I began my search for a fast, racing-style kayak after that Rivanna River Race in 2010. I spent many hours online and researched many, many boats.
Based on the type of paddling I do most often, I decided that I needed a boat that would not get damaged easily by hitting or scraping rocks and I did not want to drop a ton of money for a kayak made of composite materials. So I decided to find the fastest plastic kayak on the market.
I finally found something call the Cobra Viper Kayak from Aquatix in New Zealand and became intrigued. As I continued to research what made kayaks fast, I began my quest to find one of these kayaks in the United States. I contacted the company and they directed me to their distributor on the East Coast of the United States which was Paddlers Cove in New Jersey (don’t try to buy a Cobra from them now–they no longer carry the brand.) I called them and sure enough they had 5 Vipers in stock.
I live in Charlottesville, VA and it is roughly a 6 hour drive to get to New Jersey so I was not about to jump in the car just to take a look at one of these boats.
As luck would have it, several weeks later in late July I had to be in Bethlehem, PA for business and Paddler’s Cover was only about 40 minutes away in Washington, NJ. I wrapped up my business meeting and had enough time to get to Paddlers Cover before they closed for the day.
I walked in and asked if they had any of the Vipers left (I feared they sold them all,) and the wonderful man who owned the place informed me that he had 5 of them. I honestly could not believe they still had them all. I figured every kayaker on the East Coast was trying to buy one.
I looked them over and pointed at an orange one still wrapped in the original plastic. I experienced severe mental angst for roughly 10 minutes as to whether I should purchase the boat without paddling it first. Next thing I know, the owner of the shop is helping me carry the boat to my car so I can strap it down and drive it home to Central Virginia. While we were conducting the transaction before we had it out of the showroom, however, a woman who was shopping at the store walked out past the boat at the front of the store, looked at it for a few seconds, and then told me, half laughing, “good luck.”
Odd words, I thought to myself.
I got the boat home and did a little outfitting to the cockpit and then took it for my first test paddle.
Whoa! This boat was very tippy and unlike anything I had ever paddled before. Honestly, if I would have test paddled it before buying it I never would have bought it. My misjudgement, however, would turn out to be the most important thing that ever happened to me as a paddler because that boat forced me to push past my comfort zone and learn how to balance properly in a racing-style kayak.
Here is video I shot of that first day paddling experience in the Cobra Viper:
Fast-forward six weeks (after lots of on-water practice) and I found myself back at the Wye Island Regatta in Maryland racing the Viper. How naive I was.
Oddly enough, the boat met the requirements for the recreational single kayak division and I paddled that thing with white knuckles the whole way around the island which was ~12 miles and finished in 1st place, more than 6 minutes faster than the second place paddler. He was in a Wavehopper.
Full of joy and a sense of accomplishment, I wore my winning medal around my neck the whole drive back to Virginia and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Again, though, when I compared my time to the overall winners, the fastest paddlers were much faster than me. Again I noticed they were paddling surf skis or Kevlar or carbon fiber boats, almost all using wing paddles, and their boats were longer, skinnier, and lighter than mine.
I was completely hooked and now slightly obsessed with becoming one of the fastest things on water in a kayak.
My tiny, little brain had already figured out that length, width, weight, and design of boat made all the difference.
That and probably the weird wing paddle thingy.