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Private Investigation: The Flying Squirrel vs. The 9R

Amy and I are considering purchasing a new kayaks and were curious about two new boats: the Liquid Logic Flying Squirrel and the Pyranha 9R. Both boats are sub-nine foot boats designed to go fast.  I was especially intrigued by the looks of the 9R, and Amy was excited by the buzz about the Flying Squirrel. When Woody Callaway of Liquid Logic offered a Flying Squirrel 85 for a test run, we decided to see if we could make a complete investigation.

Nikki with the Pyranha 9R
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Amy with the Liquid Logic Flying Squirrel

Background

We are amateur racers who paddle on weekends in the Southeastern US. We both paddled each boat on the Green River Narrows on successive weekends at about the same medium-low level. We both run the Narrows regularly but do not run the three Class V rapids (sorry, no Gorilla runs in this report).

Specs

Flying Squirrel 85

9R

Length

8’ 9”

8” 11”
Volume 85 gallons

78 gallons

Weight

49 lbs.

44 lbs.

 

Similarities

Both boats were fast and had great outfitting. The narrower width and longer length of the boats made rolling feel easy.

The Feel of the Boats:

The two boats had an entirely different feel. The Flying Squirrel has seven more gallons of volume and felt like a bigger boat than the 9R. I had to get some instruction from Woody Callaway to make me understand the boat. He explained that I needed to steer the boat with draw strokes into a forward stroke and needed to continuously edge the boat with every stroke. It was similar to ice skating or edging a snowboard. Left edge, right edge, left edge, right edge on down the river. Once I got the hang of it, flow is the word that came to mind. The boat wanted to go downstream smooth, fast, and easy. I was not inspired to turn upstream, just continue downstream in a joyful trance of paddling bliss.

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Nikki in the 9R at Chief’s Rapid.

In contrast to the Zen-like harmony that I felt with the Flying Squirrel, the 9R felt light, maneuverable, and lively.  I was pleasantly surprised about how locked in I was from the minute that I sat in this boat at the put in. I felt like I could really throw this boat around. This feeling persisted, and once on the river, the 9R gave me the confidence to push myself. It steered from further back than the Squirrel but still from the bow. For a female paddler, this is a good thing. Having to steer from the stern with pry strokes saps my speed and strength. I want every steering motion to also help with my forward speed, and both boats respond well to bow maneuvering strokes.

The difference in the two boats was most apparent when recovering from a chaotic situation. After landing a large drop which requires immediate egress to the right side of the river, I ended up pointed the wrong way in both boats. In the Flying Squirrel, I edged on my upstream side, planted a draw stroke, and quickly carved into the eddy on the left. I knew that if I had tried to change direction in the powerful current, I would have drifted downstream too far for comfort. I easily powered out of the eddy and ferried across to safety. On edge, the Squirrel is excellent at crossing an eddy line without flinching and holding a ferry angle. In the same situation in the 9R, I flattened out the boat and turned around 270 degrees to face river right. I was already confident that I could spin on a dime in the current and charge into the safety of the eddy on the right.

Punching Holes

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Amy in the Flying Squirrel about to fly over the notorious hole at the entrance to Zwick’s Backender.

The Flying Squirrel may be the best hole punching boat that I have ever paddled. “What hole?” the Squirrel asks you.  If I was going to paddle something big and scary, this would be my go-to boat.  If concerns about holes sometimes put a damper on your fun, this boat would boost your confidence and help your progression.

Sitting in the 9R, I realized how long, narrow, and pointy the bow is for a creek style boat. It reminded me of a short version of a Prijon Hurricane. I was sure that I was going submarine through every hole. To aid in hole punching, the 9R has a pointed up nose and fins designed to shed water. These features must be working because I was not engulfed in every hole.

Surfing, Playing, and Attaining

The 9R wins the surfing and attaining category.  I was able to paddle up rapids and carve on waves with this boat. This boat encouraged me to play more on the river and try crazy ferries. Due to its speed, turned up ends, and light weight, the boat is a rock spinning machine. With the pointy nose, I did my first true pop-up since the Dancer days.

Navigation

This is the area that I felt the biggest difference in the boats. In the Flying Squirrel, I had to edge if I wanted to turn the boat when in current. Without edging, the boat responded more to the current than my paddle strokes.  Also, the boat was so fast that I was overshooting my normal lines! In the 9R, I could quickly turn the boat and cut across the current. Navigating through tight, technical rapids was a breeze.

The Flying Squirrel made me work to catch tough eddies. I had to plant an assertive Duffek stroke toward the front of the bow. The 9R made catching eddies and ferrying around fun. You could slam into a powerful eddy line, dip your hip upstream like a slalom boater, and solidly skid in hockey-stop style.

Overall Impression

If I were only going to boat Class IV fun like the Watauga River for the rest of my life, I would buy a 9R today. It is one fun boat if you want to take apart rapids eddy by eddy. There are situations where I would rather have the Flying Squirrel: steep runs with big holes and marathon cruising. I could paddle the Squirrel all day down river and enjoy every minute.

My recommendation would be to pick the boat based on what type of paddler that you are and what kind of river running that you want to do. In a perfect world I would have a Flying Squirrel and a 9R. I would not recommend either boat to a beginner, especially the 9R.

Flying Squirrel

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Profile of the Flying Squirrel

Pros:

  • All-day paddling bliss
  • Fast
  • Leaps over holes like a pole vaulter
  • Hometown team

Cons:

  • Turning without edging can be a non-starter
  • So fast that you can overshoot lines

9R

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Profile of the 9R

Pros:

  • Fast, the “R” is for Racing
  • Playful and fun
  • Lightweight
  • Thigh hooks to die for
  • Turns on a dime

Cons:

  • Hard to carry on your shoulder (you will need to pad that cockpit rim)
  • Still not sure about the pointy nose in some situations
  • Can be squirrelly

Full Disclosure

Amy and I are private investigators in the truest sense. Neither of us enjoy the support of any whitewater industry concerns and do not pretend that we are boat design experts. The information presented is a chronicle of our first impression of these boats. We welcome your comments, especially if you have tried either of these boats under different conditions or if you feel that we left out any salient feature. We would like to thank both Woody Callaway of Liquid Logic and Mike Patterson of Pyranha for letting us try the boats.

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