As readers of this blog may or may not be aware, I have fairly recently started trying to do more in the way of play boating. Rivers have been very fickle as to when they fill up, and I like to boat throughout summer. I am still at the very beginning, so you won’t be seeing me throwing down some McNasty’s or whatever they are called any time soon! However I do want to get better, and the main reason for me doing so is to get much more relaxed under pressure and during my rolling. In short I don’t want to be apprehensive about going over, since I still have that anxiety. Play boating is one way to achieve that goal. Plus it is a lot of fun. As a result this review is from the point of view of someone who is a playboating novice. My most advanced move is currently a flat spin, and being able to get the boat vertical on the flat before falling flat on my face. Whahaay! Although I have paddled a fair few different models of this type of boat that I can offer a general comparison to.
Until recently I had an orange Dagger G Force 6.1. This one to be precise…
This was a lovely boat. I bought her to get better at learning to get vertical on flat water and get better at hole and wave surfing. I made a lot of progression in her. She was great, my girlfriend loved her, too. But niggles set in. I could bury the ends, but as a learner it was harder work than I would have liked, so I very reluctantly decided to sell her on to get a smaller boat that I could throw about more easily to get more immediate and speedy feedback.
I wish I had the room to have kept her. Such a shame. But things move on and I am now the proud owner of a shiny new Dagger Jitsu. I say new, but as fate would have it I bought him (Emily has decided that it is a “he”) secondhand. A used new boat anyone? The young owner deciding that he had no time to practice freestyle and stating that he preferred running rivers in bigger boats instead. He had never even taken the Jitsu on the water. It was in showroom condition, with all the manufacturers paperwork and the outfitting bags unopened! I got rather a bargain I have to say!
Playboats are a tricky thing for me. I am tall for my weight, meaning that quite often I have to use boats that are ever so slightly bigger than I would prefer so that I can actually fit in them. I had tried the 2Fun with the idea of having that as a river runner that I could play in. I still subscribe to that and I would still love to have one. But recently finances have not been amazing, so I embarked on a search for a used playboat. Emily got hold of a 2004 Jackson Star, which fits her perfectly, and it is a great boat. I was amazed to find that I could fit into it too. Just. Job done. Or so I thought. I couldn’t find one used for a realistic price anywhere, considering how old some of them are. Used kayaks sometimes command a rather ridiculous price level given how battered they often are. £300 for a thoroughly battered bit of plastic with half the outfitting falling off? C’mon guys!
The Jitsu thus presented itself, and I went for it. This review pertains to the smallest model, the 5.5. It is 5’6 long and 182l volume. That’s around 4 litres less than the G Force. But that volume is crammed into a much shorter hull than the one I am used to. Lets face it, the G Force is from a completely different generation, while the Jitsu, despite being a 3 year old design already, takes in many years of refining hull design. What this means is that the volume is better distributed, while still allowing some slice in the ends. The result after all of that is a small sized playboat that I can easily get my feet into!
I shouldn’t be surprised. James ‘Pringle’ Bebbington and Benny Marr apparently had a big say in the design. Two guys who are very tall, yet not overly heavy for their height. Playboat designers have seemingly found a way to have their cake and eat it. That said, while my feet are comfortable, I only needed the smallest amount of foam in the nose of the hull.
Now I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the Contour outfitting in its creek form. Boats such as the Mamba, and Wave Sport’s equivalent in boats such as the Recon, are very heavy as a result. Despite some great ideas being implemented. I much prefer the simplicity of manufacturers such as Zet. On the other hand, the simpler version of the Contour system that is in the Jitsu is quite impressive. One of the things I do dislike, particularly with playboats, is the Heath Robinson style approach that often needs to be applied. Foam, glue, all that stuff. The Contour outfitting solves all of this in one go.
Seat trim is adjusted with a single tool-less screw. The best part of this is that there is a marked gauge, which not only makes remembering positions easy, but it also shows precisely where the centre position is. Next up are the hip pads. These are very well padded and comfortable, and adding shims is a breeze. The detail that has been thought of extends to small areas of velcro that allow the straps to be tucked away neatly to stop them getting in the way.
A seat pad is also provided, which quickly slips under the seat cover to raise the seating position. But one of the most unique things about the Contour system is the knee raiser. Quite often people will glue all sorts of wedges to their seats to help support the legs. The Contour knee lifter ratchets the front of the seat up as high as you like to give total leg support. It works really well. The net benefit of all these features is that obtaining a really snug, but comfortable fit, can be achieved in minutes rather than with hours of messing around with shims and glue.
The backband is adjusted with the traditional use of ratchets. The thigh braces are the only aspect of the outfitting that I would like to see some development on. Currently each side requires removing or loosening three screws. As anyone who has owned a boat for a while will know, these often seize up over time, and they are also a potential area of water ingress. So in the future, particularly with a playboat, it would be great to see a similar advance in thigh brace design in the Dagger boats as there is for the seating.
It won’t be relevant for most people, but if you do need any foot braces, the foam system for the Jitsu has been designed so that pre-cut incrementally sized foam can be strapped together for quick and easy tuning. I found that I needed the very smallest piece in there, although I will be making up a heel brace to give my feet a little more support as I don’t want to be drilling scrappy looking holes in order to fix in some Happy Feet.
When I was looking to replace my G Force I had considered quite a number of different boats. In fact my original intention was to buy an old boat such as a 2007 Jackson Star. But finding one proved rather difficult. A few different options did come up, such as a very good condition Molan. But I read mixed reports about them. The Jitsu was suggested to me by a very experienced play boating friend of mine. I was apprehensive since I was nearing the top of the weight for the small. But reassurance on forums from people like Lowri Davies and Simon Morse helped cement my decision.
The Jitsu is short. The small version is 5’6″ long. Yet to look at it, the lines are very much in proportion. The front is admirably slicey where it needs to be, culminating in a fair amount of volume around the cockpit. There’s a nice amount of rocker up front too which I would imagine help alleviate any issues of pearling. The rear end too offers slightly more slice than some other modern play boats. Again with a nice amount of volume near the cockpit. The stern has a fairly low rocker profile. It is this that makes the short Jitsu hull perform with the speed of a longer one while surfing. It should also help mitigate any unintentional back ending while running rivers.
The rails are quite pronounced, and the edges fairy sharp. As you can see, the hull is fairly wide near the seating position, and stays fairly wide all the way to the stern. The edges, while sharp, are raised quite substantially above the rails. The effect of this is a hull that can carve really nicely when required, but will release easily to become loose for spins and the like. It also has the effect of making the hull fairly forgiving while ferrying and during general paddling.
First test on the water
I commenced my first test of the Jitsu at the place where it will most likely be used the most, Cardiff International White Water. I was really looking forward to it. The water had warmed up considerably compared to the previous weeks and the sun was shining! Compared to the 2004, 2007 Stars, and the 2014/2015 Rock Stars I have tried, the Jitsu has a lot more foot room. I know people say that comfort is not a trait that they look for in a play boat, but if you can be comfortable, then why not? This was a big plus for me while paddling the Jitsu. Not once during my first day in it did I have any sort of pins and needles or cramps. In fact I was more comfortable in the Jitsu than I am in my Zet Veloc! And It wasn’t as if I wasn’t locked in either. The outfitting was so quick and easy to adjust that it fitted like a glove right from the off.
That wide, flat hull felt nicely progressive from edge to edge. The Jacksons I had tried, bar the 2012 Rock Star, felt very twitchy on their primary stability. At 63kg without kit, approaching the upper end of the recommended Jitsu 5.5 weight, the boat felt perfect, and according to observers had plenty of floatation. Once I had established that my seat position and trim was good to go, I decided to ease into things in the course exit wave.
The initial ferry across felt great with no surprises. No catching of edges or sterns. My first impression of taking it onto the wave was one of “wow!” This might sound like a thoroughly idiotic thing to say of a play boat given what it was designed to do, but this boat can surf! Despite its short length it is very fast on a wave, and certainly very loose when I wanted it to be. Bring the edges into play and it carves quite predictably. This is in stark contrast to the G Force which did not release anywhere near so easily. I also found that I wasn’t getting flushed off the wave as much as other boats. If it dropped back the volume in the rear seemed to squirt it back into the best position again. Whether I’m imagining it or not I don’t know, but that’s what it felt like!
Something else I noticed compared to most other boats I have tried is that I could really feel the water on the bottom of the hull. There isn’t much flex in the Jitsu hull, and so this stiffness really does seem to offer a level of feedback and feel that I have not experienced in a boat before other than a carbon slalom boat. It’s a really good feeling.
As I had hoped I was also able to get the ends down bit more easily on the flat than my old G Force. So I shall be making a concerted effort this year to progress this area of my paddling.
Once on the white water course itself I found the Jitsu to be very balanced while going “down river”. It isn’t fast generally, you wouldn’t expect it to be, but it is a nice boat to paddle in general terms with no nasty surprises. In fact I was taken aback at how well it went through features. It kept up its momentum really well without stalling out. I briefly tried out a loop at Camera Wave. The result was predictable. I have never done a loop, and I can confirm that this boat will not give you magical skills! However it did roll back up nicely after I landed on my face, and It did go really nicely on the feature on the last corner of the course. A wave I often struggle to get on. Maybe the Jitsu gave me a boost of courage, I don’t know! What I do know is that there was minimal pearling in all the surfing I tried out.
That the Jitsu is established as a boat for experts is a given. There are newer boat designs around, but the Jitsu is currently Daggers freestyle option. It is a three year old design that I think may become a classic. As far as I am concerned it works just as well for novices as it does for world competitors. If you are never going to be on Team GB, the Jitsu has more than enough performance to last a lifetime.
It looks great, it has wonderful hull performance so far as this freestyle beginner can tell, and unlike many other freestyle boats you will get out of it at the end of the day still being able to feel your feet!