Leonardo Da Vinci was once quoted saying that "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". If he were alive today, and was a whitewater paddler, he would probably be a fan the NRS Ninja PFD. It's a clean, simple and functional life jacket, that offers superior mobility even for world class paddlers like Dustin Urban. Since the Ninja has been on the market for quite a while, we thought that it would be good to talk to someone who has logged in a whole bunch of hours in the Ninja, on both a stand up paddle board, and in a whitewater kayak. Dustin was the first person that came to mind. Also,his paddling style defines the term "high mobility", which is an important factor in determining which PFD is right for you.
Dustin is no longer sponsored by any Paddlesports manufacturer. He's an independent pro boater that enters 3-4 competitions a year , and often cleans house when he competes (BV Pro-Am (3rd), Teva Mtn Games (3rd) and FIBArk (1st)); basically an off the couch world champ quality paddler. What PFD is Dustin wearing these days? He's got his choice of any out there...Dustin rocks the NRS Ninja US Freestyle Team Edition.
Here's a brief overview on the reasons why he (and and many others) wear this jacket:
HIGH MOBILITY PFD:In the words of Dustin, "Mobility is one of the single biggest factors on a vest". The Ninja has never felt cumbersome to him. This is not always the case with certain PFD's...It does not ride up, and allows the body to move in any direction it wants to go.
Torsional movement is easier in a high mobility PFD.
Another shot of Dustin testing the boundaries of the Ninja.
INTUITIVE ADJUSTMENTS / BUCKLES:Another key feature that pleased Dustin was the fact that you could take the jacket on and off without having to adjust it every single time. The adjustment buckles are right on the tightening straps, and do not need to be loosened when you take the vest off. I like to call this "set it and forget it technology".
Fastex buckles and an easy side entry. Set the fit once, and leave it like that for the season...
QUALITY CONSTRUCTION: Dustin also noted that The Ninja foam seemed to do well at elevation. Often times, PFD's will expand when they are shipped to locations like Buena Vista, which is 8,000 feet above average. Another reason that I wanted to talk to Dustin about the Ninja, is because I know that he has worn it more in the 1 year that he has owned it, than a lot of people wear their PFD's in a lifetime. He mentioned that he has only owned it for a year, but it has worn very well in that time period. Being Dustin's next door neighbor, I can vouch, that he's out on the water at least 3-4 days a week no matter what the flow. SUP, kayak or with his kids on the raft; he finds a way to spend as much time on the water as possible.
I also own a Ninja and noticed the same thing. For $129, it feels like a jacket that will last forever...I leave mine outside on the front porch, and have seen very little sun fade.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY:It's no secret that NRS is a huge company, and has much of their inventory made over seas. This is true with 99% of paddlesports vendors out there. They are using PVC free foam, which is a nice contribution to the environment, and ultimately the paddler wearing the jacket.
OFFICIAL JACKET OF THE US FREESTYLE TEAM:The Ninja was the official jacket of The US Freestyle Kayak Team. As a former team member (and hopefully someone we will see in 2013), Dustin was given one, but has since become unaffiliated and decided to keep on wearing it because it is very comfortable; not because anyone is requiring him to. In short, if the Ninja is good enough for a ripper like Dustin (and the rest of the US Team), it's most likely good enough for the consumer market...good enough and then some.
AWESOME FOR SUP:With low flows all summer, many Arkansas Valley based kayakers have morphed stand up paddlers. Dustin is included in this pool. With 16.5 lbs of float, the Ninja also doubles as a great SUP vest. If you've ever tried river surfing or SUP'ing, you know that the S in SUP should stand for SWIMMING. You spend as much time next to your board, as you do on it. "If you ain't fallin' you ain't haulin'"...That's the SUP motto.
Low water surfing in the Ninja
Rockin' the Ninja on The Badfish.
PRICE:The Ninja retails for $129.95. This is considered pretty close to entry level pricing. The Ninja however is NOT an entry level PFD. It's a high performance freestyle jacket, that can be used for everything except situations where a Type V rescue vest would be necessary. Maybe NRS will have a remedy for that in the near future. Hmmmmmm....wouldn't it be cool if you could get a Ninja with rescue capabilities....hmmmmm...
NO FRILLS:Part of the initial attraction of the Ninja, could also be seen as a drawback. This is a clean and functional vest, that lacks a lot of the bells and whistles of other jackets. If you are looking for a Swiss Army Kinfe as a PFD, the Ninja is not for you. It still has a front pocket, and a spot to stick your hands to keep them warm, but does not have much else (besides a great fit and huge range of motion)...
Dustin mentioned that the US Team jacket that he was issued did not have a front pocket. Do not fret, production models have a front pocket with a fastex buckle. Problem solved.
Overall, the Ninja rates as a top notch, high mobility vest, let alone the fact that it retails for $129.95. There's a good reason that this is one of the most popular whitewater PFD's at CKS, and also the official jacket of the US Freestyle Team. Paddlers with off the charts ability levels are able to move around as much as they want in the Ninja, which equates to real world paddlers having no qualms with it's mobility. I am personally a huge fan of the jacket, and had all of my thoughts and opinions validated when I talked to Dustin about the Ninja. If you want to save some money, but not necessarily sacrifice quality, mobility or comfort, put the NRS Ninja on the top of your list.
NOTE: Dustin has been reviewing paddlesports gear from the perspective of a world class, unaffiliated, unsponsored boater. He has reviewed many items that we sell here at CKS, and a few that we don't. If you are looking for a 100% unbiased view point on the latest paddling gear, check out his site. There's no one else out there that knows it better than him.
Register to win a free NRS Ninja along with over $2200 of SUP gear including a Badfish MCIT, Sweet helmet and shorts, Werner paddle, Astral Brewer shoes and a Kokatat SunCore top!http://woobox.com/jqve6w
As the crisp air settles in for Fall Paddling season with popular events such as Beaverfest, Gorefest, Gauley Fest and Russell Fork Rendevous, make sure you are prepared with the gear you’ll need to have to stay comfortable and support your team on the river! Here are a few recommendations from CKS Online's Lead Buyer, Jonny Ortiz.