Selecting a boat for an extended kayaking trip
By Marc Musgrove
Marc Musgrove and Emma Woods spent much of 2000 and 2001 on a World Tour.
Getting to the US leg of our world tour, we weren't sure about the one boat to choose as an all-round playboat, creek boat, and multi-day expeditioning boat. On a limited budget, and traveling regularly on planes, buying both a playboat and a creekboat didn't really seem an option. In the States, paddlers seem to go for the two-boat mentality, and then spend most of the time moaning when they select the wrong boat for the wrong river.
In the UK, paddlers for some reason (whether it's the relatively low number of real steep creeks or just high petrol costs) seem to just go for a playboat and end up running rivers in that. In my view a creek boat isn't necessarily the best boat for running large volume rivers where making lines is key, but is very suited to dropping down very steep low volume rivers (which California has more than its fair share of). Californians seem to like nothing more than rattling down a cliff in a large tub.
Throughout our trip I've also seen a number of good paddlers get held in holes where playboats would have sailed through. Whether melting down through holes is a good thing or not is obviously a moot point, but creek boats do seem to bob like corks in certain hydraulics.
However having paddled in 'large boats' in South America and having felt a little limited at playspots, we decided to go a bit smaller. I went for a Big EZ as a playboat which has some river running capability, given the lack of a pointy nose. Emma plumped for the Dagger Showdown as a similar allrounder for a smaller weight paddler.
For hitting lines through big water rapids and making breakouts, playboats can feel a lot more manoeuvrable than all-out creek boats. The Dagger CFS for example seems to have more speed, but is harder to initiate quick turns in big water. You do need to think twice about whether you will be able to hit the tight line you would be able to make in a playboat. Using a creek boat effectively means altering your natural paddling style for that reason. Boats such as Necky's Blunt have a hull which is closer
to the manoeuvrability of playboat hulls, but without being super flat like the Wavesport Y. Dagger apparently have a smaller version of the CFS in the offing.
That said, dropping off large drops in playboats can be a little unnerving, and it shouldn't really be recommended for steep creeking in the Californian mould. After a month I succumbed and got a second-hand Blunt to fall off rocks with a view to selling it before we leave Canada.
For people planning extended trips, it's worth bearing in mind that you can probably beg, steal or borrow a large tub for steep trips once you get out to places like the US, or do safety boating work to get hold of one. If you have a vehicle in the US, picking up a second hand creek boat from one of the boaters on the rodeo circuit shouldn't set you back a huge amount. If you're aiming to be in one place for any amount of time to work or hang out, you'll probably be able to find people who'll help you out.
In South America, there is a potential to run more multi-day trips, as in many of the western US states. We managed pretty well squeezing light kit into trusty Vertigos for limited multi-daying in Ecuador and Chile. I've even heard of guys soloing the Tamur in Nepal and getting kit into a full-on playboat.
One last thing to bear in mind if you intend to do more multi-day expedition type trips is that the last kayak lurking at the back of your garage probably has a pretty similar resale value to a newer playboat when you take it to Asia or Latin America. We decided to ditch these boats while we could still get something for them and then renew our kit in North America. Sometimes it works out cheaper to flog the kit than risk getting charged by the airline.
Overall, consider river running playboats along the lines of the Pyranha Inazones, Perception Method Air, Dagger Outlaw, Wavesport Forplay/Score if you're only going to have one boat with you throughout your whole trip. If you're going to have a vehicle at any point and can pick up a creek boat, you may just be best off taking the latest and greatest playboat with you to avoid wave frustration. Tubs are easy to find, but decent planing hulls are in relatively short supply outside the developed kayaking countries.
Marc Musgrove and Emma Wood would like to thank sponsors Playboater, Werner, Bomber Gear and AS Watersports.