By Philip Kompass
Me: Six feet tall, size 8.5 feet, 200 lbs, 32” inseam. Paddling 13 years, consider myself a pretty experience paddler with loads of class fours and fives under my belt. That said, I’m now a new father of three kids and find myself with less and less time for the missions to far away destination rivers and needed a boat that I could still confidently creek in when the time comes, but would still be fun for my home river.
My previous boat was a Pyranha Karnali; a boat I had been in for the past 5 or so years.
I live in Petawawa, and paddle the Town section of the Petawawa perhaps 40 – 50 times per year. It is a great test environment for a boat like the mamba with big pushy flows (>250 cms) in the spring down to low technical flows (~20 cms) in the late summer and fall. Lots of lines, technical and non. Lots of waves and holes. Lots of fun.
Anyway, on to the boat itself. At my size I went for the large version. A few things about the Mamba stood out immediately. First, it was way more comfortable. The outfitting is stellar. Great fit right out of the box. Only two days after I picked up the boat, I spend back to back 8 hours days doing safety for Hell or High Water. Despite the prolonged periods of essentially just sitting in the boat my legs never once went numb, my ass never ached, my hips never got stiff. Still, 18 months later, it remains the most comfortable – yet high performing – outfitting I’ve had in my decade+ of boat ownership. Easily adjusted and well thought out, with storage galore and adjustments in the right places. The bolts for the bulkhead have backing to prevent them from getting lost. There are bungees and loops for tying down throw bags, lunches or spare kit. Stellar.
The hull? Its a compromise. That’s the thing about boats that are intended to serve as “crossovers”; they need to share performance to meet multiple needs. While it is marketed to many as a river runner, I really thing there are better boats out there. Sure, it does surf, and yes, I can spin it, but at almost 90 gallons it is larger than a Nomad… It just isn’t nimble enough to really excel at the “playful” river runner role, however, I think those people looking for a stable, forgiving, fast boat to grow their way into harder rivers, will absolutely love this boat. It builds confidence, it forgives your mistakes, and it keeps your head dry.
The 8.6 Mamba is an excellent creeker; take a look at the flotilla in the recent north Fork Championships, the WW grand Prix or the recent Stikine laps. The big Mamba is among – if not the – boat of choice among serious creek and race crowds these days. It has lots of rocker, rooms for multiday equipment in the back, and it runs pretty quickly.
The bow has a lot of rocker, and I used to find it tough to hold a line, particularily in low or slow flows. That said, Ive adjusted my style and it isn’t an issue anymore, but some may share the concern. In high pushy flows, I really , really like the Mamba. It behaves very well when things get hairy, still stable but it seems to become much more responsive, using the flows to move around. That bow rocker I was complaining about earlier, becomes your friend allowing for “turn on a dime” redirects and adjustments.
Downsides: I find it have a bit too much rocker in the bow. It is really soft up there, engaging late on eddy lines and such. It makes the boat stable, but those used to a more aggressive chine may not like it. Ensure you get your weight all the way forward and learn to lean. Once you get over the bow, it does perform very well.
It is very heavy. Well constructed. Well put together. Nothing is loose, nothing is leaky, nothing is broken in close to 100 days on the water. But, it is heavy.
Final words: Ill be honest, I didn’t fall in love with this boat immediately. If you are a fan of a planning hulled creek boats (eg. Karma, older Burns, Karnali) the large mamba will take some getting used too. Put in the time though, and you will learn to love it. If you are and experience creeker looking for a higher performance creek boat, give this a shot. The hull will remind you of home, but the new found agility may inspire some new and creative lines you would have overlooked in the past. If you are new to creeking, or looking for a boat to bring you from Class 3 onto to Class 4 and above, I think this would fit the bill perfectly.