The Creek Boat VS River Runner Debate

By: Mike McKay
I get a lot of questions from folks in the Ottawa area about what is the best ‘creek’ boat for them. Often I will reply that a creek boat may not be the best fit at all and since our area is filled with mostly big rivers and that a river runner is often a better option.
It is important to consider what rivers you will be running before choosing a boat. Since there aren’t a huge amount of high gradient creeks with big drops in the area a full displacement creek boat might not be the best choice for you.
Take the Jackson Karma (creek boat) vs the Jackson Zen for example (river runner). Both are great boats but have some very different features. Often I would suggest an Ottawa region paddler looking to move from a play boat to a higher volume boat go for the Zen. Why? I apply the 80/20 principle to this idea.
1. The Zen is going to paddle 80% of the rivers in this area with speed, stability, and is going to keep you on line when you want to be. In a nutshell, it is going to make your river running easier.
2. For the other 20%, the local creeks that you want to step up to, you will be able to do everything that you want to do in a creek boat. If you are like me and travel a lot to rivers with big gradient 80% of the time, well maybe it suits you to have a Karma in your arsenal as well. What else does a river runner get you vs a creek boat?
3. You are going to transition better between a play boat and a river runner. You will feel more confident going from boat to boat vs going to a displacement hull and having to make adjustments day to day. 80% of the Ottawa community spends more time in play boats and therefore will value the 20% river running days being easier to adjust to. For example, high water Rouge, Petawawa sections, high water Ottawa, and more……..these rivers have big volume and not a huge amount of gradient. Hence, a river runner is your weapon of choice.
4. The Jackson Zen is a surfing machine. You will be able to catch waves that you wouldn’t even consider in a play boat and carve them to bits. Surfing in a long boat can be super fun and add a great element to running rivers. Nothing beats a 10 minute soul surf over waiting in a long line up with the rest of the play boaters.
Lastly, take it from the pros: 5. When running the big volume rivers like the North Fork of the Payette or the Stikine……all these big rivers you see on the Substantial edits, you won’t see the big names paddling the creek boats, you will see them in the high volume river runners. They get it. Save the creek boats for the waterfalls, low volume creeks and big boofing rivers.