When Jeremy Laucks landed a spot on the U.S. Freestyle Team to compete in OC-1 at the 2007 World Championships, there was just one problem. The pro kayaker and C-1 paddler couldn’t find an open boat that felt quite right, so he designed his own prototype Blackfly boat. Now, three years after successfully bringing his first prototype to market, Laucks returns with the Blackfly Option canoe.

Blackfly Option Specs
Length: 8’8”
Width: 28”
Depth: 15.75”
Weight: 56 lbs
Material: Polyethylene
MSRP: $1,450
www.blackflycanoes.com

The Blackfly Option is a designed to move

Armed with some modest shaping and moulding experience gained from dabbling with composites in grad school, Jeremy Laucks built a prototype based on a shortened Spanish Fly, named it the Blackfly and paddled it to a bronze finish at the Worlds. Two years later, Laucks and his refined prototype took the gold medal, and long-neglected OC freestylers took notice.

Production was a logical, if risky, next step. “With the small market for these boats, the cost of an aluminum mould was prohibitive,” says Laucks, who used his skills working with composites to produce a short-run fiberglass mould. He built the first Blackflys in his garage in the New Hampshire foothills. Nearly three years on, the canoes are moulded at a shop in Pennsylvania, but Laucks still finishes each one in his 800-square-foot, backyard barn-cum-boat factory.

Comparing the Blackfly Option to its peers

In 2011, Laucks introduced a new design to the growing Blackfly Canoes line-up, the Option. At 8’8”, this poly creek boat is positioned as an obvious rival to the popular Esquif L’Edge.

The Blackfly Option is just six inches shorter than the L’Edge and, according to the spec sheets, weighs the same 56 lbs, but the overall impression is of a much smaller and lighter boat. It accelerates faster than the L’Edge and glides amazingly well given its length. There’s no need to drive it forward on every stroke, and it doesn’t stall or spin out like many shorter boats. This makes it a great option (pun intended) for paddlers looking for a creek boat that can do double-duty as a river runner.

The Option loves to be paddled from the front, but won’t punish you if you lay down a less-than-perfect forward stroke. The short waterline lets you snap it into micro eddies, surf small waves, slide over rocks and boof almost anything with ease. Driving it down boulder inclines and over drops on the Tellico Ledges, the predictable stability took the focus off keeping the boat upright and put it where it should be, on hitting the line.

Person paddles the Blackfly Option canoe through a set of rapids
Feature Photo: Virginia Marshall

Inspired by kayak creek boats

Thank the Blackfly Option’s unique double chines for its blend of continuous, confidence-building stability and must-make-eddy maneuverability. Inspired by kayak creek boat design, these stepped transitions strike a balance that’s somewhere between boxy boats like the Nova Craft Ocoee and L’Edge and rounded hulls like the Rival.

At nearly two inches wider and a hair deeper, Esquif’s creeker edges (zing!) out the Option slightly on stability and dryness, but only slightly. Laucks suggests a dynamic paddling style to match the Option’s inclination toward snappy performance over Pampers dryness, “It’s responsive to leaning forward or backward to adjust the trim and keep the bow up through waves and when punching holes.”

The Blackfly Option comes completely outfitted with airbags and a foam bulkhead. If you’re a fan of the more precise fit of thigh straps, the bulkhead takes some getting used to, but it’s a mandatory compromise when paddling a plastic hull. Glue-on patch anchors simply won’t stick to polyethylene. Additional foam on the inside sidewalls helps snug up the fit.

The finish on the Option is not as polished as more mass-produced boats, which are manufactured in a metal mould. Laucks responds matter-of-factly to criticism of the fiberglass-moulded Option’s aesthetics, “There’s a reason my boats are cheaper. But I’m learning a lot very quickly and getting things figured out.”

Get a boutique boat with the Blackfly Option

Given the enthusiasm of Blackfly Option paddlers for their boats and the continuing growth of Blackfly Canoes despite an increasingly anemic OC whitewater market, larger volume production—and an aluminum mould—could be in Laucks’ future. Until then, for sporty, rough-and-ready creeking and river running performance without the weight and expense, there’s no better Option.

This article was first published in the Fall 2012 issue of Rapid Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.


Video review of the Blackfly Option Whitewater Canoe:

 

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