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Name: Wavespinner

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The boat is intended to be a racing creeker and that's what the rating reflects. More casual paddlers can deduct one star because it's not an entirely forgiving boat. If you want a safe haven, go with the Machno. Basically, they took the 9R and tweaked it, taking into account the criticisms of that kayak, along with what they learned in developing the 9R large. The front edges have been softened and a little more volume has been pumped into it, making it a more manageable ride. It's a little less hardcore, so competitive racers may prefer the first generation 9R. It's still fast and boofs well. If you're looking for a fast creeker in the sub-9 category, this should be a finalist in your test drives.

This is Dagger's entry into the sub-9 racing creeker category. While the competitors depart from the traditional creeking template by designing in edges and planing hulls, Dagger keeps the faith. It's essentially a displacement hull and will spin on a dime. But, you can count on it to be fast, even with a bow with enough rocker to climb over anything. Dagger puts enough plastic in to take the punishment. The outfitting is very adjustable and comfortable, including a ratchet to jack up the thighs. I do deduct a star because moving the seat requires a tool. The cutaway at the sides is generous and makes a very rollable hull even more so. This category is dominated by high volume boats and the Phantom is no exception. However, unlike some of the others, a smaller person will feel very comfortable and in control. You have a fast, maneuverable boat that will take good care of you in rhe big stuff. the tradeoff of the hull is that you won't be doing much carving.

As Epic suggests, the 14X is a twin of their V5 surfski and I’d say it has that feel. I own its big brothers and, while they say “kayak,” the 14X whispers “ski.”

Speed? The long waterline, relatively narrow beam and “Epic” on the bow tell you that you won’t be trailing the pack. It’s not an all out racing machine but is quite fast for its length. Any less width and you’d probably have a twitchy boat, stability-wise.

The scooped deck provides great access to the water and your full share of power. The cockpit allows a knees-up racing position, if you so desire. The seat is smooth and hard, facilitating body rotation. In total, you can flat out crank.

The outfitting is simple and easy to adjust. The method for positioning the seat is obvious. The foot board is less so (my boat didn’t come with a manual and I couldn’t find one of the Epic website – but, I have experience with the brand). You get the gas pedal style rudder pedals, so there’s no mushy feel.

The hatches have a simple locking mechanism and the openings are ample. The day hatch is a bit shallow to be of much use.

In my opinion, to get the full measure, you’ll be using a wing paddle and making somewhat frequent course corrections with the rudder. It’s got some rocker baked in.

Downsides? The cord for the seat back adjustment seems a bit on the slim side (it’s a jam cleat mechanism). The seat back could use some padding for my taste.

The bottom line is that it’s a lightweight pocket rocket that’s a blast to paddle.

I’ll get right to the bottom line. The Nirvana is not only my favorite of the fast 9s, it is one of my favorite boats of all time.

When I like a category, I buy all the good boats in it and sort it out by living with them for a while. The Pyranha 9R (L) was my first acquisition and whetted my taste for this genre. The Dagger Phantom, Lettmann Granate XL and Nirvana (M) followed. They seem to split down the middle with the Pyranha and Jackson having edges and planing hulls while the Dagger and Lettmann are more creeker-like with soft edges and displacement hulls. In this latter category, the Dagger is a very good choice.

But, I lean toward the former. The Pyranha feels faster while the Jackson seems to tend toward maneuverability. The Jackson is also more forgiving. For me, the Pyranha’s knee position was a bit high while the Jackson erred in the other direction.

The Jackson is plenty fast enough and it will maneuver with the best. It rolls easily, boofs well and resurfaces with ease. It’s also a pretty good surfer. I like the Jackson outfitting, mainly because it’s simple to adjust and you can change the foot bulkhead on the fly. It’s a great all round kayak and is what the second generation Zen should’ve been.

But, I deduct a half point for the knee position, which is just a tad low. Another half point comes off for that inane GoPro mount drilled into the forward deck, whether you wanted it or not.

They classify it as a fast creeker. To me, it’s a fabulous river runner.

While the promo videos feature many playboat moves, that’s not really my thing. So, this is written from the viewpoint of a more average whitewater paddler.

I like speed, maneuverability, surfing and a few basic play moves. This boat fills the bill, for the most part. It will cut and run with some of the best and surfs like a demon with enough edge to carve with ease. Compared to some of the low-volume stern playful boats that have come back into vogue, the tail isn’t that grabby, probably because the underside is slightly convex. The kayak practically rolls itself. It’s a flat out fun boat to paddle.

It’s fast enough. Many comparison reviews line it up against the Braaap, Mullet, Axiom and Ripper, but I think it’s a different kind of boat and gives away too much in the way of dimensions to match up in speed. What you give up there, you make up in versatility and, thanks in part to the shape of the stern, predictability.

I’ve always been a fan of the Fun and this is kind of like that with a high volume bow to get you through the heavier stuff. Or, if you recall the Fun Runner, it’s a lot like that with more play in it. It’s a kayak you can paddle on many types of rivers and creeks and have fun doing it.

Downsides? Some might find the knee position a bit low and uncomfortable. The plastic has a somewhat dull finish and is thinner than I’d like.

For the beginner, it’s a kayak you can be comfortable with and have a lot of room to grow. For higher skilled paddlers, it’s pretty much a do-it-all, enabling you to run anything (except the highest class) and have a lot of fun along the way.

This is Pyranha's entry into the long boat/slicey stern genre and it's a strong contender. I'd say they checked all the boxes. It's very fast, can punch holes with relative ease and the tail end isn't real likely to get grabbed unless you want it to.

They've front-loaded the volume to give you the bigger water capability. The bow edges, planing hull and continuous progressive rocker provide the tools to build a lot of fun. The build quality is quite good and it's a big plus that it's available in three sizes.

On the downside, the thigh braces aren't as aggressive as I would like. You can opt for an upgrade but I think a boat like this should come locked and loaded. Seat adjustment could be simpler.

A trait of this class is a skinny beam. While I relish the speed, ease of rolling, etc. that this provides, it's not to everyone's taste. Test paddle one before ordering.

Another paddler's boat from LL

Torn between the Braaap and the Mullet, I opted for the former, feeling it was the skinnier and faster of two essentially similar kayaks. A year later, a friend talked me into paddling his Mullet. It is a different boat and I added it to my quiver.

Aside from being a tad beamier, the volume is front loaded. This helps for busting through holes and slicing the stern. Like the Braaap, you still get some slalom-like capabilities with good speed.

The plastic and manufacturing are first-rate. It’s roomy and comfortable. In addition to the two crossbars at mid-deck, you get a bow grab handle, which is lacking on the Braaap.

Like the Braaap, the Mullet is a sleek, relatively low volume kayak that rewards you if you read the river well and exert control. You can’t just go along for the ride like you can in one of its bulbous siblings. I only wish it had some more edge. If you enjoy this in a kayak, the Mullet is well worth a test paddle.

It's a slippery, watermelon seed of a boat. If you're willing to develop the right technique, the return on investment will be substantial. If you're wedded to the wide/high volume concept, this may not be the ticket for you. I can tell it'll always have more capability than I can get out of it, but I'm enjoying going to school. Drive it constantly and it'll do about anything you want. However, sit back and it quickly acts according to its own whims.

Start with a slalom boat and shorten it up a little for even more agility. Give it some bow rocker and pump volume into the bow and right behind the cockpit to handle the big water. That's my short, non-engineer take on the design.

It comes out of the blocks fast and accelerates quickly to hull speed. It draws and sweeps with ease. Your biggest problem with the roll will be preventing it from going into an encore. There's enough bow volume to avert submarining in gnarly stuff and the tail isn’t as grabby as it might appear. Those unfamiliar with skinny boats might find it to feel a little unstable at first. Have issues with edge control? No problem; there are none. But, slice the aft end into a stern pivot and the boat turns on its own axis. Responsibility for holding the line is yours. Think of it like a thoroughbred horse. What can make it a wee bit of a handful also makes it the ride of your life.

The cockpit has all-day comfort and one doesn’t have to be a yoga master to get your lager-enhanced thighs under the hooks. As opposed to grab loops at the ends, it’s got crossbars at midpoints of the bow and stern decks. The reason for that is beyond the scope of my knowledge. The plastic molding is top drawer.

I invited some fellow paddlers to give it a whirl. Without the benefit of prior experience with boats of this breed or time to adjust, comments included "squirrelly" and "tippy." Except for Doc, who's been paddling old school yaks since they were measured in cubits and scoffs at contemporary comparatively bulbous boats as "hard-shell rafts." His face split into a rare grin as he rendered his four-word review, "It's a paddler's boat." That it is.

On the plus side, the boots are comfortable and easy to get on and off. The soles/insoles are thick enough to traverse rocks and provide very good grip, even on slick surfaces.

The flip side is that they admit some grit and a lot of water, without much insulation. You are advised not to wear them barefoot, so allow for an insulating sock in sizing for paddling in cold conditions. Essentially, these shoes are a shell for a base layer. I don't find them to dry all that fast, possibly because of absorption and retention by the mesh material.

Not a bad piece of gear but they remind me of paddling in Converse sneakers back in the day, which go for about half the price. I'm not completely sold that the upgrade of materials justifies the significant difference in cost.

The Akiak is a two-piece, shoulderless Greenland paddle constructed of a carbon/fiberglass blend. It integrates replaceable polyamide tips, eliminating gaps, turbulence, etc. The paddle and tips are available in a variety of color combinations.

The price is very reasonable, but the quality is excellent. Customer service is also quite good.

This paddle is heavier and more solid than other Gearlab models. However, the swing weight doesn’t seem to be much greater. The sharp edges slice into the water quite well. The loom is a bit on the long side, but I prefer it that way. The oval cross section is very comfortable. The fit of the two pieces is precise. The balance of rigidity and flexibility is good and provides power without strain.

This is a very durable, attractive and effective paddle. The price seals the deal.