In this review I am going to compare four river-play kayaks – the Pyranha “Ripper”, Dagger “Axiom”, Exo “Rexy” and Jackson “Antix”. I have demoed all four of these boats at the Lee Valley whitewater course on both the Legacy (Grade 2 / 3) and the Olympic course (Grade 3 / 4) to test their capabilities and handling (thanks to Above & Below shop). I will base my testing of each on five variables: Speed, Ease of Boofing, Agility/Playfulness, Comfort and finally Price.
The Ripper is probably the most well known river-play kayak out there and is one of the latest designs. For this reason I tried it first. In terms of speed, it was very very fast; Much faster than any other boat I have been in. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Bren Orton thought it might be faster than the 9R, Pyranha’s production racing kayak. I can believe that – I zoomed down the Olympic course faster than I ever have before. It’s boofing capability seemed more than adequate although I did notice that it was quite long. The medium Ripper comes in at 274cm which is a decent amount more than it’s competition and I found the bow had a slight tendency to sink a bit lower in the foam than you wanted when boofing a feature. It is worth noting that I weigh 72kg and the recommended weight for a medium is 65-90kg – perhaps if you weigh in the upper part of this bracket it might a bit more agile and therefore easier to lift up the nose? The volume of the Ripper is 235L, a bit less than you might expect considering the length of the boat. This also happens to be a bit less than the volume of the other boats – I ran no big drops in any of these when testing, but I would imagine it is worth bearing volume in mind if you intend to run some waterfalls etc. Onto agility/playfulness, the medium Ripper fits me perfectly, I have no complaints about its handling when river running and it is indeed more twitchy due to the slicey stern than full volume kayaks. However, when it comes to getting the boat vertical I struggled a bit. I think most people will have seen the promo with pro kayakers like Bren stern stalling for days in one of these, coming from a Playboating background though I would have preferred it to be easier to stern squirt. A small Ripper produced much better results, but this isn’t a viable option as the low volume means I can’t really use a small for river running (it sinks too low in the water). Again, if you are heavy for a medium it may yield better results, but it didn’t rate particularly highly for playfulness in my books. In terms of comfort, it is like every other Pyranha kayak. I like the ratchets to tighten the back rest, the thigh and seat padding are more than comfortable. Some say the ratchets might be easy to break or hard to repair, but since I wasn’t in the boat long enough to break it, I can’t say. On the topic of the hip pads, I find them a bit stiff and not really ergonomic. I love Jackson or Dagger hip pads and I think it would be a worthwhile investment to spend the £25 on Dagger hip pads. Whatever floats your boat. For price – the Ripper is approximately £1000, this seems about average for a new river running boat.
Onto the Axiom. This design is the oldest out of the four boats I am comparing, as a result, it is also the cheapest coming in at just under £700 if you can bear the basic outfitting which I found adequate. It is undoubtedly the slowest and most sluggish when it comes to river running. The Axiom is fast enough, but is substantially slower than the Ripper. Having said that, it is shorter than the Ripper at 259cm and was much easier to throw around which is interesting because the weight bracket for the Axiom 8.5 is 59-95kg, almost the same as the Ripper. Stern squirts were a dream and an eddyline wasn’t needed to have fun. This may be down to the shorter, stubby stern which is quite a contrast to the longer tail of the Ripper. So agility (/playfulness) wise the Axiom beats the Ripper hands down. The Axiom has a volume of 238L, 3L more than the Ripper despite the shorter length – also, the Axiom comes in at bang-on 16kg compared to the Ripper’s ungainly 20kg. Pyranha plastic is notoriously tough and hard wearing, the Dagger plastic on the other hand is a bit softer. Having hit the Axiom hard enough to hurt my fist I was satisfied with its strength though it was still weaker than the Ripper’s plastic… The Axiom had an alright boof; I found the lack of speed before a drop a bit perturbing, but it was easy to throw the bow over the feature. Having said that, the stern seemed much more willing to catch and send you skywards compared to the Ripper’s, so overall the Ripper would win a boofing contest. Comfort wise I would have said the Axiom beats the Ripper, I love the Dagger hip pads (actually a bit more than Jackson’s) and the padding generally feels more ergonomic and is a bit more cushioned. This additional comfort does not seem to have added much to the Axiom’s weight either considering it is actually 4kg lighter than the Ripper. The ratchets for tightening the backrest were adequate but not as sturdy as the Pyranha ratchets, there seemed to be just a bit more give and flex in the Dagger backband and more plastic in the mechanism – I prefer all metal. To round it off, the Ripper beats the Axiom for Speed and Ease of Boofing, but the Axiom beats the Ripper at Agility/Playfulness, Comfort and Price – it all depends whether you want a twitchy river-runner or a faster playboat…
The Rexy is probably the least well know of the four, being made in Italy. It comes in at around £900, competitive and certainly less than both the Ripper and the Antix. Comfort-wise, the Rexy is on par with the Ripper. The seat padding is perhaps a bit less comfortable, but I prefer the thigh padding on the Rexy, however, the thigh pads on the Rexy extend over the plastic lip meaning when getting into the boat it’s really easy to peel off the edges and over time have the whole pad peel off, something to bear in mind. I really like the use of cleats to tighten the backrest as supposed to ratchets, it’s just simpler with less to go wrong, and lighter. The one thing I would say is that the rope Exo use for the backrest is a bit slippery and really needs to be jammed into the cleat so it stays in place, the Jackson rope is a lot better and easier to use; It’s not enough of an issue to bother replacing the rope, but might be a bit irritating if you don’t know about the problem beforehand. The Exo plastic seems quite similar to the Dagger plastic, tough enough, but with a bit of flex – the Ripper still seems a bit stronger and harder wearing. Now about performance and handling: I expected the Ripper to be the best boat, everyone who’s tried one has loved it and I liked it myself, in fact, I was almost tempted not to try the Rexy as I thought it wouldn’t be in the contest. I was wrong, very wrong. The Rexy was actually marginally faster than the Ripper, which surprised me seeing as it is 264cm – 10cm shorter than the Ripper. The bow is slightly more upturned and as a result the Rexy slides over features with ease. It’s boof was much better than either the Axiom or the Ripper, I actually tried the Ripper again immediately after demoing the Rexy to make sure I remembered it correctly. Sure enough, the Rexy was definitely faster and it’s boof stronger and more effortless. Even with a weak boof stroke, the Rexy zooms over large drops, the boat seems to want to bounce out of features which made it much more fun to paddle – it just had an energetic feel. Playfulness wise the Rexy beats both the Axiom and the Ripper, for Agility – the Axiom is just a bit easier to get vertical and slides in just above the Rexy and miles above the Ripper. The weight ranges for the 8.5 Axiom, Medium Ripper and Rexy (only comes in one size) were all similar so comparing them for the latter two characteristics should have been as fair as I could make it. Overall the Rexy was my favourite boat so far, but only coming in one size (effectively medium) may cross it off for very heavy (90kg+) or very light people (60kg-). It was perfect for me and should also be for anyone weighing around 75kg. It was faster than both the Axiom and Ripper, more Playful than both and the Axiom only narrowly beat it for Agility. It’s boof was much stronger than both the other two boats and it was on par with the Ripper for Comfort, both being just behind the Dagger; Pricewise it was bang in the middle, or roughly the same as an Axiom with better outfitting.
The final boat in this review is also probably the one I spent the least time in. It was instantly apparent to me when I tried it on the Olympic course that the Antix was just as slow as the Axiom. In my opinion speed is the most important criteria as it affects everything else. Boofing is made easier by a faster boat and acceleration out of an eddy can give you that little flick necessary to send the bow skywards… however – the Antix does come in at 236cm which is shorter than the previous three boats, even shorter than the Axiom! This explains it’s lack of speed but great Agility/Playfulness. I would have said the Antix is the most playful of the four boats, and on par with the Axiom for stern squirts or kickflips, so if you’re looking for a fun boat and aren’t too worried about running hard whitewater (ignoring Dane Jackson here) this could be the boat for you. Comfort wise, it’s made by Jackson – the outfitting is cushy, extremely adjustable and very protective. I marginally prefer Dagger hip pads, but I have to admit – the Antix is like a sofa compared to the Ripper and Rexy. While the instant gratification of Jackson padding may fool people looking for a quick purchase, I would advise ignoring the Comfort factor and focussing on how much you like the boats handling seeing as that is what should decide the boat you buy. For boofing, the Antix is similar to the Axiom yet again. It suffers from a lack of speed before a drop, but makes up for it with it’s naturally bouncy hull which seems to make the boat skip over features without too much effort. In this regard the Antix rates above the Axiom, and just behind the Ripper and Rexy. The final aspect to consider is price… the Antix comes in at £1200 or just above. This may put some people off – I for one think that this is a bit much, but if you love the boat then go for it. It’s just worth remembering that this is approximately £250 more than the Ripper/Rexy and £500 more than the Axiom. To summarize, the Antix is the most Agile/Playful boat out of the four, as well as being the most Comfortable but only in the middle for ease of Boofing and Speed while being far and away the most expensive.
Finishing of this review, I will list the four boats (Ripper, Axiom, Rexy and Antix) from best to worst for each or my five requirements: Speed, Ease of Boofing, Agility/Playfulness, Comfort and finally Price.
Speed – Rexy, Ripper, Axiom/Antix
Ease of Boofing – Rexy, Ripper, Antix, Axiom
Agility/Playfulness – Antix, Axiom, Rexy, Ripper
Comfort – Antix, Axiom, Ripper/Rexy
Price – Axiom, Rexy, Ripper, Antix
Overall, I really like the Exo Rexy. I think that it’s the best boat out of the four for me and I liked it so much I went out and bought one from Above & Below. The only drawback is that it only comes in one size (which is equivalent to a medium). Therefore if it does not fit you I would then recommend the Ripper in whichever size does fit you as my next favourite out of the four – that concludes my review, see you out on the water. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you’d like to be notified about any new posts…