As the SNEWS Team has traveled the byways and backcountry over the last couple of years, we have heard the comment that whitewater kayaking is going the way of windsurfing.
Too many SKUs, obsolete inventory, popular media's portrayal of the sport as a fringe activity and boat designs that do not exactly lend themselves to casual river experiences have all contributed. Several companies have addressed the boat design issue by coming out with extremely user friendly boats that are superb boats for beginners to learn the fundamentals in, and very capable river runners for competent paddlers. At this year's Summer Market, Liquidlogic threw its hat into the ring with the Hoss.
Liquidlogic entered the market in 2001 with the Session -- a slicey playboat with an extremely loose hull that was also an acceptable river runner, if you were willing to really drive the boat 100 percent of the time. Since the Session, Liquidlogic has focused on specialty designs for park 'n play, big water and creeking. Most of the company's designs have been spot on, and a general river runner has been eagerly awaited by a devoted following.
At 7 feet, 10 inches and 70 gallons of volume, the Hoss is bulbous and extremely roomy. Our size 9 tester reported that he was able to comfortably paddle the Hoss with all manner of footwear -- even trail running shoes. Given the boat's volume and roomy cockpit outfitting becomes even more important. Liquidlogic provides a killer assortment of adhesive backed, upholstered pads with the Hoss that attach to the seat as easily as a Post-it note. Our tester noted that without the outfitting, the Hoss was "difficult to drive and a pig to roll." With the addition of a few pads the boat was "rollomatic," allowing effortless hand rolls to either side.
Liquidlogic has also molded places to clip dry bags into the rear of the seat -- although their existence does not jump out at you initially and you have to go looking for them your first time out.
It was also noted that on dry land the Hoss feels like a creek boat. The boat's huge volume is evenly distributed and it looks like it would be a cork on a steep creek. Turn the Hoss over and the story changes dramatically. A well-defined flat hull, pronounced rocker breaks and hard release edges indicates that this hull is loose. Our tester found that to be the case and commented that the Hoss was as loose as most playboats. It slices up waves and encourages flat spins 'til the cows home -- but don't expect this boat to throw down. The Hoss was not designed to go vertical.
Where the Hoss really shines is for its intended purpose -- as an all round river runner. Its loose hull allows play and its huge volume inspires confidence. Our tester reported that the hard release edges, which contribute to a boat's play ability, were noticeable on pushy, large volume water, but hardly debilitating. The Hoss is also one of a few boats currently sold that you can confidently get into as a first boat and keep in your quiver no matter how advanced your skill level. It will allow timid beginner paddlers to develop their fundamental boating skills without stern squirting every time they cross an eddy line. Unlike the edgier all river boats of a few years ago, the Hoss is very capable of easing an aspiring paddler into the world of river running, provide them with an outstanding experience and coming back for more. And that is the real beauty of it.
Liquidlogic certainly had first time paddlers and instructors in mind when designing the Hoss. Three well-placed grab bars, produced for Liquid Logic by Black Diamond, are mounted on the rear deck. The very aft grab bar is perpendicular to the boat's keel line, and provides a more sensibly placed handle for rescue situations. The other two grab bars are located just aft of the cockpit rim and are positioned so that a swimmer can climb up on the back deck and hold on.
On the down side, our tester noted that the Hoss' water bottle holder will only accommodate standard-sized bicycle water bottles. However, with hydration systems breaking into the paddlesports arena, we anticipate that "in-boat" water bottles will become vestigial pieces of equipment. Performancewise, the hull is not as fast as the river runners of yesteryear, such as the RPM. Of course, at 7 feet, 10 inches, no one is expecting the Hoss to be blazingly fast, and the RPM couldn't flat spin like the Hoss either -- even on a good day.
Boat manufacturers seem to be sitting up and taking notice of the need for more comfortable, user-friendly boats. We suspect that your average person looking for a whitewater boat is more interested in a pleasant river experience than throwing down in Hell Hole. For years Pyranha has had the H2 and now has the newly redesigned H3. Wave Sport will intro a similar boat this spring and our tester is paddling a composite prototype of that boat as you are reading this. The Hoss is the newest addition to an evolving breed of boats designed to help people comfortably ease into whitewater, from a manufacturer that is highly respected for its superb designs.
SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping. (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $995
For more information:www.liquidlogickayaks.com 828-698-5778