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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.