Monday, 27 May 2019

Soul, baby...

It's past Easter, and in the northern hemisphere that means more people start to think about the upcoming watersports season. For me and my whitewater tribe there's no off season - in Britain, unusually, the whitewater boating happens in the rainy (ten) months of the year, most of which are concentrated in the autumn and winter. But for most people, now is the time. Now that we've got the snow (!) out of the way, it's the season to dust off the toy cupboard and realise that the correct number of boats to have is always n+1, where n is the number you have already...
I'm excited about the new crop of slicey playboats, like the Mixmaster and whatever Shane's called the LL boat I said he should call Slicey McSliceface. But I'm getting a Soul 303 and F Bomb, for reasons that may become clear if you read to the bottom.
My daughter, on the other hand, is three years old. She knows nothing of slicey, of three-dimensional hydro-gymnastics or anything else of that ilk. She just wants to float in wonder, look at ducks, and bounce over little waves shouting "Wheeeee!" So I got her the Terrible Two (tandem whitewater kayak) and the Minime (toddler upwards kayak). Here's my experience of them.
I knew the Minime was going to be small but I didn't picture quite how small. It's tiny! But as soon as my 2yr old got in (she got it for her 2nd birthday) I could see that she was only just big enough to paddle it and won't grow out of it for years, maybe not until she's eight. It is a beautifully made boat with great styling and graphics and simple yet effective outfitting drawn from Corran's own experience with his kid. It looks at first glance as if it's a playboat, with a planing hull and rocker breaks, but the overall volume and its distribution is more practical than that. I reckon it will look after the little ones when they finally transition to solo white water boating. The really magic feature though, is the flip down skeg. At the flip of a switch the long skeg swings straight down and keeps the tiny ones, who initially paddle entirely in sweep strokes, from the frustration of zig-zags. The skeg kicks up easily if they paddle into shallow water.
It's hard to picture what kind of paddle a little person is going to need so we got a supercheap (£7) plastic thing online to get started, knowing that it can break down into oars for her raft or be modified to make a better paddle. It was too long and too thick so I transplanted the blades onto a bit of plumbing pipe and we continued to experiment at low cost. Currently she has a wooden squirt-stick style paddle I made out of a broom handle and some plywood!
Initially though, she was much happier going out in the tandem Terrible Two with Daddy. The TT is very different from whitewater doubles like the Topo Duo / Dynamic Duo. The front cockpit is the same as the Minime, which works as a big open cockpit for a toddler but will soon work to brace and roll with a spraydeck on as they get bigger. The volume has been distributed accordingly. Because of this, it doesn't paddle like the Duos. Those boats are reminiscent of end cockpit C2's with a big effort by both paddlers required to make the moves. In the TT the boat turns around a point somewhere under the rear paddler's knees, which means that it can be controlled entirely from the rear with good effect. As someone who paddles pretty much in a constant bow rudder/draw/scull//pull fusion on rapids, I appreciate that a lot. I'd be happy to put a cockpit cover on the front and paddle grade 4 in this boat. When the munchkin is in the front it makes little difference to me - I just wouldn't take her down big rapids for her sake. Grab handles for the front paddler are a cool feature though. If she gets alarmed she can drop her paddle and grab these - Brace! Brace! Brace!
On the side is what I call the "suitcase" handle. Basically I can just pick up the boat and carry it like a suitcase. Which brings us to weight. It's not heavy. The yellow ones are a bit lighter than the others. The TT comes in at 19kg. That's awesome. Because realistically I will be carrying that and all my kit, plus the Minime in the other hand, probably, whilst my babygirl toddles alongside.
Finish. Most plastic kayaks look a bit disappointing, in my view. Like something that fell out of a Christmas cracker, but with a mysteriously stratospheric price tag. These boats are quite simple but so nicely finished, with a mix of shiny and textured areas, great 3d graphics, and handles and fittings that look very robust and high quality. The moulded outfitting for the standard seat is attractive and functional. The kid's seat looks a bit simple and thin/cheap, but it's in effect a baby power-seat, and doesn't need to be heavy to support a child's weight, and allows us to stick foam pads in there to stop small people from falling to one side of the boat. It adjusts fore/aft and up/down without tools.


Other brands are available. They just don't make boats for toddlers.