I got my carbon Pyranha Jed around Christmas after a 9 week wait and I love it; in this post I’m going to go through the pros and cons of owning a carbon boat, my boat’s journey from the day I ordered it to the present day and why I think you should get one as well. If you have read my playboat review then you will know why I like the plastic Pyranha Jed and consequently why the carbon version was irresistible. I intend to outline the differences between the two and explain any modifications I have made; while this post is of course focused around a carbon Jed the performance and aftercare that I have used on my Jed can be applied to any other carbon fibre, fibreglass or kevlar playboats on the market at the moment.
To clear up one point, my Jed is made from a mixture of carbon fibre and Kevlar. The Kevlar does increase the weight of the boat but dramatically increases it’s durability and resistance to impact. You may notice other carbon boats from Jackson or GuiGui with yellowish patches on the nose and tail – this is Kevlar – unlike them, my Jed has a mixture distributed throughout the boat (not just at either end) so it’s tougher all over. As for added weight, my Jed (stock, without modification) weighs only 9kg which is the same as a stock GuiGui 2018 Helixir in carbon suggesting that the Pyranha design is lighter anyway. I believe you can order a Pyranha Jed made solely from carbon fibre but I don’t know how much it weighs or what the price would be, if you want performance as well as strength I would recommend the standard carbon-Kevlar mix which is what I have and will be what I base my observations on. To simplify this review I will refer to my Jed as a ‘carbon boat’ despite this slight inaccuracy.
I ordered my carbon Jed through Kent Canoes and it was a painless if quite slow process telling them what I wanted, them telling Pyranha, Pyranha replying and Kent Canoes passing on the response. Thankfully I wanted the stock medium carbon-fibre-Kevlar version with a very simple design – that speeded up the process at least. I opted for an all-black boat with a giant white Pyranha fish on the front right and my name (Patrick) in white across the back left. A freestyle boat is guaranteed to get scratched, so paying a lot of extra money on a complex design is pointless and it’ll wear off eventually, by choosing a single colour you save money and your boat will still look good in a years time. Black is the best option to choose for two reasons. First, when you scratch, dent or crack your boat black duct tape is almost invisible so the boat still looks perfect whereas on a complex design especially with bright colours, duct tape would be obvious and ruin the look. Second, when black paint gets wet, the grey scratches on the side and bottom become invisible. With any other colour, scratches might become less visible but they would still be apparent because the colour difference between the paint and the scratch would be too much for the water to hide. By choosing an almost stock design over the black finish I reduced the custom design cost. Normally on the back left it says “Pyranha,” my name “Patrick” also starts with a “P” and also has 7 letters; this means the personal element isn’t immediately noticeable which I rather like. The giant Pyranha logo on the front right allowed me to persuade Pyranha not to use their stickers on other parts of my boat (on the sides, back and bottom) which I think improves the overall aesthetic by keeping the design neat and simple, and I like the logo anyway so it doesn’t bother me. Something special I believe only Pyranha offer are vinyl stickers, if you want a complex design or pattern then this can be imbedded in the paint job like other carbon boats, but if your design is simple and you want to keep costs down you can have it made in a tough vinyl wrap they stick on for you. This has a number of benefits and I did this for both my name and fish design on my carbon Jed. First, the cost of the design is greatly reduced; second, if the design gets scratched you can just order another brand-new one to add to your boat and third, if you get bored of the design you can take it off easily and change it. These stickers aren’t the type that wash off or scrape away easily (however if forced, they will do), but it helps to place them somewhere they won’t get bashed for longevity’s sake, I have had my carbon Jed for 6 months now and they still look new. I would get them again and I think a single colour and simple vinyl design is the way to get a carbon freestyle boat to look good and stay that way.
I believe Pyranha quoted a 6 week lead time but it ended up taking around 9 weeks. To avoid the postage cost and waiting time my Dad drove me to pick up the boat from the Pyranha factory near Liverpool and Pyranha were kind enough to give us a full factory tour and answer any questions we had – this more than made up for the wait. Even if I had got the boat earlier, Lee Valley WWC was closed over the winter so I couldn’t have used it. When we reappeared out of kayak heaven I had claimed my shiny new carbon boat, spare Pyranha stickers and an awful lot of outfitting foam – the journey back to London took far too long. Once at home I inspected the boat and outfitted it as well as I could using the sticky-back foam and hip-pad shims while sitting on the carpet in my bedroom. I weighed it on my scales at home and it did indeed weight exactly 9kg which is what Pyranha had promised. It’s worth noting that I prefer to use Jackson “Happy Feet” instead of the foam foot block, I believe it is more comfortable and while they come in at around £50 I believe they are a worthwhile investment. The foam foot block that comes with the Jed requires cutting and sticking which is a bore and I always preferred to have my feet pointing almost straight ahead rather than splayed sideways against a hard surface, the Happy Feet allow me to do this. I cut away the second non-‘beany’ part of the Happy Feet when I install them which prevents them from moving around in my boat, reduces weight slightly and just makes them easier to use; the rough texture of carbon fibre combines with the central spine of the boat to hold them in place really well and I recommend this modification. Having got my foot block preferences out of the way and already having decided to keep the seat where it was (directly in the middle of the boat), I moved on to adjusting the hip-pads and backrest. The hip-pads were easy to adjust and need no explanation but the backrest was much more difficult to get right. Having only one cleat behind you back makes tightening the backrest once you’re sitting in the boat very hard. It became a choice of tightening the backrest before I got in and struggling to squeeze my legs through, or leaving it loose and just dealing with it. In the end my backrest snapped and I took out the whole mechanism because I’d got so used to paddling without a working backrest I actually prefer it now (for a couple of reasons I’ll explain later on). For the moment my carbon Jed was brand new, polished and shiny, perfectly outfitted and waiting to jump in the water. The first time I used it on whitewater was at Lee Valley on the Legacy at my home feature, this is what happened:
I arrived at the Legacy course with my brand new Jed, everything was set up and I’d stuck in the Pyranha foam they had given me (it was sticky-back) and I tried it in my favourite feature. The first thing I noticed was just how much more responsive it was than a plastic boat. I struggled to keep up with the rotations and it was quite difficult to do tricks like the Phonics Monkey because the boat whipped round faster than I was used to. This is of course not really a criticism as this what I wanted, I merely note that it takes a while to adjust before you get to the same level again. The second really obvious improvement was height; the air underneath the boat during loops was ridiculous and combined with the additional snappiness it became a combo machine. An added bonus these to features give you over a plastic boat is energy. It takes a lot longer for you to get tired because moving the boat around the feature is so much easier and during a competition run you don’t waste all your energy on the first couple of moves. On a wave carbon boats have another advantage over plastic boats – stiffness. Almost all wave moves require a skip to become aerial and the stiffness of carbon rails means the boat isn’t just more responsive with faster rotations, it skips higher and more effortlessly than a plastic boat. As you can probably see from my description so far, I loved the boat immediately. It was everything I expected, my performance was clearly improved and I looked better doing it. So what are the downsides?
First of all you worry a lot more, not just about the boat being more likely to be stolen but primarily that you might break it yourself. It’s not relaxing using a carbon boat when the there are other people near you, at Lee Valley river-runners might hit you when you’re in the feature! So playing dodgems with a £1500 boat while trying to practice is obviously distracting, but having a shallow feature is also a worry. I know that I can hit the bottom in any feature at Lee Valley and even on Inlet Gate at HPP I know that people have botttomed out in carbon boats. Hitting anything, let alone a hard concrete surface with your full weight and the force of the water against you is likely to dent even a plastic boat, so hitting the bottom with a carbon boat is horrifying. I did it on my first session at Lee Valley and luckily didn’t break the boat, I only scratched away all of the paint at the tip – at the time I thought I’d cracked it because I could see the Kevlar underneath, but I got lucky and it was only cosmetic damage (a duct tape job). I have seen quite a few carbon boats with cracks and tape so if you do get a carbon boat, while there are many advantages you have to make it your baby. Treat it with respect, plug gently to avoid hitting anything, constantly watch for people determined to hit you and store it in a safe place away from harm. It’s a bit of a hassle and transporting it without scratching the paint is also difficult unless you have a rather expensive carbon boat bag. Make sure you are ready to commit to aftercare if the boat does crack (carbon patches, tape etc) and treat it carefully. During training it’s nerve wracking to use my carbon boat and this is a disadvantage because I can’t go all out, I can’t afford a replacement – when competing you just have to accept any damage and fix it afterwards, otherwise what’s the point of the boat, I just think having the same boat in plastic as well for when don’t want to have to worry might mean you save yourself a lot of expense and unhappy sessions on the water. Going boat specific, I found that after my 2 hour session at Lee Valley all the foam in my boat had fallen out. This means both thigh pads and all the foam supporting the carbon seat as well, I almost damaged the boat because I didn’t realise and Pyranha don’t warn you that the sticky-back foam they give you with the boat (as well as the foam already installed by them in the factory) does not stay in place once the glue gets wet. I had to purchase marine epoxy to glue everything back in which was a faff, a bit pricey and should have been unnecessary. I used “JB Weld Marineweld 2-part epoxy” which has worked perfectly holding all the foam in place firmly without melting it which I know some strong glues do, I purchased two packs and that was barely enough to finish the boat so I recommend getting 3 packs.
It has been 7 months since I picked up my carbon Jed from the Pyranha factory and in that time I have used it on the Lee Valley Legacy course, Hurley weir, Holme Pierrepont WWC, the Thames and the Pembrokeshire cost. During this period I have discovered some irritating features and fixed certain problems which I will now discuss: first, the backrest had been annoying me for quite some time, no matter how many times I adjusted the elastic or the straps behind the seat it always moved and was never in quite the right position to support my back, combined with this the cleat that tightened the backrest was in an inconvenient position to use once seated and kept slipping if any force was applied to it. It was possible to move it to the correct position, it just wouldn’t stay there. It was then that I had an accidental revelation; during a training session at Nottingham my backrest snapped (the plastic ratchet bit) and I was forced to continue the session. My lower back ached and didn’t like it to begin with as I was used to having support for my back, the sudden removal of said support surprised both my back and abs (consequently on waking up the following morning I found my torso stiff and not too happy to move about or bend down). After a few hours I realised that I actually preferred the lack of backrest, I had more freedom of movement because I wasn’t constrained by the support and had more leverage for leaning forwards and throwing all the way back and vice versa. Edging the boat for cartwheels and general movement on a feature just felt easier. After using the boat for around 2 weeks on and off without the backrest my lower back and abs no longer ached after a session on the water – training your body to do freestyle without a backrest encourages you lower back and abdominal muscles to strengthen to replace the artificial support. This not only means you have more power to put into tricks as well as improved leverage and movement but your posture sitting in the boat improves drastically. This is useful because it means your weight is distributed over the centre of the boat (as supposed to leaning forwards or backwards) and makes manoeuvring without flushing or catching an edge that little bit easier while preventing bias between the rear rails and front volume. Initially I was considering sending the boat back to Pyranha to have a new backrest installed, but after this experience I decided against it and instead removed the backrest assembly (screws, washers, ratchet, elastic and backrest itself) which incidentally saved me 325g as an addition bonus (so it now weighs only 8.675kg). Once the backrest and additional paraphernalia was removed (which was quite painless) not only was the boat marginally lighter, but it was also a lot simpler. Unlike other carbon boat manufacturers like Jackson and GuiGui, Pyranha don’t add any unnecessary outfitting in the boat, for example my thighs are pressed straight against the inside of the boat and padded out with one layer of foam, there is no thigh cup attached the carbon fibre which might snap or shift; Once the backrest assembly was removed, there were no moving parts in my boat and therefore nothing to go wrong except with the carbon fibre. The hip pads also stay in place now rather than having to be shifted every time I get the in the boat, the ratchet ‘strap’ was bolted behind them which meant the moved when I used/tightened the backrest – not a problem anymore. My boat is effectively just the carbon fibre shell and seat with some foam epoxied into it, simple and light yet effective. This is how I prefer my boat and I think that once you are used to a lack of backrest (which may take a week or two), you will love it too.
Second, after various nocks and scrapes getting in and out as well as the occasional collision with reckless river-runners the paint has been chipped away on the nose and tail. This doesn’t look that great because the carbon-Kevlar is slightly yellowish and shows through the chips. To solve this I taped the front and back of the boat with multiple layers (about 4) all along the exposed edge, this not only covers existing blemishes but also protects any paint left at either end because the tape gets scraped off rather than the paint whereupon I reapply more duct tape. I have had very mixed experiences with tape and glue so it took me a while to find good, strong, waterproof tape that was easy to cut and not too expensive. Eventually I found “Ultimate Duck Tape” which fits all of those requirements. It comes in black, white and clear, it only costs around £7 for a 25m roll it actually stays on for a few months unlike Gorilla Tape.
Third, the handles at either end are made of thin elastic; they are clearly there only to allow you to compete because ICF requires your boat to have two grab points. They fulfil the criteria but are completely useless at lifting up or tying down the boat, I haven’t even tried lifting the boat with them because they stretch horribly and feel like they’re going to snap (which they probably will). The GuiGui rope handles look a lot more trustworthy and the inability to tie the the boat to a roof rack effectively is a bit annoying, however I originally wanted the boat without handles for simplicity’s sake so I can’t really complain that the handles supplied aren’t great considering I’d never actually use them to pick up the boat. One final improvement, not actually a criticism of the boat as such. I use the Jackson overthruster in my carbon boat (because it doesn’t come with a plastic one like my plastic Jed and I haven’t tried the TVF overthruster yet), the issue is that the part that supports your legs happens to be a bit too low. In my plastic Jed there is a thick plastic rail running down the centre of the boat with a water-bottle holder that holds the overthruster higher up, on my carbon boat this rail is much closer to flush with the floor of the boat and as a result the overthruster sits a little lower than I would like. To solve this I cut the top off the foam foot-block (about 5cm) and sanded it smooth. I then chopped this piece in half and used the epoxy glue I mentioned earlier to stick both pieces on either side of the carbon rail just underneath the thigh pads. This simple modification moves the overthruster higher up and means it supports my legs a lot better than before, it only requires some thick foam which thankfully comes with the boat anyway.
Alright then. To sum up, I really like my carbon Pyranha Jed and I would recommend a carbon boat (assuming you believe your skill-level is adequate) to anyone. Your performance improves: more air, quicker movements, longer training sessions without getting tired, more consistent competition runs and altogether much more fun on the water. A word of warning, if you decide to order a carbon boat there will be a decent lead time so don’t expect it to arrive immediately. It will require a lot of outfitting to begin with and whether or not you spend a good couple of hours perfecting the fit with the materials I recommended earlier, it will need some babying and touch ups from time to time. You’ve just bought the boat and it’s tempting to place it on a pedestal and never use it, but unless you have a plastic version of the same boat as well this is pointless (the transition between the same boat in plastic and carbon isn’t that off-putting once used to it). The point of a carbon boat is to use it to improve your performance both under competition and during training, if I didn’t train in a Pyranha Jed then using it under competition would be a bad idea… so it’s a love/hate relationship. Commit and you’ll love it, worry too much and it’ll become a chore using it – enjoy.