I had to sell on my Dagger Juice 6.9. A boat that had such a nice hull, but that I simply could not get comfortable in. In the mean time I am using a borrowed Bliss Stick RAD 185 for play duties, although it is slightly too big for me. My attention returned to focus on replacing my Bliss Stick Mini Mystic for bigger river runs.
I like longer boats. They allow for a different kind of paddling to playboats on a river run. I know some come in for stick for taking a hulking great creeker on a river like the Dee, but having a boat that can handle the really knarly stuff while allowing some fast jet ferries and other slalomy style moves on milder grade 2/3 water is pretty good fun in itself!
I have now dabbled with every boat suggestion thrown at me. I tried the Juice, which as I mentioned I had to sell due to comfort reasons. I tried the Dagger Axiom, but discounted it because of a complete lack of storage space for safety gear on winter runs. I know people do Dart runs in such a boat, but quite where people are stowing their gear is a mystery to me! I have tried a Magnum 72, which although a lower volume than the boat I will review in just a moment, actually felt a bit too floaty for me. I also had a go in the new 2012 Dagger Mamba. I didn’t get on with this too well either. Even though I was in the smaller version I still felt like I was hovering above the water rather than connected to it. I also felt like the Mamba needed to be driven constantly. It was no boat to take your time in. That’s just the way I felt anyhow, rightly or wrongly.
Then one evening a couple of weeks ago a friend offered me the use of his Wave Sport Habitat 74. It was only a mild g2/3 run on the Mill Falls section of the River Usk in South Wales. In most boats I get into for the first time I always need to get acclimatised to them. The Habitat was a notable exception as I immediately felt at home in it. The other guys I was paddling with all commented after the run how comfortable I looked in the boat.
I was able to confidently do things that in my previous boat, the Mini Mystic, I would never try. The Habitat 74 was a boat that made me feel confident, and from that point onwards I knew I had to have one.
With my 12 month old Mini Mystic only reaching a paltry £230 on eBay I wasn’t left with many funds. A new boat was out of the question, so I embarked on a search for a used Habitat. After much digging a few options came up, but they were either deformed in the hull with dents, or were the larger 80 model. Brookbank had one for sale, a bit scuffed, but structurally sound. Eventually the price was reduced and I went for it.
The outfitting was in excellent condition. This boat has probably only ever seen action on G3 maximum, and possibly places like Cardiff. It’s almost as if nobody has ever sat in the seat!
The seat was set all the way back, and I decided to leave it there as this is what most have recommended on the Wave Sport forums for this boat. The thigh braces are excellent.They are padded so they do not dig into the legs like some others. They also wrap right around to the outside eliminating the need to add in extra blocks on the side walls.
I’ll need a few more runs to confirm the positioning of everything, and then I’ll need to foam out the foot plate. I probably won’t run any major drops in my kayaking career, but it is as well to reduce the risk of ankle damage in a piton just in case.
While adjusting the boat I have been mindful this time of allowing freedom for hip rotation to help with torso activation during strokes. Torso rotation is something that I have been working on a lot recently, or at least trying to.
Sitting in the Habitat the seating is extremely comfortable. The best thing is that I didn’t get any hint of pins and needles, or even any sort of leg ache. This is the first boat I have been able to feel totally connected to while at the same time having freedom of movement. No silly DIY messing with minicell foam, just the standard outfitting that came with the boat.
The back rest unclips from it’s rear ties and comes forward a fair amount allowing a lot of room to stuff things into the back of the boat. Part of my criteria was to have a boat that would be easier to stow a DSLR in a Ocoee bag.
Performance wise I am not experienced enough as a paddler to comment on nuances in really steep creeks. I’ll leave that to people who know what they are talking about like Simon Westgarth and co. However from the perspective of an intermediate paddler like myself who goes mainly on grade 2,3 and 4 runs I can say that the Habitat is a real confidence booster. It has fast edge to edge speed without being twitchy and unstable feeling. It’s a very progressive transition.
I found the Habitat to behave well in boily water. There are no edges to catch. Although it is a displacement hull there are some rails that start about halfway back along the hull, much like the Riot Magnum and the new Fluid Bazooka. Engaging these allows for nice carving turns into eddies, and I would imagine help with ferries as well.
For rolling the Habitat is an extremely easy boat to handle. Be careful, it could make you lazy with your roll! I literally only have to think about coming back up and then it does! So easy is this boat to roll that when I first got in it I could very easily have gone straight back over to the other side. This might be a good boat to learn a roll in, but I say that with the caveat that it could also hide bad technique!
While it is good to practice in a boat that is less forgiving, when it comes to a nice safe river run the Habitat 74 is a boat I am extremely happy to rely on. It rolls easily, it is extremely comfortable to sit in, the hull isn’t phased easily by funny water, it has a good turn of speed and good manoeuvrability. Just like the Riot Magnum the Habitat is a boat that I feel is quite underrated and has not received the same sort of exposure as the Burns and Zet Raptors of this world. If you are in the market for a creeker take a look at the Wave Sport Habitat. You won’t be disappointed!