Thrillseekers - Pros and Cons

Posted on the OWP mailing list by Bryan Coyle 10/16/98.


Despite repeated savage attacks on my family, my manhood and other unspeakable actions subsequent to my previous posts :) I thought I would jump in on this thread because...Well...I own a Thrillseeker and I thought you guys deserved a break from uninformed speculation. I bought it in 1991 and since then have run a bunch of little creeks and a few larger runs in it, though nothing in AR. So here's my out-of-AR experiences and opinions...

I got turned onto it on a boating trip East when I went to pick up a paddle from Jim Snyder (I can drop a name too:) and met Jim's neighbor, Attila Szilagi (sp?), the designer/manufacturer. We paddled the Big Sandy and a couple of their "backyard" runs that were ridiculously small (to me anyway) 300 fpm, <100 cfs, blind drops, numerous trees and a few barbed wire fences you had to avoid.  These small creeks are the type of runs Thrillseekers were invented for.

I bought one because I was moving to England and wanted a versatile boat that was easy to travel with. While there I used it on a lot of runs in Wales and Scotland.  The harder runs were typically 200+ fpm with flows of at most a couple hundred cfs, usually less; very narrow, lots of blind drops, and few, if any, trees, undercuts or potholes.   On the hard runs the local paddlers mostly used short fat boats (topolino, bubble, mtn bat etc) and vertical pins were not unusual on a typical ClassV run.  One day we had 6 pins on a 3.5 mile section. Everybody else was laughing about it but I thought "These guys were nuts!" The hard core boaters all wore PFDs with rescue rings, carried paddle hooks, and they often wore elbow pads and  full-face m'cycle helmets on the "extreme" runs. Get the idea? (If you've seen the movie Rob Roy, the scene where he escapes by jumping off a bridge is upstream of one of their extreme runs in Snowdonia.) To me, these were very tiny creeks and I was quite nervous. Nervous? Hell, I couldn't spit! I was used to a lot more water. But hey, when in Rome... and not paddling wasn't an option so I was very glad to have my Thrillseeker.  It never pinned, I never flipped, it scooted over those irrigated rockpiles like a champ and I could jump out of it onto shore almost before it eddied out. Something my buddies appreciated when I was taking pictures or setting up safety.

A Thrillseeker is a very stable boat, much more so than any kayak I've ever been in, except maybe a Taifun, but that's a barge. For those who've never seen one, they have a wide flat bottom (26" or 28" I think?) and lots of rocker so they spin quite well. They're self-bailing, have a foam floor with heel wells, and thigh straps on the tubes so that you can lock yourself in. It can be rolled, but its not easy! One of their biggest advantages is that you will never die in a pin. If you want to escape, you can release out of the thigh straps.  Of course if you're someplace that you wouldn't want to be swimming, with undercuts, potholes etc, then its a gamble, but you can always hang in there. But if you're in a hardshell, you don't always have the choice of swimming or remaining as a stationary river feature waiting for the boat to fold or break loose. Bottom line, it combines the escape advantages of an OC with the maneuverability of a hardshell kayak, with a couple of raft features thrown in. And oh, it only weighs as much as a kayak and when deflated will fit into a large backpack.

One very interesting and unique feature of this boat is that you can lift it up onto one tube in order to negotiate Very Narrow slots. Because it isn't rigid, the boat will bend and literally "snake" through slots that a hardshell couldn't fit into. This is a very cool move that blew my mind the first time I saw it!  You also have the option of doing raft-type rock moves, these are particularly good if you're headed backwards down a rapid and want to spin around.  It is also a good boat to put beginners into, because it is so stable and they don't have that "OMG I'm trapped in this boat, what if I turn over..." feeling. I've escorted beginners down solid Class III in it with no worries. (They weren't worried but they did swim a few times.:)

Downsides?
As with any semi-specialized boat there definitely are some. Personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing any runs with more than a several hundred cfs, maybe up to 1K or a bit more. Attila, Jim et al do bigger runs in them but hey, I'm not in their league.  At higher flows I would worry about the time required for water to drain so that I once again could maneuver; but for you open boaters out there, this wouldn't be a problem, draining is automatic, and it just takes a few to several seconds, much faster than manual bailing.  But for me, continuous breaking waves and big holes on a large volume run is a concern; I don't know for sure, I've never tried it. Hull speed is quite slow, kinda like a Godzilla.  In going through holes, they don't "punch through" like a hardshell, they act more like a raft, they bend and ride up over the pile.  This is good in shallow rivers but problematic in big water. And probably my biggest gripe... Thrillseekers do not "play" the way I like to... Enders are slow motion, if at all. When surfing waves, they just sit there, they have no edges so you can't carve turns and scream down the face of a big wave, cut back, etc; though you can do some interesting blasting moves. And then there's the sitting in water thing. A good drysuit helps but since I've got a good roll I'm used to staying pretty dry, and I like it that way!

I don't know if its a good alternative to hardshell kayaks on your creeks, but I think its worth considering. I know you guys are open to new boats/ideas, if you weren't you'd all be riding horses to the river to put on in your Grummans and Dancers or some gawd awful fiberglass Phoenix or something.

Maybe I'll dust ole Wreckless off (Attila likes to give em all a name) and take her up your way this fall/winter. Of course that's assuming I can ever escape my Desk Pin in time to catch one of your creeks; Thrillseekers are no protection against this type of entrapment. Otherwise, here's a thought... You could send one of your virgins (nothing that squeals, please) to Dallas and I may be convinced let you to try Wreckless out :)

- Bryan Coyle