Dagger Kayaks’ latest whitewater kayak design and the newest contender in the popular nine-foot creek race category almost didn’t make it to the starting line.

Dagger Kayak’s Phantom Kayak Specs
Length: 8 ft 11 in
Width: 26.75 in
Weight: 49.5 lbs
Volume: 89 gal
Paddler Weight: 145-255 lbs
Price: $1,249 USD/$1,589 CAD

During the reveal of the Phantom kayak, Dagger’s pro team manager Chris Gragtmans told Paddling Magazine publisher Scott MacGregor the behind the scenes story.

Beginning as a secret passion project by Gragtmans, Dagger Kayaks’ designer Mark Robertson and some team athletes, an early Phantom prototype caught fire in the mold. The little episode caused an evacuation of the entire factory. When management pushed to know if anything was damaged in the fire, the boys had to come clean about their covert project. Once the smoke settled, the Phantom was allowed to become more than just a factory team pipe dream.

Dagger Kayak’s nine-foot creek boat

So the Dagger Phantom shares the nine-foot creek race boat category with the Jackson Nirvana and the Pyranha 9R. All three of these kayaks share similar key ingredients but in different portions.

None are over nine feet long, all have a planing hull, they are sort of narrowish, aggressively rockered in the bow with more relaxed stern rocker, and all have a squared off stern—keeping the waterline longish but truncating overall length to play within the race rules. But stir these up with different spoons and they all come out quite a bit different.

I am a proud owner of a Pyranha 9R. I’m completely sold on the #fastisfun mantra of the creek race category of boats. Kayaks like the Phantom are not just for pro paddlers, or kayakers on the hard core creek race circuit.

I enter all six categories in just one race a year. The race is on my home river, basically in my backyard. I bang off at least one training lap almost every night of the week from when the ice goes out to race day.

These boats are just plain fun to paddle. Anyone looking to increase the fun factor of their local creeks, or looking for challenge without stepping up to more consequential runs, needs to try one of these boats.

Dagger Kayak’s racing kayak outfitting

Let’s get talking about the Phantom, specifically. I’m a complete fanboy of Dagger’s outfitting. In my opinion, none of the other brands come anywhere close to the adjustability, quality and comfort Dagger is bolting into their whitewater kayaks.

There are those paddlers who will complain Dagger’s outfitting is too complicated with too many nuts and bolts and moving parts. Adjusting a Dagger boat for the first time can be a daunting task.

Being a planing-hull style kayak, the Phantom has defined edges like a modern river runner.

For me, I know if I spend 30 to 45 minutes setting up the rotomolded seat with Leg Lifter, adjustable thigh braces, comfy hip pads, and ratcheting backband, I can have a kayak fitting me like a glove, truly becoming an extension of my body. If I could, I’d retrofit Dagger outfitting into every boat I own.

For me, at 5’11” and 190 pounds, the Phantom still felt big, but not so large it was unwieldy. Compared to my 9R, the Phantom is an inch-and-a-half wider, and has 11 more gallons of volume. With a paddler weight range of 145 to 255 pounds, I’m very close to the middle of the range, which should be ideal.

Paddling Dagger’s Phantom creek boat

Initially paddling on flatwater and trying a few ferries and easy eddy moves, the Phantom didn’t feel as fast as what I was expecting. Being a planing-hull style kayak, the Phantom has defined edges like a modern river runner.

Just enough edge to be able to carve a turn, and control a surf, and yet these edges are very forgiving. While I could get the boat to carve a turn, it generally wasn’t a crisp, sharp turn; and when peeling into an eddy, dropping an edge alone often wasn’t enough to fully bring me around to facing upstream.

The softness of the edge keeps this boat feeling closer to the stability of a creek boat. Or like a chubby river runner, like a sportier Dagger Mamba. I can’t recall any occurrence of the current catching an edge and setting me off balance.

Faster boats often have a learning curve. You can find yourself crashing down a rapid out of control; this is especially noticeable in the 12-foot boat category, when you get moving downstream too quickly to make the moves required to style a line.

Race boats can also feel locked-in on course and difficult to turn. The Phantom did not seem to lock-in on a line, and making course corrections mid-rapid or maintaining the bow upstream while peeling out of an eddy was natural feeling. Again, more like a river runner than a race boat.

a view of Dagger Kayak's Phantom creek boat in red
Same race length as the large Dagger Nomad; just a smidge wider than the medium Nomad; same volume as the Dagger Mamba 8.6. Cool to know. | Photo: Scott MacGregor

A big racing kayak for expedition kayaking too

While I love the 9R, and have been paddling it as my dedicated class IV to V creek boat for the last two years, I have started looking for something new. When I run remote class V runs in the 9R and start loading it down with gear, including large throw bag, pin kit, lunch, sat phone, first aid and survival kit and breakdown paddle, it’s just not big enough.

At 89 gallons, the Dagger Phantom was more than large enough, especially with plenty of volume up front. It rides over features and surfaces very quickly.

The Dagger Phantom is more like a nine-foot creek boat I can burn down my river on race day and pack it for an expedition the next weekend.

I couldn’t get over how much bow rocker the boat feels like it has. It’s like the bow is waiting for me to give it something to climb over. Even on photo shoot day with two pro DSLR cameras, lens and my girlfriend’s lunch in my boat, the extra load was hardly noticeable.

I find race boats are typically best paddled aggressively—leaning forward and utilizing bow control strokes. The game is to use the boat’s speed to your advantage to skip over holes and boils, and the edges to carve your way between features.

Typically designers pull back on the stability cushion provided by today’s creek boats in exchange for the downstream performance of race boats. If you try to float your way through rapids, cross currents will play havoc with the long sterns, tugging on your edges—these boats are meant to be driven hard down the river.

The Dagger Phantom on the other hand is more like a nine-foot creek boat I can burn down my river on race day and pack it for an expedition the next weekend.

Working under the cloak of corporate darkness the Dagger design team created a vision for a kayak they themselves wanted to race and paddle. While the cause of the fire may remain a mystery, the Phantom is real.

Who wouldn’t run a boat named Phantom down a line called Dragon’s Tongue. Graham Kent big water testing on the Middle Channel of the Ottawa River. Feature Photo: Kaden McLaughlin

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