Recent Rains in the Southeast has all of the rivers swollen with fresh water flowing off the mountains, and in my case the Cumberland Plateau. Loaded with Zen prototypes, only 1 week before the production mold arrives, we set out to test the Zen on some steeper, more technical stuff. We showed up at Bear creek and nobody was there… somehow the rain didn’t hit it hard enough and at only 5″ we decided to head to Suck Creek near Chattanooga. We were late getting started, so we had limited daylight and Suck Creek is roadside. Dane, Nick, and I had two Zens and three people. We decided to run laps,taking turns running shuttle. Dane and I went first and were fired up to have the Zen on something like this. Suck is Class 4+,5 and is technical, and mostly continuous, fairly steep, but no big vertical drops. Getting in and looking down the bow at the put-in eddy gets you fired up as this is definitely the best looking kayak we have made yet. The rapids start at the put-in and don’t stop. Dane led me down, knowing the lines well and, well, at 18, he likes to lead dad down, making it almost impossible to get in front of him! We wanted to go pretty fast, as it would take three runs for everyone to get in two runs (everyone had to drive shuttle once) and we only had about 1.5 hours before dark.
Waves, holes, rocks, quick turns, boofs, slides, and ROCKS, more rocks, but also a bit pushy as it was at 3.5′ the highest we have ever run it. The first couple of drops I had to hit the brakes after them as the Zen sailed at the landing carrying its speed like no boat I have ever paddled before. It isn’t as quick to turn as I am used to for the Villain or Hero, which took a little getting used to for some of the really technical stuff, but it also drove straight through everything without getting pushed off line. Once I was used to the turning speed, I was paddling some really smooth lines and the boat was very instinctive and super easy to paddle. The stability really gives you confidence, while the speed and zippiness coming into and out of eddies adds another element of river running performance that you can’t find in a full creek boat. By the time we got to the take out, Dane and I were smiling ear to ear and ready for a second lap. Nick was ready and Keith Yell had shown up at the take out too. We had a new plan, now that we had a shuttle vehicle. The 4 of us went up for a run and left Keith’s car and 14 year old daughter, Stephanie, at the take out. I let Nick and Dane paddle the Zen this time and jumped in the Villain S. We knew that time was short, so again, Dane led (as he says, “because we need to go fast”), like you would expect an 18 year old to say. Nick stayed on Dane’s tail and they looked liked synchronized kayakers running a tight pattern together no more than a couple feet apart boofing, weaving, and zipping around on the way down. I hung back and ran a more normal pace with Keith, as this was his first time in 2 years on this creek and there was no reason to race the entire run, unless he wanted to. The Villain S acted just like I expected and how I want it to. Autoboof, tons of rocker and volume to go over everything, like a Monster truck driving over cars or rocks. It lacked that on water performance that the Zen had, with the full, no compromise planing hull, lower rocker, and lower profile deck. I didn’t need all that the Villain offers for Steep, vertical, survival kayaking on creeks, for Suck Creek. The Zen is simply a higher performance hull and deck and if you aren’t pushing your limits for the difficulty of the creek, it is quite awesome for that purpose. We got to the take out and Nick wouldn’t stop talking about the boat. “this is my new “go to” boat for Suck Creek, and for… just about everything…. ” Dane and Nick started discussing what creeks/rivers they would prefer to paddle the Villain or Hero… harder stuff, they said. But given a choice, they loved the performance and fun factor of the Zen. I haven’t seen them so fired up about a new design in a long time! This is a great sign, of course, for this boat.
So when is it Zen time, Villain time, or Hero Time, and what about the Fun Runner? Ha- sounds confusing, but it isn’t really.
Zen- when you want the best river runner you can find, aren’t looking for vertical play or any play other than a great front or back surf and maybe enders. The rivers it is designed for are class 1-5- with class 5 including creeks as long as they aren’t manky.
Villain- for all creeks, manky or not- when you want the best survival boat on the market- easy to paddle, incredible hard core creeker.
Hero- for all low volume creeks- tight and technical are its specialty- short/maneuverable, easy to boof.
Fun Runner- for all rivers, not creeks, when you want to play your way down as well- super sporty river runner, easy to surf, roll, and super lightweight. not good for most creeking.
This spells it out pretty well, I think…
Zen covers a lot of ground and is our first true river runner, ever! Awesome!
Where will the Zen take you next? Hmm… I am paddling the Zen 65. We also have a Zen 55 and 75.