Well here it is. A review from an average paddler that is not sponsored and has no bias. Let's start with my background.
I am 6 feet tall on a good day after I have slept and been to the chiropractor. I weigh 165 without gear on and wear size 11 shoe. I started paddling when I moved to Greenville, SC for school. In the first week of my freshman year in college I learned to roll, and I just finished up my second to last semester as a senior (you do the math). I got right to it and progressed quickly (maybe too quick). I have had a lot of boats, but only ever one creek boat. I just retired my Bliss Stick Mystic that I have had for 3 years. The mystic was an awesome boat and I had no reason to sell it other than I was ready for something new. I try to go the the Green Norrows regularly, I have paddled a good bit of runs in the SE easier than that, and not many harder. I also spent a summer in the PNW mountaineering and raft guiding. In my spare time, I paddled of course. After all of this having been accomplished primarily in my Mystic, I was quite used to and comfortable in it. Big water, low water, low gradient or waterfalls, I felt confident in my Mystic. Again, no complaints about that boat. It was rad.
I have looked for about a year and a half at other boats and finally came to the conclusion to get the Mamba. After fishing around a lot from other users I decided on the 8.1 for my size. Without having demoed one, I was attracted to the Mamba for it's versatility, playful creeking abilities, outfitting, and reputation. I liked the way it looked on the water and thought the big boys (sponsored paddlers) made it look stylish and fun. After months of trying to weasel my way into one, like any self respecting kayaker, I went ahead and sold my Mystic to help fun the purchase. With the money from that, my birthday and Christmas money from my wife and mother-in-law, and black friday sales, I was actually able to afford a new boat. My first new boat ever. And my timing was perfect. I bought it right before final exams and a week before a 25 page philosophy of experiential education paper was due. So needless to say, I had plenty of time to outfit it before I took it on the water.
It was really easy to outfit. The only changes I made were moving the bulkhead up one placement so that I could fit in it with my shoes and the foam provided to pad it out. I had to add a lot of foam to the hip pads because I have no curves. It's a curse for the whitewater paddler. The outfitting process was really easy and simple. I don't quite fit how I would like to (primarily my legs in the thigh braces) but I think with more time and tweaking I will be able to get it dialed in.
Finally the rain came and my finals ended. After my last final this morning I loaded up the car and headed to the North Fork French Broad. It was at a healthy 12 inches, a great level for testing out the new shred machine. Initially I was impressed by the speed and agility. I will have to get used to catching eddies. It as easy to come in hot and have to take a big planting stroke to correct and not run up onto the bank. It ferried very easily, again though with peeling out, it was easy to get going and over shoot. The edges obviously grab a little more than my Mystic because of their greater prominence of the Mamba's edges. This caught me off guard a few times in boils and small features that I used to not pay as much attention to. The bow is extremely light and it is really easy to lift if up and over features like waves and holes. I was a little shy with the rock boofs seeing as she was new and unscratched. But I enjoyed pulling the bow up over features. I will say that It seemed to be more likely to feel the retentiveness of a hole. There were a couple of times that I thought I was getting pulled back into the munchies. This being said, I never had any problem pulling out over the boil. A nice deep blade into the green flow under the pile and I could pull out easier than I felt like I could in my Mystic. This is definitely not a lazy person's boat though. It is fun, playful, and fast, but you have to work. You can't just ride through anything, you have to drive. I can see where this will be good for me and good for new paddlers. Teach active paddling early and it'll stick.
As far as rolling, I've yet to find out. I had a dry hair day. HA! PSYCH! No I flipped a couple times and it rolled with ease. Which I was glad about considering I hadn't practiced rolling in it prior to actually flipping.
Put into action, the outfitting was mostly comfortable. The seat, back band, and new leg riser was great. All though I have the leg riser set and didn't adjust it. I'm still not a huge fan of the thigh braces, but like I said before, with some work and custom foam I think I can get it pretty cush. I had some water end up in the boat which could have been a variety of things from loose screws to my skirt, but it's kayaking... nothing is completely dry. ever.
I definitely have a lot of learning to do in it, but I can tell already that I am going to really like paddling the Mamba. It's fun, playful, and aggressive. If those are characteristics you are looking for, consider it as your next boat.
Comments are welcome! See you all out there tomorrow!
Derrick James Quirin