Creek racing has become very popular in the last few years. With many paddlers feeling that slalom isn’t exciting enough, or perhaps falling too far away from grass roots recreational paddling, creek racing has now taken on a life of its own. This is due in no small part to the fact that it is accessible to everyone. There is no formal ranking system that prevents entry into competition or to hinder development. Put simply the best paddler on the day wins, whether they be a veteran of 20 years or a whipper snapper with only 3-4 years under their belt. It is this accessible attitude towards competition that has seen the creek racing scene rise, with some slalom paddlers abandoning their sport in favour of the bigger and more spectacular challenges available in the creek competitions.
The Austrian based Adidas Sick Line event is of course the most well known competition, followed closely by the GoPro Games (formally Teva), the Green Race, and the North Fork Championship to name but a few. At first racers were using whichever boat they felt could help them win. Then more boats that were geared towards this more aggressive style of paddling were released, such as the Zet Raptor. Not surprisingly manufacturers would like the prestige of their boat being paddled to victory. And so it is that boats are now being built purely to win races, especially now that most competitions have raised their restrictions on boat length to 9ft.
One of the most prominent examples of late is Pyranha’s 9R, a boat that has been designed with one purpose in mind. To win races.
The 9R is clearly a boat designed for racing, and this is borne out by the name. 9 means 9ft and R means race. On first viewing its extra length is clear to see. The hull is a narrow and flat bottomed with vertical side walls, which transfer into sharp edges at the bottom. Viewed from the top the hull reaches its widest point just behind the rear of the cockpit. A trait that apparently helps with stability when exiting from bigger drops when the boat might need to resurface. From the side the rocker is quite pronounced, almost on a par with the Waka Tuna. The parting line is relatively low causing me concern that water could load onto the deck in cross currents, and combined with quite vertical sidewalls it is plain to see that this is not a boat that has been designed to be forgiving. It has one purpose, to go fast, boof, and to hold a line.
The outfitting is the new Pyranha Connect C4S type. This outfitting is unfussy and comfortable. My only real gripes with it are that the foot block adjustment plate wing nut fixings use small washers, which would appear to be quite easy to lose in the field. I would also like to see some larger shim pockets on the hip pads to allow for thicker padding for thinner paddlers. Aside from this the outfitting works, and generally in a kayak the simpler the better.
The 9R has a solid plastic step out pillar, and like other Pyranha boats it has some finger grips on it to help with holding the boat while carrying it. The foot plate itself is solid plastic, but requires that the foam that is supplied with the boat is affixed to it to suit your leg length to make a good seal and prevent the possibility of foot entrapments resulting from a hard piton.
On the water
I had heard from others that the 9R was quite tippy. Although one persons tippy is someone elses stable! Having being used to a K1 slalom boat, there aren’t many creek boats that would match that for tippiness, and the 9R is no exception. Once on the water my initial thoughts, being at the lower end of its weight recommendation, were that it felt rather similar to the Burn in terms of edge to edge feel. Being a flat hulled boat with fairly vertical side walls means that its initial stability is actually very predictable.
At 5’8″ and 63kg I am on the small end of things for the boat. However I did not feel swamped by it, and I was mostly unaware of its length while I was on the water. There is plenty of foot room in the cockpit for larger paddlers, too.
I have not had an opportunity to test the 9R on really pushy or challenging water. The curse of waiting for rain while having to lead a life outside of boating. However I can offer my initial opinions of its handling, and the opinion of two other paddlers, thus allowing a short comparison between people with varying skill levels and a weight span between 63 kg up to 86 kg.
The 9R is certainly fast. I could attain it back up the flow in a similar fashion to my slalom boat, and in fact managed to attain it back up some sections in flow levels that I have thus far only ever managed previously in my K1. The 9R will also lock onto a line very well. However it is here that the type of paddler the 9R is aimed at becomes apparent. While it can hold a line, if you misjudge it or get caught out it is very hard to bring about a correction. The 9R is a boat that you need to set up early, point, and go. If you bimble, drift, or are not accurate and aggressive with the line that you want to take or the momentum that you offer it the 9R will not forgive you. Not least because those hard edges will catch, and so extra vigilance is required for crossing different types of water.
It accelerates well, and the nose rises up and through holes nicely. This is aided by the prominent “side fins” at the bow of the boat which are designed to help create bow lift on drop landings and through features. Although you might need to be careful of engaging them when entering eddies on edge.
On a couple of occasions I got caught out when crossing flow types and boils, perhaps due to these fins. I even got spun out mid flow once with the front end stopping dead while the back span around, leaving the photographer wondering what on earth I was doing! When trying the boat out he also found that he had trouble crossing mixed water types unless he really had his foot on the pedal. Another highly experienced paddler also came a cropper due to the edges too. As a result the edges on the 9R are something that you will have to learn and master in order to get the most out of it. I can say quite confidently that the 9R has a steeper learning curve than other similar boats on the market.
This is not necessarily a totally negative thing. This is a boat that is designed for more advanced paddlers and is most certainly not for beginners. Paddlers who like to learn the nuances of a boat will have a great time finding out the 9Rs secrets. But at its heart it must not be forgotten that this is a boat that has been designed to win races, and just like using a thoroughbred sports car on public roads using the 9R on a bimbly club trip might not be the best use of it! In fact it could well be an exercise in frustration.
The 9R is not for everyone. As a boat for beginners or nervous intermediates this is not the vessel for you. This is a boat that needs to be bossed around with aggressiveness and driven to where you want it to go. The edges can be unforgiving, and so they need to be mastered. In fact my mind is cast back to the types of aggressive boat that Corran Addison used to design, often ending up with kayaks that only he was capable of paddling well! The 9R isn’t quite as radical as those examples, but this is certainly a boat that will divide opinion and I would recommend extensive testing on different types of water if you can before committing to a purchase.
The Pyranha 9R review boat was supplied by Canoe and Kayak Store