Moving Up and Getting Down: A Case for Different Boats and Different Sizes

It’s no secret: I love my Diesel 60. Seriously, I’ve spent so much time in that boat, I feel like I think what I want it to do and it responds. It was the boat I learned to roll in and remains my go-to craft any time I’m hopping on something new, namely because I know how to move it better than anything else I paddle. When I found out I was going to be getting in a creek boat for the first time when we headed down to Chile, I was reluctant to hop in something that might give me false feedback and let me get away with boating that I shouldn’t.

Long story, short: I got so used to the Recon 70 that getting back in my Diesel and creeking in something with low volume and aggressive edges came with much trepidation. “Hey, Lydia! I’m your Edges… nice to see you again!” … as I catch one and promptly tump over in the middle of a manky rapid.

I maintain a high virtue for a boat with edges and getting comfortable in it on a wide variety of whitewater; there remains no other type of boat I’d prefer on big water that gives me as much speed and responsiveness, and I love to creek in it for the same reason. But as I venture into more complicated paddling- rivers that are more continuous with more obstacles and, thus, require more reactive paddling- I find myself torn between forgiveness and response. Is there a middle ground?

When I first started kayaking, I was a good 15 pounds above the recommended weight suggestions for the Diesel 60, but it fit me well enough and I was comfortable in it. As my body and my paddling have evolved in the past few months, I find myself floating the 60 higher but more capable of moving around more boat. Again, I battle: do I want quickness or stability?

The first time Chris suggested I hop in the Diesel 70, I scoffed and dismissed him. Part of me was resistant to the idea of paddling a larger boat simply because of the implications: do I not fit in my 60?! Preposterous. After a while, I began contemplating what I might gain from hopping in the next size up: more resurfacing, a bit more volume, and more speed. I wouldn’t lose any maneuverability or familiarity with design, either. It was time to test this out.

All I have to say is that the Diesel was designed to move laterally in current. It might be talked to death, but this boat is damn fast and responsive, and I can make moves in it without hesitation that would take much more planning beforehand in any other boat. I appreciated that the 70 still has a very accessible edge, much like the 60, but resurfaces so much more comparatively. Now, I had time to throw in a low brace or fully drop an edge to carve rather than simply catching it and being upside down before I know what happened. It had all the familiarity and accessibility of the 60 but with a bit more power.

Regardless of what designs you prefer, don’t forget that you can paddle different sizes of your favorite designs as well as different makes and models. When you’re out trying new boats, hop in the next size up or down and get a feel for the nuances of the design. You might be surprised to find that you can handle more boat than you thought or become capable of throwing a smaller boat around better than you realized; it all has its application. For me, acclimating with the Diesel 70 makes me feel like I don’t have to choose between my “river runner” and my “creek boat;” now, I have another option when considering a new run and the character of the river. What’s more is that boat designers don’t just scale a design up or down when creating different sizes; they’re actually redesigning each size, making each size slightly different in terms of paddling qualities.

We get used to accepting information in nice, neat, compartmentalized ways: “This is the size boat I paddle because this is where I fall on the weight range. This is the kind of design I have to paddle because this is the kind of whitewater I frequent.” Such guidelines are useful as, well, guidelines. These suggestions make for great lines toward understanding and accessibility, but do not have to be the be-all, end-all to how we approach kayaking. Next time you’re out demoing a new boat, try as many sizes as you can and figure out how the sizing affects how you relate to the water; a small size becomes more playful whereas a larger size might offer more speed or stability. You might surprise yourself to find you’ve found a brand new boat in a familiar old design.

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