WHAT’S THE BEST RIVER RUNNING WHITEWATER KAYAK ?

Gear
bobby@coloradokayak.com

PART 1 – WHAT’ S THE BEST RIVER RUNNING WHITEWATER KAYAK
THE DAGGER MAMBA?
A review series by Kyle Smith

The kayaking related question that we get asked  MOST OFTEN is, “what are the differences between the new Pyranha Burn III, Dagger Mamba, Jackson Karma or Liquid Logic Remix or Stomper?” We also quite frequently get asked, “what is the best river running whitewater kayak for class III and IV and even some class V?” We came up with a solution in regards to answering these questions.
We sought out a few of the best “unaffiliated” hired guns out there (Kyle Smith, Gordon Klco and Mike Bond), and hired them to paddle all of the boats in our demo shed, and let us know what they think – we wanted to know the good, the bad and the ugly….This is the first segment in a series that will review the following boats:
The Dagger Mamba
The new 2014 Pyranha Burn III
The Liquid Logic Stomper
The Liquid Logic Remix
The Jackson Kayak Karma

Whiteboard
The story board which includes a boat list, a title and a dragon – what else do you need?

If there is one truth I have come to find, it is that there is more than one way to do just about anything: cutting onions, running rapids, going to the bathroom(India taught me that one), etc. Designing and building kayaks is no exception. Every couple of years the racks at our local kayak shops become inundated with new edges, chines, cockpit shapes, seat outfitting, creekers, players, boofers, surfers, cartwheelers and swim-out-of-ers. It can be almost exhausting trying to keep up with the new hotness of today’s paddling industry – truly a first world problem. Even though you might be Mr / Mrs. Handyman with a spoon and whisper-light stove, time and rocks will always win. Eventually, if you paddle enough, that very last piece of Frankenstein-patch that was held together with pop-rivets, epoxy and hope, will disintegrate and at that point, a case of diminishing returns will quickly be upon you. It might be time to get a new boat. Sometimes we just don’t have the time, energy, or funds to try every single boat extensively to see if it fits our desires.

Luckily for me, being a vagrant river-gypsy that bounces from hemisphere to hemisphere, I fortunately have the time for such an endeavor. I.e.-lack of a job. This season I left the safety and comfort of the anti-brown-claw Salmon and Payette drainage’s of Idaho to crusade to Colorado to test, demo, flip, roll, destroy, boof, piton, race and all around understand what the new boats on the market of today have to offer. What boat should I paddle? Where does said boat excel and expire? Sure, it’s all subjective, but here are my thoughts.

Important Forewarning: I have been paddling the Stomper 90 & Remix 69 for the past 4 years, almost exclusively. I may have a slight bias, but I came to love a number of these other pieces of Rotomolded Tupper-ware throughout my 2 weeks of testing.

More Importantly: None of these boats serve me mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream…yet, but I’m trying to work out how to retrofit them to do so. Stay tuned.

Dagger Mamba 8.6

Dagger_mamba_Only_Way_To_Know
Sometimes it’s nice to have a few extra gallons on your person. When your stomping the 30 footer on Oh-be-Joyful, that is one of those times.

If you are having issues distinguishing between two of the same models for your weight and height, this one will give you a dysmorphic body complex. Technically, at 77 gallons and 8’1” the 8.1 on paper fits my 5’9” 165lbs frame (depending on how many double bacon blue burgers I have consumed in a given week). But, the 8.6 probably fits my paddling style i.e. trying to boof over every hole and into every huge breaking wave that I can find (maybe I’m just not good enough to avoid them) and cramming my boat full of as much gear as possible for overnighters. Am I training for the Stikine? No. I just like drinking growlers of delicious McCall Brewing Co. beer when I am camped out in the beautiful Frank Church Wilderness. I’ve also been known to drag a full Wok down the river strapped to my stern to cook on.

I had the opportunity to rally the 8.1 and 8.6 on the Arkansas river at 2500CFS this spring, a tight, fast, technical section of whitewater. While the 8.1 was easier to throw around, I also found myself going for some huge beatings, some might use the word “mangled”, in features that the 8.6, at my weight, typically allows me to punch through or over. The bow on the larger model also stays on top while charging for those approaches where subbing out is not allowed. If self supports are in the future plans and you’re at my weight, size up.

SPEED:

Mike OBJ Slide(Mamba)_Dagger_Mamba_SLide
At first cockpit entry, heheh, the mamba is bulbous (27.5 inches wide). However, as we move front and back we see the bow and stern sharpening up and the rocker rising on both ends, more so in the bow. Classic. This turns up the speed by keeping the rails in the water and the nose on top. This is especially amazing when plowing through waves. The sharp nose cuts through crests while the bow volume keeps the nose elevated. This is not really a new idea, but Dagger nailed it with this one. What truly makes the Mamba unique in my opinion, is that Dagger has found a way to take 90 gallons, stretch it out to 8’6,” and keep a fast hull underneath it without swamping the paddler by raising cockpit rim to rest snuggly beneath the armpits.

EDGES:

Coming from paddling a Stomper 90, which essentially has a displacement hull via “Smart Edges,” any sharpness added is obvious to me. I pride myself in taking pleasure in the small things in life and grabbing eddies wicked fast is one of those things. Once you and the Mamba have an understanding that you’re on a team to save the world one eddy-out at a time, you’ll be slaying space invaders one RockDrop at a time. The edges of the Mamba has slightly less aggressive edges than the Burn.

Dagger_Mamba_Versus_Burn_Edge_II
Burn on the left, Mamba on the right. Lots of edge vs. a little bit less of a sever edge.
Dagger_Mamba_Versus_Burn_Edge
Mamba on the left, and the Burn on the right.
Dagger_Mamba_Versus_Burn_Edge_III
The Dagger Mamba on the left, and the Pyanha Burn on the right. You can see the rounded stern on the Mamba vs. it’s edgier counterpart, the Burn III.

The edges start strong in the front and fade out just behind the cockpit. This allows the Mamba to hit rock drop fast and hard coming in, engage the current coming out, but be forgiving with cross currents as they slide under the smooth posterior.
Dagger_Mamba_Review_Edge
Be careful though, with great edges come great tracking. Your classic move of lacing 2 holes just turned into a nasty beating, because you just tractor beamed into one of the stickiest hydraulics on the North Fork or the Payette. With a planing hull, the ability to turn on a dime is turned into quarters. Just like fully rockered skis, it’s easy to butter/spin circles on the go. Put the race skis on, and getting tricky is a little bit more…tricky.

OUTFITTING:

I have been a big fan of the comfort of LL’s “BadAss” outfitting for years, with a few exceptions. After planting it in the Dagger seat, I think I am going to try to retrofit my stomper 90 with this Outfitting. Is that legal?

Dagger_Mamba_Cockpit
The Contour Ergo outfitting is a MAJOR improvement – WOW, 2 thumbs up.

Confluence/Dagger has made some serious adjustments to the nuts and bolts of their fleet; They have added seat ratchet straps beneath the crotch that raise the thighs snugly into the thigh hooks upon tightening. They have added plastic plates with elastic bands to securely hold a throw bag+ 32oz Nalgene + a carton of 12 dozen eggs. No more scrambling to figure which is more important to have at the finger tips, throw bag or hydration. Last but not least, when adjusting the bulkhead nuts, Dagger has affixed rubber leashes to eliminate the pesky “My fingers are frozen and slippery. Damn-it where did that nut go?!” scenario. And, it’s comfy. The bulk head also offers a nice plastic hand hold when shouldering the boat.

CONS:

One thing that Dagger, nor any boat maker, can get away from (save Jackson) is the leaky factor. A common sentiment amongst paddlers seems to be that the boat becomes inundated stat. I attribute this to the number of outfitting bolts and holes in the Mamba. No matter the spray-skirt rand, this boat tends to be on the leakier side of the spectrum. Slap a roll of Gorilla tape and throw a tube of aqua-seal at it and maybe you’ll empty your boat 4 times instead of 6 on your favorite top to bottom. Remember though, even submarines leak sometimes. The outfitting requires both an allen wrench and a Phillips screw driver to adjust. I want an 8.4

Who is the Mamba best for ?

Any pro can get into any boat on the market today and style just about any classic creek or big water river; And they will let you know it. However, for those of us mere-mortals, for all intensive purposes, this boat, along with the Burn III, is a big water boat.

Dagger_Mamba_Kayak_Review_Boof_Pic
Sure, the Mamba can creek,, but where does it shine? The Dagger Mamba is a big water river runner. It belongs right here in the Arkansas River Valley, paddling the Numbers at high water.

It’s fast, snaps into eddies, has incredible secondary stability, packs tons of gear, including 2 HyroFlask growlers and a full sized guitar(I know from experience), stays on top and holds speed out of holes, even if I am draped across the back-deck after being blown up in a hydraulic. Forgiving. However, it’s a non-traditional planing hull. It’s new outfitting is heavy. It hurts when you land flat on big drops. It conforms to shallow water features when boofing and catches rocks and sharp edges in low, manky, east coast style creeking. Can it be used for that? Yes. Is it the best? No. Overall, this boat is amazing. It can perform on anything, but I would take it to the Baker/South Fork Salmon before I would take it on Colorado’s, Oh-Be-Joyful. In the name of proper testing, we went ahead and did it anyway though.

Too_Much_Reviewing
Yep, shoulda gone a little more to the left. Guess what joyful creek this happened on?

7 thoughts on “WHAT’S THE BEST RIVER RUNNING WHITEWATER KAYAK ?

  1. Matt

    great review.. when can we expect part 2,3,4,5…

  2. Marshall Gourley

    I have a roll class of six sessions in Feb. and a whitewater kayaking class in June of next year, now I must decide on a kayak have looked at the karma, mamba and burn. I have never been in kayak but after working two jobs I only work one job now and have weekends free and found I have a love for whitewater sports after rafting several times and took my first class IV swim this year. I am ready to start kayaking I am a big guy (240 lbs. 5’5 and lot of girth). Can you help me decide the best kayak for me? The Jackson kayaks are big sellers here (Tennessee) as they are made here but I would like an opinion on what may be the best fit for me. Thank you,
    Marshall

    1. bobby@coloradokayak.com

      Hi –
      I am very sorry for the late reply. Of all of the boats that you have mentioned, the Dagger Mamba or the Jackson Zen (the river running version of the Karma) would be the 2 best choices. Overall, I think that the Mamba is the best beginner boat out there. What’s nice about the Mamba is that it is also good for intermediate and advanced paddlers…It has enough volume and rocker for class IV and V paddling.
      The outfitting is comfortable and supportive, the hull is very stable, easy to roll, etc…

      Overall, the Mamba is great boat for your needs…The Zen is great too. If you like Jackson outfitting and a little more of an edge (a little crisper feeling) it could be the way to go..

  3. Jerry

    Where are the other reviews

    1. Peter van der Pol

      http://cksblog.com/2014/09/burn-baby-burn/

  4. Glenna Conway

    I just bought used 2014 Jackson Rockstar (SMALL lol) for my son, a beginner, but athletic. He is 6’2″ maybe still growing taller and 185 maybe getting bigger. For safety, his goal is just to do whitewater river runs, not the playing stuff yet. But now my question is. Lets say I get the LARGE ROCKSTAR and he trains somewhere for rolling.The goal is to have a kayak for PLAY and RIDING down whitewater rapid class 3 & 4. Do you think this is a good plan or risking safety? I have yet to see a video of the ROCKSTAR riding through rapids and only see PLAY style on this kayak. IS this for a reason? What do you think of the plan of learning to PLAY first and then RIDING rapids do ensure you know how to ROLL? What kayak would you recommend and how about a safe action plan to learn. Lastly, Is is possible to start with a kayak that can handle class 5 rapids with all the above in mind? IF you are unsure what my goal is then lets talk over the phone. I dont want to waste money again and dont have alot of it either. Hoping I can sell the Small ROCKSTAR easily. OR my other question is that my daughter is 14 and 140. Maybe I should just keep it for her and go the plan with her for this kayak if you think that would be safe for her. PLEASE GET BACK TO ME SOON. Thanks.

    1. bobby@coloradokayak.com

      Hey – it sounds like you are looking for a good all around play boat for a person that is 6’2″. If you’re looking for a well balanced play boat that will do any play boat move right now, but be a good downriver play boat later, I would check out the Pyranha JED and Dagger Jitsu – they both would be great boats for learning in, and then solid play boats down the road. They will be harder to learn to kayak in because they are really small – but it can be done…
      Feel free to give us a call to discuss details – we can explain why the JED and Jitsu would be better all around play boats that the Rock Star (which is awesome, but not good at being paddled down river….).
      Overall – there are a few options for you. 719-539-6300

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