Paddler Weight: 165lbs
Height : 5’ 9”
Brain Bucket Sizing: M/L
WingSpan: Smaller than an adult Bald Eagles
Powered by: Mom& Dad, Black Licorice, RedSide Foundation
It’s daunting to stand at the entrance of a steep, impossible to scout, impossible to portage rapid and think, “boy I wish I had a better helmet.” In the early 1900’s an explosives crew set out to create the Payette railroad line. Years later, yet another demolition team created highway 55 directly across from the railroad. Between those two points lies a river known as the North Fork of the Payette. In the1960’s, a small and growing group of what only can be defined as “loose characters,” soon to be known as “kayakers” began breaking their bodies, faces, and skulls on industrial blast rock. Who would have thought? And all of this was done in the pursuit of happy fun times. Yay!
This is a review of the 2013/14 Sweet Protection Rocker line, as tested on many a run throughout South America, Asia, New Zealand, and of course North Fork Blast Rock Payette top to bottoms. And yes, I go upside down more than I would like to admit. No wonder they let me test these things out.
Brain Buckets, Skid Lids, Dome Pieces, Helmets. Call them what you will, but they are an essential piece of every paddler’s kit. With enough resin and glue, just about anyone can hop in the shop and make a helmet to put on the line. The question is though; how do you know which one is going to protect that Grey matter best?
Norwegian made Sweet helmets have been in my gear bag on every paddling adventure since 2009. We have some little issues here and there, but in the end, they are what I trust when I’m starring down the pipe of Jacob’s Ladder or watching rock fall from the ever-eroding canyons and cliffs of deep un-scoutable Peruvian gorges. Turns out, rocks under the water aren’t the only things that kayak helmets are good for.
Company Background: In 2013 Sweet remodeled, remolded, and revamped the whitewater line. They have a slightly different look and a superior list of ingredients in the Crockpot. What paddlers often don’t realize is that high-speed impacts have been in Sweet’s blood long before they began tackling whitewater. Sweet has been dealing with crashes at speeds that would send even Marty McFly back into the future. Doc Brown would approve. Working with skiing and mountain biking helmets prior to whitewater, has opened the door to a plethora of impact testing and impact material options.
Ingredients: To the untrained eye, it seems like new models in the Sweet line are simply plasticized instead of carbon fiber like Sweet’s older models. Some assume and associate that with lowering production cost and increasing profit margins. However, Sweet is using a proprietary polymer carbon fiber injected molding process that allows them to pick and choose with precision what areas they want to make more elastic or more rigid.
While grandpa was in the shop huffing liquid fiberglass and epoxy trying to make helmets that are harder than the rocks they were hitting, what he couldn’t have known back then is that carbon fiber and glass are stiff and do not dissipate impact well. They also catastrophically melt down after enough hits. Therefore, that big hit following a carped roll is transferred with much more impact to the skull inside of the helmet= Head Trauma. I have met my fare share of paddlers that can’t afford to lose many more brain cells. “Going to Church” can be hard on your head.
It’s not like helmet makers aren’t thankful for time spent in the shop sacrificing brain cells to chemical fumes though. Sweet is still using ole grand pappy’s epoxy fume induced squiggle notes that he made while grandma was making meatloaf, inundating them with hard science and combining them with what is now resulting in 20-30% better performance when compared to helmets from just 2 years ago. They can tweak down to the fiber what direction the helmet needs to absorb most impact. Helmets from back in the day were made with a bit more guess work. It may not be the flux capacitor but it’s close enough to rocket science to boggle the average human.
The materials and Occi-grip fitting technology is also keeping the helmets super light without compromising safety, function, and fit. In laymen terms, the changes are advancements not $ savers. All one has to do to see this is look at the steady retail price of the company’s brain buckets ($219-Half Cut)($349-Full Face). Ouch!
For the average dirt bag kayaker it will cost at least one pinky finger. The upside of that though is that when you take a shot to the skull, hopefully you’ll retain dexterity in the rest of your remaining digits and limbs. And FYI cost of dental work from blowing out your teeth can buy you somewhere around 15 Sweet fullfaces.
Warranty/ Customer Service: The boys and girls at Sweet continue to grow as a brand in the states. To compete with other manufacturers, not only do they make some of the best product, but they also offer great customer service and warranties on any manufacturing issues. With that being said, when you flip over, carp 3 rolls and crack your helmet on nasty blast rock, I very much doubt that you will get much sympathy if you call asking for a new helmet. It might be worth a shot though. The fact that you can make that call is a testament to the hard work and research that the crew puts into their product. If nothing else, you still have 9 digits left to choose from when selecting your next helmet.
Pros: What I like most about these helmets is the level of coverage that they give. Many helmets don’t fit snuggly over the frontal lobe/ forehead, or offer decent coverage for the cervical spine. The Rocker and wanderer offer both. Sweet has 3 different sizes for their helmets. All of which come with fit pads and the cervically located, padded Occi-Grip tightener. These are emplaced in the hopes of helping find the perfect fit and prevent the classic “is it ok if my helmet rolls up over my eyes?” scenario. (Ps-The answer to that one is, no.) There is also a comfy rubberized strip sewn under the chinstrap to reduce unwanted razor burn.
Price: At over $200 it’s difficult to stomach the price, especially when compared to other cheaper helmets on the market. I will say only this, one will never regret quality, especially when things hit the fan. That goes for any piece of paddling equipment.
Cons: With all pieces of gear I have my issues. Sweet has done away with the rocker full cuts, which replaces the hard plastic ear covers with removable fabric. Personally, I don’t like the ear-muff style pads blocking noise while I’m paddling, so I remove them, except in cold weather. This exposes my ear drums to big shots when taking tsunami sized waves sideways. I keep an ear dropper of “swimmers ear solution” in my gear bag now just incase. With that said, it’s probably wise to wear ear plugs if you are going to be paddling often, especially in cold water.
If you like a visor on your helmet, the rockers offer the option. However, the plastic piece that allows wearers to adjust the angle of the brim has broken on me more than once. This leaves the brim a bit floppy for my liking. Most fanatic Rocker wearers end up removing the visor, or if you have the style and panache of white water legend Mick Hopkinson, glue a foam visor on and be done with it. On second thought, nobody besides Mick Hopkinson has the style and panache of Mick Hopkinson.
Yes, we all know they are super stylish, but more importantly, they are one of the best. In my opinion, there are a small number of great helmet makers out there with solid results when it comes to high impact ratings. Sweet is one of them. They have been doing their homework for over a decade and it shows. Whether I’m bar brawling, carping rolls on shallow runs, or fighting off packs of bloodthirsty saber tooth wolves, I am always happy to be wearing a Rocker.