It is a truth universally acknowledged that kayakers love talking about boats! At the heart of the matter, there’s a gear geek in all of us. In 2020, I have made a few changes to my line-up. So let’s take a peek at what’s in my quiver and why I love these boats so much!

Creekboat: Pyranha 9R

The original 9-foot racing boat. Agile, precise, sharp-railed. As a smaller paddler, I have always preferred slim craft. And the first generation 9R boasts a wonderfully narrow hull. Obviously, this makes it not only fast, but far more responsive on edge.

Modern boat technology has moved increasingly towards point-and-shoot kayaks with so much rocker that they simply ride over everything. By contrast, the original 9R walks a fine line. It has decent rocker, but not so much that the paddler doesn’t have to work. Whilst this may not suit everyone, I love the way that this boat punishes poor paddling. To maximise the boat’s capability, a paddler needs to be pro-active and confident with their edging. If not, the 9R’s defined stern rails will send you to places you’d rather not go!

When paddled aggressively, however, the 9R is unparalleled. It can bear the weight of a decent amount of gear without compromising on performance, making it ideal for coaching or expeditions. Of course, it helps that I am on the lighter end of the weight-range on that particular point!

Even so, for a technical creeking vessel, there is nothing I would rather paddle. The 9R is nimble and confidence-inspiring – the ideal boat to aid progression.

Dropping into the Erme gorge. Photo by Tom Clare.

Slice-machine: Prijon Delirious

Whenever people ask me about the Delirious, I am quick to respond: “it’s the best boat in the universe!” That is definitely just rhetoric. But the indisputable fact is that I love this absolute beast of slicing!

Essentially symmetrical bow-to-stern, this boat can cartwheel like no other! It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that this boat can throw ends for days! Equally though, if you want to stall out and stare at the sky, the Delirious has you covered. It has a slight flare of width behind the paddler’s hips, which enable incredibly fine control when vertical. Pirouettes are an absolute breeze in this boat.

And yes, of course it is a damp ride! Not only the age of the boat, but the fact that the deck is constantly underwater, mean the paddler ends up sat in a puddle! But it’s a small price to pay for maximum playfulness!

Not only that, but the Delirious (unlike modern full-slice boats) still has low enough volume to be able to fully engage with the three-dimensionality of whitewater. Where modern boats might get rejected by features, the Delirious can grab phenomenal downtime in the right spot.

Of course, I am definitely intrigued to try modern boats like the Ozone, which blur the line between old- and new-school. But it will take something very special indeed to topple the Delirious off the top-spot!

Twice the slice, twice the fun! Photo by Helenka Boden.

Playboat: Gui-Gui Prod Helixir 2018

Flatwater freestyle has always been my go-to means of keeping fit. I hike down the road with a boat and splash around for a happy hour or so. Whilst I definitely have other uses for a playboat, maximising enjoyment of that particular past-time was my first criterion when looking for a new playboat back in 2018.

I have always sat uncomfortably between the weight-ranges of most common brands’ playboats. As a rule, I’m too short for a “medium”, but want more volume than a “small” will offer. So when the opportunity arose to get a custom carbon boat, I leapt at it! Of course, my judgment was definitely swayed by Quim’s ridiculous promo video for the Helixir.

Since then, the Gui-Gui has served as my faithful flatwater and surf machine! Besides Hurley (which I don’t really count), it has only seen a real river once. But the responsiveness, lightweight construction and insane pop have all helped me to push my playboating more in the past 2 years than in in the preceding 5.

And no, I probably don’t need a carbon boat. I’m not enough of a competitive playboater to warrant one. But it sure feels good! There is no sensation quite the same as the solid smack of stiff carbon landing a pan-am or airscrew on a steep wave. And if, like me, you do a lot of walking with you boat, the fact it only weighs 9kgs makes a big difference!

Aiming for cleans at Hurley! Photo by Jack Grace.

The Wishlist!

Whilst the three-boat quiver is suiting me well enough currently, that doesn’t mean it can’t grow!

I recently spent a lap on the Mellte in my friend Tim’s Pyranha Ripper and it reminded me how much I love that boat. From a coaching perspective, it truly does blend the two worlds of confidence for creeking and playability when it is wanted.

The similarity in hull-shape between my 9R and the small Ripper is clear, which just means that almost no transition in paddling style is required. With its low-volume stern, the Ripper excels in manoeuvrability. Indeed, the confidence-inspiring rocker and agility of the Ripper mean that I trust it more than my 9R in many situations. Though perhaps this just comes from my predilection for slice-boats! Who knows?!

Thanks for re-igniting the Ripper bug for me, Tim! Photo by Tom Clare.

What boats are in your 2020 quiver? And what new designs or old-school flavours are you looking out for?