Paddling the KarmaRG, StingerXP, and Greenboat.
Last week I had the opportunity to paddle three great long boats. It has been a long time since we had so many great choices of this type of boat made this year:). Thanks to the long boat revival we have seen coming from the extreme racing world and folks wanting overnight boats, we have some really great choices. The Potomac River has long been a stalwart supporter of longer whitewater boats. The long boat really never disappeared here, in fact, for a while I thought the Potomac was where long boats went to retire and live a long fruitful life attaining and surfing Rocky. Now, it appears with the movement in full swing, manufacturers have fully embraced it and are making some great new crafts. A student asked me what boat they should get and having only experienced the Stinger and Greenboats prior, along with numerous “old school” long boats, I was inspired to find out more for myself.
Having just picked up my StingerXP back in March, I needed to grab a couple of other samples. Mike Aronoff, friend and owner of CKAPCO had a Jackson connection and was raving about his Karma RockGarden, so I contacted Mike to try out his. A friend and travel companion on some of my various trips, John, happened to have a Greenboat. So we were set. All three boats in one location. John met me on a sunny and windy day with his Greenboat at Little Falls (Lock 5). I had in my hands the Karma and the Stinger. My plan was to paddle 2 laps in each boat. John, joined me on the first.
Little Falls is one of our local spots that has rapids and moving water ranging from Class 1- Class 3+. A the level of 4.35ft on the Little Falls Gauge, it was a great big water testing ground from these lovely long boats. My plan was to paddle each boat twice around the loop. Which despite the windier conditions that continued to develop (40mph gusts on fairly open water) was finally accomplished. It was quite a workout. On the first run in each boat, I took it pretty easy, but made sure to catch the same eddies and do the same moves on each run. The second run in each boat I attempted to surf waves, boof more, and catch a lot of the eddies in Little Falls itself, a solid challenge in any boat at 4.35 ft.
Day two of testing, I was a bit worn out, but managed one lap each on the Karma and Green Boats down to Rocky Island to surf. This is a prime feature on the Potomac River and the level was around 4.2 or a bit more. A classic long boat wave if there ever was one. Slalom boats and modified glass boats reign supreme here. However, classic plastic boats, like the Cruise Control, Pirouette, and Animas do pretty well too. Were the Karma and Greenboats up to the challenge? Well, they excelled at getting on the wave, I can they surfed pretty great for plastic boats, the wave still belongs to the glass boats. Not really a fair comparison. I have had some good surfs in the StingerXP on prior outings and the Karma and Greenboats were on par with that.
I have paddled long boats for years. My first boat was a used Pirouette bought in 1996 for the bargain of $525 from Carolina Outdoors(Camp Carolinas store) from Alfred in Brevard, NC. He even threw in a lovely beat up red Protec helmet for $20. Boy was that ever a deal:) So excited to have my own boat, I did not even care once I later did the math and was more involved in the industry. I have paddled and taught in every manufacturers boats since then. I have had my personal favorites along the way. The Perception Phat, the Redline, the Acrobat 270, to name a few. I have also put lots of students in boats and recognize that one companies small creek boat might not work as good for that student as another companies small creek boat. My schools kayak fleet reflects this, with boats from many different companies. I have done my best to paddle each boat thoroughly and to provide you my honest thoughts on each.
Here are a few thoughts on each boat, nothing too detailed, but enough I think for you to get a sense of where each boat shines. But first, here is a link to photos of the boats.
KarmaRG by Jackson Kayak – $1249
A few overall thoughts. The boat was stable and fairly nimble. I felt like it was easy to paddle and took little time to get used to. I felt I needed 4-5 stern draws to get the job done vs 2-3 in the other boats. Was not as quick feeling carving into eddies although it certainly did the job. I think, due in part to having a tad less rocker, tended to plow through waves vs bouncing over them. I loved the outfitting, the deck rigging, and particularly the bulkhead. The bulkhead is a huge safety factor, keeps the whole back sealed with a foam wall. The rear hatch size was adequate, but could be a bit bigger, it was about the size of most front hatches on sea kayaks. The skeg was simple to operate, by design easy to repair if it ever needed it, and did the job great. All in all, if you are looking for a boat to pack up like a sea kayak and run some fun and challenging whitewater, this boat would sure do the trick. Dane will not have to be borrowing a boat this year to crush folks at races requiring a long boat.
StingerXP by LiquidLogic – $1298
I have been waiting on this boat a long time. Having seen the mold of it a couple of seasons back, I knew I would be getting one. Even in the mold, it looked wicked fast. Of the three boats, this one to me seems the fastest in flat water and down river. Remember, on a race course, the driver of the boat has the most sway in the results. Put a fast guy in a pretty fast boat and he will likely come out on top. That is to say, the Stinger like the Green Boat has been on top of many races, I am sure the Karma will too. But as far as I can tell from my padding last week, the StingerXP is a bit more lively feeling. However, of the three boats, it will take a paddler the most time and technique to get used to it. Proper stern draws, more use of edged steering techniques, and looking way ahead of your intended line. Once you get used to it, despite being the longest boat with the most stern behind you, it paddles like a far smaller boat. This is trait I think I find in the Remix and Stomper. No deck rigging on this one. No bulkhead. Might install my own, but it will be tricky though. The rear hatch is large and roomy and has buckles and straps for added security. Has bad ass outfitting, which is still Badass!
GreenBoat by Dagger – $850 – 1200
It had been a while since I had been in a Greenboat. Having just a little prior experience in the craft I was soon channeling my inner Pat Keller. This boat may not make you Pat, but it sure makes you feel like it. Probably the easiest boat to just hop in an go. I was more apt to push my lines a little more in the Greenboat for some reason. I think this boat has a bit more rocker and being the displacement hull of the bunch, helps make the boat paddle a lot closer to more of the the shorter boats. In capable hands it will certainly win races and has, but in the hands of others, you will not be as overwhelmed but it hoping from a short boat. Easy to paddle, fun carving into eddies. No deck rigging, hatch or skeg. But of the three boats, it feels the most like the whitewater creek boat that you are used to. With a creek seat and a step out pillar in the bulkhead it is a rock solid feeling boat. Surprisingly, the one I had a hold of, felt the lightest on my multiple chances to carry it about. It would be nice to have another bar in front of the cockpit for a safety clip on spot for pinning, but also for helping lift the long boat out of the water.
In closing, I hope this will help serve as a starting point in your search for the best long boat for you. Demo, demo, demo. I think Active Nature here in DC has Green Boats for sale/demo. Valley Mill has your Karma for demo. On very limited basis, you might be able to talk me into lending you my Stinger XP. (Kelly, Woody, I am happy to store Stinger demo here for the DC area!) Appotmattox River Company and Blue Mountain Outfitters sell each of them I think. Google ’em. As for adjustments in your paddling. This boat will not paddle like your play boat or your flat hulled river runner. Your sloppy stern draw will not work here, you will need to work on a better one. Edged steering is a must. Take the time to learn to master these boats and it will pay off immensely in all your other kayaks. Attaining, going fast, and overnighting are fun, I encourage you to try it!