The new Esquif L’Edge was in the concept and development phase for an unbelievable eight years. Designer Craig Smerda was originally inspired by the design innovations of the late Frankie Hubbard’s Spanish Fly—a freestyle boat much loved by southern creekers.
Smerda began building on this benchmark in 2002 and in the years that followed he designed and tested and eventually teamed with Jacques Chasse at Esquif Canoes to produce just two prototypes. One bounced around the 2009 Open Canoe Slalom Nationals and the other was shipped to the Ottawa River for renowned open boaters Paul Mason and Andrew Westwood. The feedback allowed Smerda, design collaborators Mark Scriver and Dave Proulx, and Chasse to dial in final specs for the long-awaited production boat.
The L’Edge is the first canoe available in both open and decked versions. We had the chance to paddle both and preferred the open one. Call us old fashioned, but we like our open boats…well…open. Eight pounds lighter than its decked counterpart and with ash gunwales, the open version feels and looks more like a canoe. The decked model is drier, but both are so much drier than anything we’ve ever paddled that it’s of little advantage.
When OC creeking, the wobbles should be the last thing on your mind. The L’Edge is very, very stable. While faster than the Spanish Fly, the L’Edge is definitely slower than the Prelude and Zoom. With so much stability, we’re inclined to monkey around with the L’Edge’s width to gain a little speed. With the open model, you can chop thwarts and suck it in. Smerda himself recommends cutting off one to one-and-a-half inches if you’re looking to make the boat snappier.
A foam bulkhead is the simplest, most universal outfitting system, though not the most precise. It fits more like athletic support than dentures. In the case of the L’Edge this outfitting is out of sheer necessity. The patch anchors needed for thigh straps don’t stick well to polyethylene. Also, the L’Edge is a creeker at heart. Emptying my boat in a micro eddy with only a few feet of water before the next drop, I’d rather slide quickly back into a bulkhead than wiggle around, cinching thigh straps.
The extreme rocker of the L’Edge allows it to boof anything. It rides high over reactionaries and pops over holes. The boat’s poly construction also makes it super durable if you’re into shallow slides and concrete rivers like the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Eight years later, Smerda finally pulled it off—he designed a canoe that should swat the Fly. The L’Edge is our new favorite creek boat, but we’re not giving up our Zephyrs, Ocoees and Sparks as longer, lighter, big-river boats. The secret is to match the L’Edge with the two-stroke technical rivers and play spots for which it was designed.
ESQUIF L’EDGE DECKED/OPEN
Weight: 56/64 lbs
MSRP: $1,729 US / $1,900 Cdn
$2,033 US / $2,233 Cdn