Wilko's Kayak history

Kayak History

Prijon T-Slalom

My first year in a kayak was in a Prijon T-Slalom. It was because I was told by the more experienced members of my student paddling club (Okawa) that it was the only kayak I could fit in. That's complete bollox of course. I broke the club swim record that year, flipping well over a hundred times, and doing well over sixty wet exits. I did my first week in the Alps in that T-Slalom, running quite a bunch of class III and IV(+) stretches on the Sesia and Sermenza rivers in Italy. A picture of me running the Piode waterfall in that red T-Slalom can be found on the pictures pages. I flipped forty times in five days, and swam ten times in four days. A very bad swim in a steep but shallow class IV rapid scared me into not paddling for several months after that.

I liked the room I had inside the T-Slalom. Even with long legs and relatively big feet, I had plenty of room. The problem with the T-Slalom is that it tends to track like it runs on rails. I tended go down a rapid along the shortest distance between two points, i.e. a straight line. I prefer to have something more manouverable and less fast. Still, I ran my first class IV stuff in one of these boats.

Length 3,75m, width 60cm, volume 300 liter, weight 19kg, big keyhole cockpit

Prijon Invader

After that first year, I got frustrated by the lack of manouverability of the T-Slalom, so I squeezed myself into a Prijon Invader instead. I liked that boat a lot better, so I boldly took it out (during our reunion with the group from Italy) in very high waves in the North Sea surf... No-one told us that we had gale force winds that day, so I did the mother of all windowshades before being forced to bail out in the middle of the braking waves. That would be my last swim for several years.

The Invader is more manouverable than the T-Slalom, but it's still a long boat by modern standards. In our student club it was considered to be the best boat available, so the more experienced members usually paddled one. I liked it better than the T-Slalom, but since the cockpit was shorter I had difficulties getting in and out without scratching my shins. The Invader was a step in the right direction, although it still favours running rapids through sets of rather straight lines (from eddy to eddy). I paddled the first model Invader, with a seperate black plastic cockpit rim. Several years later I got one of these boats from RBP'er Chris Walters. I paddled it down a couple of familiar runs, appreciating the skill involved in running tight technical stuff in one of these. My Invader has now moved on to the student paddling club. I just didn't use it any more. If you enjoy doing class I/II stuff with a boat that tracks well, it sure is a nice boat, made of bombproof plastic, which can be had for almost nothing.

Length 3,35m, width 60cm, volume 280 liter, weight 19kg, big keyhole cockpit

Eskimo Diablo

In the student paddling club I wanted a boat of my own, in part because I was starting to feel the limitations of the Invader, but also because we had only four Invaders in the club, and at least a dozen people who wanted to use them. I got a good deal on an Eskimo Diablo, so that became my first ever boat. Within our club I was frowned upon, getting such a revolutionairy design (the Diablo had been out for a year at least!). I became a member of a second club (de Genneper Molen) as well, and quickly met a couple of paddling buddies there, who also paddled (new) Diablo's. We went paddling together regularly, and I found that I could run just about everything in my Diablo. That summer I ran my first class V rapid (see the picture of my Diablo on the "Steps of the Guil") and I ran it cleanly. I had a very bad swim during that same holiday, having a swamped Invader landing on top of me at the bottom of a drop, while I was trying to get the boat to shore. I ended up getting a huge swelling on my upper right leg and badly damaging some muscles. It didn't stop me from paddling my second class V rapid on the Gyronde river later that week, although I couldn't walk decently for three more months.

The years after that, we went to the French Alps again, where I ran some fun rivers in flood, and I started paddling in Austria and Slovenia, finding the Diablo to be a great allround boat. The problem was that by now I was running ever more difficult stuff, and the risks were also becoming every greater. The peak came when I ran the stretch of Rosanna river just before the Wolf's gorge. It was the steepest I have ever run, with a stream bed filled with rebar and railroad rails. One of my buddies tore a long crack in his kayak on that rebar, and the two of them setup safety while I ran the crux of the rapids. I aced the lines, and felt very confident. After we took out, we noticed a cross next to the river. Someone had died there. Later we found that this part of the river was officially closed. Oops! I started to worry about where my paddling was taking me now.

What I like about the Diablo is the widely spaced thigh braces. Unlike the T-Slalom, Invader and Hurricane (its closest rival), the Diablo handles a lot better because of those thigh braces. I paddled both the new "evolution" and old model, with the difference being mainly the lack of 15 cm's in the new model. I found it slightly harder to surf the new model, because it wants to purl the big round nose, unlike the slightly longer and sharper ended old model.

Length 3,00m, width 61cm, volume 250 liter, weight 19kg, big keyhole cockpit

Eskimo Diablo Evolution

Then my friend Scott Bristow died, and I became a lot more cautious. I paddled a Diablo Evolution (courtesy of Eskimo USA Rep Terry DelliQuadri) during my six week paddling trip in the U.S., running big volume rivers, steep creeks and everything from the class I/II Antietam Creek to the class V Green Narrows. I finally swam out of that Diablo on the class II/III stretch of the Cheat river, on my very last day of paddling. That was the first swim in three years, and a good example of me getting overconfident and not flipping enough any more.

Length 2,85m, width 61cm, volume 250 liter, weight 19kg, big keyhole cockpit

Eskimo Quadro and Eskimo Topo-Duo

I had another interesting swim out of a Diablo Evolution in September that year (1999). Now I started to look for a kayak to have more fun on my local class II to IV runs, and to reduce the risk I was taking by running ever more difficult stuff. In the winter of 1999/2000 I bought my Eskimo Quadro and an Eskimo Topo-Duo. The Quadro for solo-paddling and to enter the new world of playboating, and the Topo-Duo to take newbies out every once in a while and to paddle harder rivers with my buddy Niels. I ran a lot of class III/IV stuff in the Quadro, but after a while I got used to it, and I began running class V rapids again. With the TopoDuo we started easy, but after a while we ran some class IV rivers and creeks together, which was very exciting without feeling as dangerous as running class V stuff in my Quadro.

I ran my last ever run in my Diablo in the summer of 2000, where I had one of the worst swims of my paddling career (Carnage in the Alps). After that, I paddled a Quadro in the U.S. and Europe, getting ever more comfortable running steep creeks and big volume rivers in it. This trend continued, and in the spring of 2001 I started running ever more difficult rivers and rapids again. I realized that soon the boat would be the limiting factor again, not my paddling skill.

Length 3,70m, width 64cm, volume 505 liter, weight 30kg, big keyhole cockpit
Length 2,45m, width 65cm, volume 200 liter, weight 14kg, big keyhole cockpit

Prijon Invader, once more

In between, Chris Walters also gave me their old Prijon Invader, a kayak in which I recently ran the class IV Irrel Waterfalls, just for fun. It shows how far the kayaks have evolved in the last couple of years, and the difference in paddling technique required to paddle all those different models on the same kind of white water. It's also a nice kayak to have friends or newbies paddle in, without worrying too much about extra scratches or nicks. :-) This Invader has now found a home at the Student paddling club Okawa.

Eskimo Salto

That's when I decided to continue running what felt good, but to get a special kayak for the most difficult or risky runs. So I bought my new Eskimo Salto, a Steep Creeker extraordinaire, the latest addition to my paddling fleet. It's got everything I want in a creekboat. A roomy cockpit and no center pillar for easy exit in trouble, as well as being able to fit a tall paddler (that's me, at a little over 2 metres/6'8"). It boofs *very* well, turns easily, can be held on track in turbulent water without much effort, rolls very smoothly, and it has very predictable and controlled behaviour after coming up through big holes or after drops. I have gone through some pretty big holes in it without any chance of back-endering (unlike the paddlers who followed me :-) ). It has four grabloops to facilitate getting out in a pin even easier, but those four loops and the extra biner-attachment point in the front deck also help recover the boat easier. Finally it's made of Eskimo's blow molded PE, which is very strong and stiff, lasting a long time. In all, a great extreme creeker! Yep, I loved my Salto!

Length 2,45m, width 64cm, volume 250 liter, weight 19kg, extra long keyhole cockpit

Then I bought the new Eskimo Salto! Here are the two of them, old (red) and new (yellow/orange) next to each other.

Length 2,45m, width 64cm, volume 270 liter, weight 19kg, extra long but even wider keyhole cockpit

Bliss-Stick Flip Stick

After trying a Flip Stick for size, I was surprised that I could get into this tiny (2 metre long) boat. I took a demo boat to the Rhine river in Germany, playing in a big eddy. I was happy to see that it handled extremely well, even with my 100 kg in there. It went vertical really easy, and I got close to nailing ends in just a few tries.

So, I just bought a new Flip Stick. :-)

Having taken it on about two dozen river trips so far, I'm pleased with the enormous play potential that has opened up for me. However, because of my 100 kg's, the low volume does play up when I find myself on big volume white water. I can deal with how it handles big volume white water, but it's a lot of work. Despite the big volume troubles, I'm really happy with my latest purchase!

Length 2,0m, width 66cm, volume 180 liter, weight 14kg, keyhole cockpit


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Copyright 2006 by Wilko van den Bergh