Helmet. Check. PFD. Check. Paddle.Check. Boat. Check…. Hmmm what am I missing.
Spray Decks. Probably one of the dullest items to talk about in kayaking,yet, possibly the most essential additional piece besides the kayak itself.
I used to be of the opinion that all spray skirts were created equal. Then I found myself with bombs going off in the center of Mas’O’Menos on the Futalefu. I had just rolled up after taking some beating and unintentional aerial pirouettes that would make any old timer proud, when I noticed my mate making a swim for the shore while his boat made a dash for the next big rapid. A wave had crashed on his spray skirt in the middle of the rapid and blown the lid off his kayak. Holy bigwater “implosion” batman! I looked down at my Snapdragon EXP securely fixed to the cockpit rim of my boat, then back at the new swim team member on shore. That day I realized the emancipation proclamation never said anything about spray skirts.
During my paddling endeavors, I have employed many spray skirts, from Palm to NRS to SnapDragon. The EXP has been with me on 2 international trips and plenty of PNW paddling adventures. I’ve tested it on anything from vertiginous drops in India to Idaho big water.Here are some thoughts:
Pros: The Exp is constructed with durability in mind. With a standard 3mm of neoprene and an additional 4mm Kevlar impregnated neoprene material in common ware spots, the EXP is built to take a beating.
To prevent theft or lost items while commuting through Peru, we would fill our boats with gear, snap our sprayskirts onto the rims and cam-strap the tunnels shut. This is Generally the most abusive and terrible practice for those trying to preserve the life of a sprayskirt. I tossed the EXP in and out of buses for months, ultra-violetly thrashed it under equatorial sun and pressure tested it in many holes. The thing keeps on ticking… Mostly
Wear Points: When we snap the deck over a cockpit rim, we tend to push at the joint between shock chord and neoprene deck, severely testing the stitching of said joint. This section has indeed failed on me stitch by stitch. Unfortunately I was in the middle of Nowhere-Nepal with no way to get it back to the team at SnapDragon. With a heavy-duty needle, some thick nylon thread, aquaseal and a B-minus in HomeEc, the skirt was back in the game.
Spray decks, no matter how durable to begin with, eventually wear out because they are constantly being stretched, dried out, stretched, dried, repeat. Thus is the life of a whitewater piece of equipment. 2 of my snapdragon skirts have failed in separate points. The first, mentioned above, the second having its’ shock chord slowly torn where it met the grab loop (possibly due to my ineptitude i.e. paddling with a deck one size to small for my boats rim.) which SnapDragon promptly repaired upon receiving it in the mail.
However, rumors have it that SnapDragon, along with many others, have downgraded materials and outsourced construction of equipment overseas, resulting in shorter overall longevity.
Sizing: SnapDragon does an amazing job with production of multiple sized tunnels& decks. If you know the make and model of boat, they’ll know the best fit; and no matter how many cheesy JoJo’s you ate this winter, they’ve got the right tunnel size.
Implosion Bar: If your like me, a cheapskate, wanting a multi-functional skirt for playboating and creeking, the latest EXP comes with a slot for the optional implosion bar. I put mine in for a bit more security on those sizable drops or big water runs where sporadic crashing waves are likely. I pop it out for soul surfs and loop friendly over thrusters.
Customer service: I have found very few companies are as paddler friendly as SnapDragon. They racked their brains to get me a fresh skirt in Nepal when I reported seem failure. A friend dug a freshly delivered Armortex EXP out of his bag with my name on it upon arrival in Guwhati, India thanks to SnapDragons commitment to its’ customers.