Review: The Pyranha Ripper is one of the most talked about white water kayaks at the moment, and it would appear to be flying out the doors at a rate of knots. Is it worthy of the hype, and what’s it like to paddle for people who’s name isn’t Bren Orton, Kyle Hull, or David Fussilli?
Old is the new new
It was only a matter of time. White water kayaking until fairly recently hasn’t been truly old enough to have trends come around full circle. This is because truly mass market roto-moulded kayaks weren’t really available until the mid-late 80’s. Until then, kayakers were predominantly using fibreglass boats.
It took until the mid-2000’s before white water kayak design truly matured, with several distinct categories of boat after a lot of experimentation produced lots of weird and whacky designs in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. Playboats became ever shorter, and creek boats gained ever more volume. But overall, boats, whatever their category, were a lot shorter than those of old.
These days we see creek boats with flat hulls, whereas in the past they were all much more rounded. Today there is an emphasis on more aggressive paddling style all round, and this is reflected in the hull designs we now see. Modern short playboats aren’t for everyone, and big creek boats can be, let’s face it, limiting in scope (read fun) when used on the types of grade 3 rivers that a large proportion of UK paddlers run. For some, the older style of freestyle and river running boats such as the RPM, Blade, and even relics like the Sabre, which were longer and slicier, are more in tune with what they want.
More recently Liquid Logic truly kick started a desire to re-evaluate the longer designs of old and bring them up to date with the Braap and Party Braap. Both designs are lauded as being some of the best of recent years. But they lack one feature that a lot of modern paddlers would prefer. A flatter hull with carvy rails. A counter to this are the boats from Corran Addison’s Soul Kayaks, which now contains a number of very long, slicey, high performance products. However there is one UK based boat that is taking the kayaking world by storm. Enter the Pyranha Ripper.
The Ripper has been getting a lot of attention in the last few months, for good reason. It’s a boat that promises to be one you can paddle just as safely on a class 5 run as you can playing the river on class 2 and 3. It’s a tall promise to make. But from many accounts this is precisely what Pyranha have achieved. A boat for all occasions. One that will teach you a lot, but will carry you through to advanced water without holding you back.
So what’s the Ripper like in the hands of, err, shall we say, someone who is rather less capable than the uber dudes we see throwing the boat down rivers like the Little White? Let’s find out.
The Ripper is long. Not as long as the 10ft+ norms of old, but one thing that stands out about it is that no matter which size you opt for, they are all 9ft long. This puts the small version at a potential slight advantage in the hands of someone with a very high power/weight ratio because it is narrower than the other sizes, yet is the same length. Potentially the small Ripper could be the fastest!
In fact one reason of many that I like the Ripper is that Pyranha opted to keep the length the same across all sizes.
The hull uses some cues from the 9R such as some of the rocker profile and the wave deflectors at the bow. The Ripper has some quite sizeable volume up front, while the tail is, clearly long and low volume, demonstrating clearly the fun potential of this boat.
The bottom of the hull isn’t truly flat. There is some rounding off, making the Ripper a slightly more ‘friendly’ design than the 9R, which had some very slab sided edges. The dual rail design should also mean that the edges won’t catch aggressively.
The Ripper comes with Pyranha’s latest Stout 2 outfitting. For more connectivity, and for the fact that I like the outside of my leg supported just as much as the inside, I opted to have the optional Hooker attachments. In short these are much like the Bliss Stick thigh grips and are much more adjustable and useful than the default ones. They also have a nice spongey feel for comfort.
Being a custom colour I went all swanky and had anodised handles and a lovely red trim around the seat. Such details will, after all make the boat go faster.
The seat appears to have a lot of support. And I was glad to see that the back of it raises up ‘bucket’ style.
The hip pads on the latest Stout 2 outfitting are much softer and better shaped than Pyranha’s previous boats. They also fix in much more nicely using heavy duty velcro in addition to an easy to tighten buckled strap.
The central track contains ample room for a throwline and a bottle. Up front is a solid plastic step out pillar, indicating that this is not simply a boat aimed at grade 3 fun. This pillar also has the famed Pyranha hand grip moulded in for ease of carrying.
Ease of adjustment
I have previously criticised the outfitting on Pyranha boats for containing too many screws and bolts. The Stout 2 outfitting has gone a long way to simplifying things. It isn’t perfect, but better.
Seat shims can be placed under the seat cover by undoing three clip screws. Easy enough. The hip pads too are loosened off easily for more shims to be placed inside. Adjusting the fore and aft position of the seat still involves undoing two side plates on the hull, and placing the components back again once the seat has been adjusted to your liking can still be finicky and could involve swearing.
Likewise placing the foot block foam on the footrest involved some trimming to size. There is an outline of the shape you might need to cut to, but as with a lot of these things you will need to try it in the boat, pull it out again, trim, wash, rinse, repeat. Once done though the foot block is comfortable and primed to absorb any frontal impact. Just make sure you put the airbag or whatever extra flotation you are using behind it before you attach it! If you forget it isn’t the end of the world, but you’ll find it easier if you do it beforehand.
Initial impressions on the water
The Ripper is a fairly narrow boat, especially the small size at 23″ width, which might lead some to think that it is very tippy, like a slalom boat. But in fact the reality is that the boat is very balanced, and has a very smooth edge to edge transfer. Quick, but not twitchy.
When I first tried a Ripper, like a lot of people my main concern was what that tail was going to do. But there was nothing to fear. The tail is not grabby. All it takes is good edge awareness, which is something a boat like this teaches you. But on the occasions where I went into boils and the tail did catch, all it does is sink it a bit, which is very easy to control out of. In other words you are unlikely to power flip unless you get things very wrong. And for those of you who out there who like to make excuses not to paddle this sort of boat because of ‘tail fear’, that sort of mistake would put you off balance even in your big bathtub creeker.
The Ripper is fast. Very fast. It is fast up to speed, and it really glides once it’s there. This is the stuff I really miss ever since I sold my slalom boat. In fact its turn of speed is really quite staggering. Before I knew it I was doing the sorts of attainments I could only manage previously in my now sold slalom kayak. Obviously I’m not going to be achieving the same sort of attainments an expert slalomist can (I only dabbled in slalom and I was really quite rubbish at it), but it is great to know I can now practice this stuff in my primary river boat.
The Ripper has a lot of secondary stability. As I mentioned it is quick edge to edge, but it can hold very solidly around an 80 degree angle with ease. You will generally never need that much edge, but it’s another reassurance. This is a very sporty boat, but it doesn’t hold any nasty surprises.
A fair few readers I know stick with their creek boats because they think a boat such as the Ripper will back end them if they go through a decent sized stopper. Such misconceptions stem from older boats such as the RPM, and even more modern boats such as the Axiom, which is a much shorter, slower, and far less rockered boat than the Ripper.
I don’t know how Pyranha did it, but the Ripper doesn’t get hung up when going through features. Somehow it squirts through, fully stable as it does so. The generous front rocker allows it easily ride over things, much like most modern creek boats. But the rocker profile in general allows for easy boofing as well.
Reviews of white water kayaks often come in for a ribbing for using phrases such as “It boofs like a dream”. However the Ripper really does boof easily. Then there’s the speed. The Ripper is so fast that this is also a big factor in how it can fly through and over features. As a result it is quite a confidence inspiring boat.
Did I mention that it is very fast?
The Ripper paddles extremely well as a river runner then. What about its play prowess in the hands of a less than stellar playboater?
Performing tail squirts/tailies in the Ripper, and other similar long boats, requires a slightly different technique to the short playboats. Things go much slower, and you need to be much more edge aware, ‘flying’ the tail under the water more gradually than you would in a stumpy boat. It took me a few goes to get the knack, and even now I’m hardly perfect. But when I got the timing and the strokes right, the Ripper pirouetted beautifully. Bren Orton’s highly useful video on the subject helped me along greatly with this. You will need good technique and timing, but it’s a lot of fun.
This review is starting to sound rather sycophantic, but at the risk of it becoming even more so, when it comes to surfing waves the Ripper is just ridiculously good. The hull is so fast that it seems to want to surf absolutely everything, no matter how small! In fact on occasion where I have had my angle slightly wrong on a ferry I have found myself surfing on a wave that in most other boats that I’ve been in I wouldn’t have even thought surfable! So a reassurance there that if you cock up, the Ripper allows you the benefit of making it look like you did it on purpose, and did it with style! 😉
Changing the way you think
One thing the Ripper will certainly do is make you change the way you look at the river. In a creek boat new and creative lines are opened up when the water becomes bigger and more confused. A boat like the Ripper opens up a slalom like creativity on all grades. That tail, far from being simply for making the river more playful for getting vertical, is also a manoeuvrability tool.
Slalom boats are designed as they are for a reason. When you have a such a long boat how do you make tight turns into the slalom gates? How do you run tightly staggered zig-zag gate set-ups? The answer is that you actively make the hull shorter, and you do this by dipping the tail.
The low volume tail on the Ripper opens up a load of possibilities, from quick stern dip turns, to pivots mid flow for direction changes, and fast, tight continuous eddy hopping using quick stern dip turns.
The sheer speed of the Ripper means that attainments are much easier. This opens up moves that might not be possible in shorter boats due to the confidence you can instil in ending up where you want to be.
The Ripper, no doubt will go down in white water kayaking folk lore as an all time classic. Having a quiver of boats is still usually a good idea, because, well, because. But if you did have to own only one boat, currently the Ripper should be it. If you are new or an intermediate and you are eying up a creek boat, just forget it. Unless you are running the steeps on a day to day basis, you need a Ripper. If you consider yourself advanced, but have only ever owned a creek boat. Get a Ripper. For everyone else, just buy a Ripper!
|Length||274cm / 9′||274cm / 9′||274cm / 9′|
|Width||59cm / 23″||62cm / 24.5″||63cm / 25″|
|External Cockpit Length||95cm / 37.5″||95cm / 37.5″||97cm / 38″|
|External Cockpit Width||50cm / 19.5″||50cm / 19.5″||54cm / 21″|
|Volume||216l / 57gal(US)||235l / 62gal(US)||271l / 72gal(US)|
|Weight||20kg / 44lb||20kg / 44lb||21kg / 46lb|
|Optimum Paddler Weight||40-75kg / 88-165lb||65-90kg / 143-198lb||75-125kg / 165-275lb|