to go big, their enthusiasm diminishes when they find themselves underneath an upside-down raft. A guide is paid to read not only the river but also the guests, to pick the line that best suits all members of the crew. The introductory safety talk is your time to size up your people, and as with everything, first impressions count for a lot.

“It’s the first two minutes and the first rapid. In the first two minutes they like you as a person, and in the first rapid they respect you as a guide,” said Stacey Pepplar, 23, an Ottawa River guide with Esprit Rafting for the last four years. “If you can get a good relationship with them then, it’s going to be more like going with friends.”

The human factor is important for more than just attitude because the crew is the motor, and it can be tough to get the big hits guests are looking for without a prompt and effective response to commands. On a technical level a raft filled with people might weigh as much as a ton, and they just don’t stop or turn on a dime.

“I had trouble the first two weeks, I was just blowing it, “ said six-year guide Clyde Bersky, 32, a whitewater paddler and racer since 18. “The raft’s so big and heavy—there’s so much momentum. But then a senior guy took me aside and said, ‘All you need to do is exaggerate your ferry angles and set up a couple of seconds earlier.’”

Essentially, raft guiding boils down to reading the river and a six-second rule—two seconds to decide what you need to do; one second to call the command; another for the crew to react; and finally, two tense seconds for the raft to respond. 

You need to take into account the slide of the raft during a manoeuvre and which parts of the raft are on different tongues of water. This means a strong emphasis on being able to read the water—and rafting is probably the best learning vehicle of any of the whitewater sports. Nyssa Golda, 27, a two-year guide and paddler, pointed out, “It’s safe, it’s big, it’s higher up and you can see the hydraulics much better. When you’re just starting on rivers it boosts your confi- dence level much faster.”

And sooner or later, you’ll need confidence. Mishaps happen on the river all the time, and this is where guides earn their money. Guests fall out and rafts flip. Guides have to be on top of their game and clean up rapidly and safely. West Coast rivers are often high-risk, with steep gradients, wooded banks and cold water. But even warm pool-drop rivers like the Ottawa or the Rouge have the potential for serious harm. “The insurance and the liability claims are on the upswing. The thrills and spills and flips and stuff—that’s going on the back-burner,” said Bruce Reiger, river operations manager for Wilderness Tours on the Ottawa River.

With ten people suddenly in the water, two or three of them are going to be pulled away by the current, and the other guides have to get them. At the company I worked for, Hyak River Rafting of Vancouver, if you flipped you bought beer for all the other guides working that day.

OFF THE RIVER

Guiding is 20-percent river fun and 80-per- cent work. A guide’s day starts long before the first guest arrives. Boats need to be loaded, driven to the put-in and rigged. Anywhere up to 300 guests are checking in, signing waiver

forms, getting their lifejackets, paddles and pos- sibly helmets. Kitchen staff need help prepping lunch. All these tasks are repeated in reverse at the end of the day, and all the work is done by— you guessed it—the guides.

Actual job descriptions vary, depending on whether you’re working for a small or large com- pany. At a small company you’ll do everything from food prep to parking to cleaning buses in addition to your day on the river, and this can mean pretty long hours. A typical day is likely to be a five- to six-hour run down the river, plus two to three hours on land. At a large company running a big “compound” you’re more likely to have a designated second job depending on whatever skills you brought to the company. Off- river work is inevitable and although it may not be what you signed up to do, if you want to guide, you’re gonna do it. 

WHY RAFT?

Guiding courses fill with people looking for some kind of change or just looking for cool work outdoors. I’d just finished nine years of service with the Canadian Forces and rafting seemed like a low-stress way to spend the sum- mer, meet some people and learn about the river. Although I’d never gone rafting, I did have my roll and had done just enough paddling to know I needed to learn more.

Jocelyn Dunstan, a.k.a. Jawz, an 18-year-old N’klapkap’muxw native, came from Lytton, B.C., where the Thompson River flows into the Fraser. “My parents, my family and everybody I know lives or works on the Thompson. The river’s part of our lifestyle, with the fishing and everything you just have to be there.” Then there was Sophie, a 22-year-old Quebecois who quickly earned the nickname, “Sophee not Sophie!”

“I did two outdoor trade shows for my old employer in Montreal and right in front of us was a kiosk for a rafting company,” Sophie said, “At a second kiosk another company was looking for guides. I wanted to do something else, and I didn’t want to stay in Quebec so I started looking on the Internet.”

A third student, Brad Braun, 34, a marine electronics technologist, said, “I liked rafting and also I was looking at options. I was tired of my job and wanted to explore something in the outdoors. It was something I had never really done before.”

Interestingly few western guides were there to find a way to be on the river and paddle during their off-time. In fact, among the guides I met, dedicated paddlers were actually a small albeit obvious minority. “Pathetic, isn’t it?” was the only comment of one of the Hyak paddlers who declined to be named. “So many people get into rafting and then don’t go paddling.”

This is not necessarily the case with out East, where most companies are full of paddlers. But if you’re deciding between your regular job and paddling on the weekends versus becoming a guide and living on the river, chances are you won’t paddle any more by becoming a guide. “In July and August I had maybe seven days off,” said Steve Plummer, 31, a senior guide at Esprit Rafting.

Some paddling work is available as safety/video kayakers, or as instructors with some of the larger companies that run paddling schools on the Ottawa. The downside is the small amount of work. Only one safety/video kayaker is needed per trip, and paddlers are usually forced to combine kayaking with guiding to be employed full-time. Only high-end kayakers get the teaching positions. 

In six months I met one guide who had signed up in order to paddle. Mark “Freik” Trueman, 30, said, “Rafting’s a great way to make some cash and be on the river. Its not paddling so I don’t get burned out, and it enabled me to take seven months of the year off to go paddling—but then I lived in a van.”

LIFESTYLE: THE PERKS OF BEING A GUIDE

It’s the People—Guiding tends to attract diverse personalities. One guide had dogs he sent to dog psychoanalysts. Another was a former Wall Street executive who took an early retirement (a very early retirement) for a new low-stress life. A third was perhaps the closest thing I’ve seen to a natural born leader—and didn’t seem to know it. These are the people you’re going to live with, share a single shower with, play Ultimate with, eat and party with. You’re going to get close.

“The core that I work with are just phenomenal,” said Steve Plummer. “I know my back’s covered and there’s great camaraderie between the guides. If someone’s hurting, you pick up the slack, and if you’re in bad shape, they’ll cover you.”

The team aspect is also true in the boat as well as in the company. Ginger Korba, 22, said, “Getting your crew together into a team … very few people come with a bad attitude, they all want to be there.” Giving guests a great day on the river often becomes the draw for the more experienced guides. After guiding for over 20 years, Dirk Van Wijk of OWL Rafting said, “Just seeing the level of enjoyment from our customers—that’s the best part for me.”

And you never know who you’re going to meet. One of the most unusual crews I ever had was a youth group from a Vancouver chapter of the Church of Zoroaster, a nearly extinct Middle Eastern church. Rafting was the activity the church elders had chosen for that weekend. Then there was the British tourist who turned out to be a forensic policeman who’d participated in the proceedings against Bosnian Serb war crimi- nals. But none topped the story of 63-year-old Ron Steers of Alberta, who had guided Pierre Trudeau. “He was excellent. A very fine paddler and a very nice guy. It was an honour to be with him for a day.”

Take a break from life—I worked in emergency management in the military, and after Sept 11 there were quite a few times when I could hardly unwind enough to sleep at night. Once I got to guide school and out on the water, I slept like a baby. As 31-year-old Robb Evis said, “After I come off the water, a bomb could go off behind me but I’d hardly care.”

For people reluctant to leave a career, you don’t have to live on the company property and guide every day. The weekend means more customers, and the need for weekend guides. Bruce Reiger said, “We have weekenders who are policemen, lawyers, teachers, doctors—one guide is in charge of ER at a Montreal hospital.” Guiding is a great way to step outside your hectic life, whether for the weekend or the whole summer.

Lookin’ for love—Guests arrive expecting to have a good time with their guide—both on and off the river. As a guide you represent a lifestyle most people would love to have. Add a little fire- light and your chances have never been better. Romance may be the least recognized but most important perk of all, and as one company owner put it, “It’s what keeps them coming back.” As a guide put it, “The job elicits hero- worship…which often leads to romantic implications.”

But romances between guides and clients tend to be short-lived, while more lasting relationships often develop among the guides them- selves where the scales are more balanced. 

“I met my boyfriend at guide school,” said Stacey Pepplar, 23. “We’ve been together five years now and have been all over: England, Africa, Austria, India, and now back to Canada…It’s been good.” 

THE DOWNSIDE

For first-year guides, the off-river work com- bined with the low financial rewards can be too much, as it was for fellow guide school student Brad Braun: “I didn’t expect to be a peon, and guides seemed replaceable to me. The money was a big issue and I didn’t see myself guiding past the summer anyway.”

Pay rates vary across the country more by region and less by company. For first-year guides, the range is from a low of $55/day (Que.) to a high of $105 (B.C.), with almost all Ontario companies paying in the $60–80 range when the on- and off-river wages are combined. Companies that require you to pay for training also pay more, so overall pay usually works out pretty evenly.

For me, my first paid day was July 7—pretty average among first-year B.C.guides—and my total taxable income for summer came to $3334. Out of that came $1200 for guide school, about $300 in licensing costs, plus my new river-gear. Essentially, I broke even. This is a realistic goal for any first-year guide in Canada. Senior guides can work as many days as they can handle and at higher pay rates, but consider your first sum- mer an investment.

Health issues can also arise for some. Although I gained muscle, guiding can produce repetitive strain injuries. Typical complaints are of shoulder problems from lifting heavy boats and gear, or muscular imbalance from always paddle-guiding on a favourite side. Accidents also happen. I fell off a stack of seven rafts onto a metal boat trailer and spent the next few days limping around at base camp.

NOW HIRING

Across Canada, the major employment opportunities are found on the Ottawa River, on rivers close to Montreal and Quebec, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and on the Thompson River of B.C. If you have whitewater experience, whether kayak or canoe, you’re already ahead of the game.

Except for in B.C., most companies train their guides for free, and they’re looking for at least one or even two years of whitewater experience. You’ll also need to be a minimum of 18 years old and have Standard First Aid. Courses like Swiftwater Rescue will help you get selected but aren’t essential as you typically get these certifications during training. Submit your resume early; selection begins February–March to start training sometime in May, and although larger companies might be picking 20 or even 30 peo- ple, they receive hundreds of applications.

In B.C., you’ll have to pay for training, and there are a few companies in the East who also offer a guide school. Paying for training does have some advantages. There probably won’t be more than a dozen people in your school, and companies tend to do the bulk of new hiring from the school’s graduates. As well, schools will be competing for your business. Consequently, I was able to choose the course that I felt would make me an all-round water professional rather than simply being trained to run a section of one river. Courses are typically from 10 to 14 days and cost $500–2000, depending on variables like food, accommodation, and certifications offered. If the guide school doesn’t include swiftwater rescue, count on another $500–600.

Currently, only B.C. is government-regulated, and failure to pass the written or practical exams means the only work you’ll get will be off-river. The other provinces are industry-regulated, which means that once you’ve passed the guide training program and additional requirements like whitewater rescue training or first aid, licensing is mostly a formality. Once you have your license you’re free to move around the industry, but remember that if you change companies, you’re usually starting at the bottom of the seniority list.

Transport Canada is developing a regulatory framework to standardize commercial rafting across Canada. Be sure to check with the companies you’re looking at to find out the latest on the bureaucratic hoop-jumping.

THE FINAL WORD

For me, raft guiding was hearing opera sung live in the company van, meeting a logger who pulled a 500-ton locomotive out of a lake, watching the bright white dot of the International Space Station pass over our island campsite on a two-day trip, and moulding a new crew into a team every day.

It wasn’t about the money. Raft guiding is a lifestyle.

Former naval officer Tris Winfield worked on the Chilliwack and Thompson Rivers and can’t get enough of blow-up boats—he is currently travelling by inflatable kayak in the Venezuelan jungle and will return to raft guiding this summer. 

Screen_Shot_2016-04-19_at_12.19.21_PM.pngThis article first appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions, or click here to read the current issue.

Boat Review: Massive’s Mojo

Photo courtesy Massive
Boat Review: Massive's Mojo

The Hull Story

One of the nice things about launching into the whitewater market is that you don’t have an old way of doing things so you can dream up new ones. Massive had a fresh start and has taken a completely new approach to hip pad adjustment, mounting the hip pad to a slider with a fastening nut. This allows the hip pads to be moved in and out as well as turned forward to countour to the angle of your thigh as it enters the aggressive thigh braces. The seat is simple and comfortable but finicky to adjust because the nuts are hidden behind the thighbraces. Massive has chosen o use an older style plastic foot brace system.

The Mojo paddles much like it looks – a cross between a playboat and a creek boat. In fact, just for a size reference, the Mojo is only two gallons less than the Perception Java. Anyway, this isn’t a bad combo. For anyone new to paddling – if you’re not, think back – the most difficult thing for new paddlers to think about is everything. That’s right, everything that is happening all at once. Massive has taken many of those bad things out of the mix improving new paddlers’ chances for success. The rockered and blunt bow seldom pearls, instead it rides up and over waves. The high volume stern won’t trip you up if you waffle across eddy lines. And if you forget about tilt because you’re thinking about angle and paddling forward, no problem, the rounded soft edges are plenty of flare cover for you.

Many paddlers, once they learn to roll, wonder why it took them a whole weekend or every Friday night in the pool for an entire winter. Modern freestyle boats are like trying to roll a day-old pastrami on rye sandwich and the funny thing is, most of us have learned to like it. The Mojo, on the other hand, rolls right up, snappy like! Now that the roll is mastered where do new paddlers go? Straight to the first front surfing wave they can find and this is where the Mojo really shines.

With lots of rocker, the bow almost never pearls on a wave and despite the soft edges the Mojo is a good carving boat. This is a paradox really, soft forgiving edges and carving ability? Thompson attributes this to, and we cant argue, the dove-tail stern design borrowed from watersports like surfing. Simply front surfing or carving on the face of a wave the dove-tail is engaged for stability. At the end of your carve it releases allowing you to change direction and carve back. Once they’ve learned to surf, it isn’t long before intermediate and even beginner paddlers want to learn to spin or more likely are spinning in the Mojo looking to shore, smiling, asking you what just happened.

The Final Word

It seems for their first boat Massive has looked at the paddling market and identified paddlers who love to front surf, spin and run rivers. These paddlers may never get vertical unless it is an ender. It may be their style or the stage of the learning curve they are currently at. The Mojo is a combination of creek boat volume and friendliness with the play of a planing hull. This was a target market decision and it includes a price tag that is also appealing to new paddlers. If you think the designer who changed the Worlds is going soft, wait for the soon to be released Massive Mad Dog.

Specs

Length: 7’3”
Width: 25”
Volume: 56 gal
Weight: 31 lbs
Paddler Weight: 130-220 lbs
MSRP: $1299

This article first appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.