If you’ve ever casually mentioned at the office party you’re a whitewater kayaker (“Yeah man, you told me you were a rafter last year!”), you know everyone outside our world paints us a monochromatic shade of crazy. Amongst ourselves, though, we divide into cliques and clans according to our river running choice of craft.
After all, whitewater is full of strange people with inexplicable passions, and folks who love to talk shit about them. Around campfires and on long shuttle drives, we pass the hours asking ourselves what in the hell these Keepers of the Lame were thinking, even if we’re quick with a smile—and ready with a throwbag—when they float by in their cringy crafts. We roll our eyes, like older siblings when our little brother shows up again after being left in the tree house without a ladder, but we can’t deny they’re part of the family—and this just makes them all the more embarrassing.
Here Are The 7 Most Embarrassing Whitewater Crafts
1. The Skijak
Whitewater boating is the best. And skiing is pretty great too. So why not combine them? The answer to this question is “still sitting outside of Pete’s shed,” according to my old friend, Eugene. Inside Pete’s shed is where Eugene keeps a truly impressive collection of obsolete boats and paddling curiosities. To be leftoutside of Pete’s shed suggests an off-the-charts level of lameness, an automatic 11 on the lame-o-meter.
“They’re kind of an accident waiting to happen,” Eugene explains of the twin plastic hulls attaching to the user’s feet with… wait, how?
“The binding is this metal claw best described as a bear trap,” Eug explains.“It has miniature sprayskirts for each foot.”Propulsion is by means of a 10-foot double-bladed paddle.
The Skijak was the life’s work of the late Austrian engineer Harald Strohmeier, who built his first wooden-framed wassergleitschuhs (water gliding shoes) in the 1930s as a lederhosen-clad teen.
It looked like a double-ACL tweak waiting to happen
He later made a sectional aluminum version, and finally, the plastic Skijak gaining a small following in his native land in the 1980s. All that was left was to conquer the North American market. Eugene, the former editor of both Paddler and Telemark Skiermagazines, remembers the company’s rep driving all the way down from Canada to demo the device.
“He leaned back, crossed his legs and actually rolled the thing. It looked like a double-ACL tweak waiting to happen.
“They didn’t make it to the top of my quiver list,” Eug adds drily. “They’re not even good planters because the openings on top are too small.”
2. Hydro bronc
“After I went down one particular whitewater rafting ride, I started to look at some of the dangers inherent in flipping a raft and getting trapped,” Hydro Bronc inventor Rod Blair told a credulous TV reporter about his strange and unequivocally lame contraption, a brightly colored mash-up of a raft and a hamster wheel.
One ride! That may sound like hubris, but what Blair lacked in whitewater knowledge he made up for in inventing experience.
Hydro Broncing was even included in the book 50 Water Adventures To Do Before You Die
His many creations include soccer balls for horses and a 10-foot snow globe depicting the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Note these are all inflatable inventions, so it’s not as if Blair was just making it up as he went along.
He wasn’t bad at the hype game either. In the decade or so after its 1998 debut, the Hydro Bronc was featured on a bunch of television programs, from local newscasts toThe Late Show with David Letterman and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which sent the Playboy Extreme Team on a Bronc-mounted escape-from-Alcatraz mission. Hydro Broncing was even included in the book 50 Water Adventures To Do Before You Die. Our advice: Make sure you do the other 49 first.
3. Creature Craft
The Creature Craft may be the most capable whitewater inflatable ever conceived, so it’s fair to ask what it’s doing on this list.
Let’s try to unpack the question.
First, let’s just concede whitewater boaters can be a judgmental lot. Haters are gonna hate, and for all of the Creature Craft’s redeeming qualities—its self-righting design, potential as a swift water rescue platform, uncanny ability to muddle blindly through massive whitewater—there is plenty to hate.
For starters, it looks more like a floating bounce house than a proper rapid running craft. The ungainly roll cage usually keeps the Creature Craft from rolling over completely, though a big enough lateral—or, as we saw this fall at Gauley Fest, spiteful boaters leap- ing onto it from Pillow Rock—will knock it onto its side. The pilot is strapped in with a thick Velcro seatbelt and can use an oar to right the craft, or more often just wait there getting thrashed until the river does it for him.
After Gauley Fest this fall, one hater went online to vent about “how unfortunate it is we share the river with Creature Crafts. In just one lap, three paddlers in our group were either hit with an oar or run over.”
The Creature Craft takes care of boaters who can’t take care of themselves
The implication is that Creature Crafters have no business on the Gauley’s entry-level class V, let alone a high-water test piece like Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee, site of a Creature Craft carnage reel that will have you hiding under your desk for five minutes and 11 seconds.
It features a bright yellow Creature Craft getting window shaded a half-dozen times, and another floating through the crux rapid completely upside down with its owner hanging by his seatbelt until the boat lumbers into a new hole and gets flipped upright. As noted above, the roll cage usually prevents the Creature Craft from flipping, but not always.
The video, like dozens of others in the Creature Craft genre, is full of questionable lines, involuntary surfs and inexplicable hoots of triumph. This is where the hate comes from. The Creature Craft takes care of boaters who can’t take care of themselves. And that’s lame.
4. Wavesport transformer
Playboats come in two primary forms, stubby and slicey. The two split near the base of the whitewater family tree, so any boat fitting comfortably in either branch—in fact, slipping effortlessly between the two—would be an evolutionary marvel, like some sort of hermaphroditic platypus adapted to survive in two distinctly different ecosystems, but able to thrive in neither.
Meet the Wavesport Transformer, a bouncy spud boat sold with bolt-on bumpers and vestigial wings designed to give it distinctly slicey characteristics.
Wavesport made this evolutionary leap in 2003, the same year Dagger released its shape-shifting future Hall of Lamer, the FX. Where the Dagger boys toyed with volume, Transformer designer Eric Jackson used removable tips to alter the boat’s length and performance characteristics. The bumpers were inch-thick plastic pucks; the wings came in five-and eight-inch varieties. They could be mixed and matched.
it was about as easy to roll as a 40-foot shipping container
The Transformer turns up in online lists of “the worst boats of all time,” but it’s not fair or accurate to say the boat was universally loathed. Some paddlers loved it. The design had a two-year production run. At its core, the Transformer—there were four sizes, officially tagged T1, T2, T3 and T4—was a stubby air-seeking playboat, perhaps a little wider and boxier than the norm but capable of truly impressive bounce at a time when elevation was free-style’s new frontier.
“The Transformer is worth buying just for the bounce,” Rapid magazine opined at the time. “[It’s] wonderfully retentive, cartwheels smoothly, hops like water on a hot skillet, and loops like a drunken circus clown.”
What’s not to love about this kayak? Well, it was about as easy to roll as a 40-foot shipping container, and those tips never fully delivered on the hype. “If it works, the Transformer is without a doubt the biggest step toward offering one boat to do it all,” our reviewer wrote.
The problem is the wings didn’t work, at least not as well as a generation of boaters raised on Saturday morning Transformers cartoons would have hoped. What was left is the boat’s notoriety, which explains how a pretty average playboat keeps turning up on everyone’s 10-worst lists.
5. Dagger FX
Dagger was pretty high on its shape-shifting playboat when it debuted back in 2003 with a pair of black plastic doodads screwed onto the bow and stern. The Dagger catalog declared the FX’s volume-changing Hood Scoops, a revolutionary new technology “guaran-freakin’-teed to change the face of freestyle paddling!” Time has shown this assessment to be mistaken. And by time, we’re talking weeks.
This kayak was lame from the start.
The big trick in 2003 was the loop, and boaters were ready to buy any spuddy playboat that looked like it could pop out of a wave-hole and rotate on its axis. By all accounts, the FX could loop like nobody’s business, but unfortunately, that’s all it did well.
Remember this was freestyle’s golden age. Companies were throwing good money after bad ideas in a freestyle arms race making about as much economic sense as those giant stone faces on Easter Island. Paddlers played along. Bros were selling plasma and buying two or three new playboats a year. But they didn’t buy the FX.
On Playak.com, you can still find the boat’s specs and catalog hype, above a little box noting “there are no user reviews.” Right. Because there were no users. On Mountainbuzz.com, an astute boater gave a 17-word review saying it all.
“It’s like a miniature five-foot- seven version of one of the cars on the log ride at Disneyland.”
Ouch. Is there anything to redeem this consensus Hall of Lamer? Well, yes. Models came with sick molded-in flame graphics.
6. Necky Crux
Let’s start with a disclaimer. I had a Necky Crux and liked it just fine. It was smaller than most creek boats at just over seven-and-a-half feet with rounded chines and a bit of a peak on the front and rear decks, designed to shed water and resurface quickly after plugging big waterfalls. I never ran big waterfalls in it, but I appreciated the little creeker’s maneuverability on low-water class IV, which I’ve run a lot of over the years. Is that lame? Probably, but that’s not the point.
The point is, the Crux was designed, built and named for super steep technical whitewater, the kind of new age gnar just opening up to the masses when the boat came to market in 2004.
It was designed to fit in tight spaces, turn quickly and accelerate out of harm’s way. And it did all those things quite well.
Sadly, in whitewater lore, all this performance takes a back seat to the gimmick—a pair of galvanized steel springs rigged to the footplate. These things looked like they came off somebody’s garage door, and weighed about two pounds apiece. This kind of extra weight up front isn’t exactly desirable in a boat you’re going to boof for your life a few times every weekend. Speaking of weight, the Crux was quite heavy. Necky originally listed it at 37 pounds, and later had to revise the figure up to 43 pounds. I actually weighed mine—the only boat I’ve ever bothered to put on a scale—just because I wanted to know how heavy it was. The answer was 47 pounds with the springs, 43 without them.
The idea of the spring-loaded bulkhead was to save your ankles when you piton. Fair enough, but may I remind everyone pitoning is lame? Pitoning isn’t something you plan for. It’s something you plan to avoid.
I can’t say how the springs worked because I never hit anything hard enough to test them. That’s no brag; I bumped plenty of rocks and speared a few boaters, mostly on accident. But when it came to 10-foot-plus drops with rocks anywhere near the landing zone I either made sure I could hit my line, or I walked. Remember kids: In portaging there is no shame, but with a 47-pound boat it surely is lame.
7. The Riverbug
Maybe it’s just that “trend sport” is one of those German phrases that doesn’t translate. Or it could be the “trend” in the context of the Riverbug is wishful thinking, like when the 2006 film The Secret had everyone “manifesting” things, as if by thinking about it hard enough you could become rich or get to hang out with aliens.
No matter how much you want it to be, the Riverbug ain’t cool. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t look like fun. It does look fun. In fact, Riverbugging looks suspiciously like tubing, and we all know tubing is fun if you don’t take it too seriously. In fact, the coolest thing about tubing is not trying too hard. All you need is a hot day, an inner tube, and a pair of cutoffs—and maybe another tube to float your cooler. This brings us back to the Riverbug, which if you’re still curious, looks like a hyper-engineered inner tube, stretched into a U-shape and available in canary yellow or fire engine red. You sit in with your feet facing downstream, geared up in a wetsuit, helmet, fins and webbed gloves. Most of the time there’s a GoPro involved too.
It’s basically an inner tube taking itself way too seriously. Folks are running steep creeks and developing play moves, like getting window shaded in pour overs and coming up smiling. You can see it all on YouTube. Though allegedly a thing in Austria and New Zealand, this “trend sport” is still a rarity on North American rivers.
Good: Like a wetsuit that’s furry on the inside. Bad: Stinks even if you don’t pee in it.
The Brown Claw
Surfers have the shaka, all hang loose and island vibey. We pantomime a bag full of “the shit.”
Oversized Hoodys, a/k/a ThuggiesPro:
Drop drawers with impunity at the put-in parking lot. Con: Everything else.
Raft Guide Jokes
They’re funny if you’ve never heard them before, but you have. Question: What’s the difference between a raft guide and Bigfoot? Answer: One is big, hairy and smells funny when he gets wet. The other is a myth.
Who start sentences with “half the paddle. . .”
Red Bull Lids
Can’t we find another way for boaters to get paid?
Your helmet looks like a preschool art project made out of empty juice boxes.
Pro: It’s waterproof, just throw it in your boat and go. Con: It’s a sandwich in a can.
The Kavanaugh Hearings
Why are boaters the only ones who know what boof means?
Feature Photo: Michael Hewis