Written By: Lindsay Karzon
You’ve come to that moment when you realize that you love the excitement, adrenaline kick, camaraderie, and everything about whitewater kayaking. Now it’s time to get your own kayak and you are faced with the decision of which boat to buy. Purchasing a kayak is similar to purchasing a car; there are numerous brands and models, special features, and accessories that suit a variety of boaters. Some of the most important factors you will want to consider are: comfort, durability, and ease of exiting (or rolling) when flipped upside-down. While the good news is that buying this mode of transportation requires less money than purchasing a vehicle, it also involves careful research and testing similar to test driving a car. If you are a beginner looking for a whitewater kayak, then read on to see why the Dagger Axiom 8.5 is a well suited river runner for you.
Let’s face it. Most whitewater kayaking trips involve sitting in a kayak for several hours or even a whole day while out on the river. If you are doing that much sitting, it is important to be comfortable. Many other models of whitewater kayaks, often referred to as “play boats” are smaller in comparison to the Dagger Axiom, which can make a beginner paddler feel cramped. Most of these short boats make you bend your knees outward in a position that may be uncomfortable for long periods of time. However, the Dagger Axiom 8.5 is 8’ 6” long. This length allows for a comfortable knee position and provides spacious foot room. In addition, the adjustable bulkhead foot brace with foam padding at the bow, or the front of the boat, enables you to change the degree of leg extension for maximum comfort. The foot brace also provides a solid surface for the paddler’s feet that increases your stability.
A good car gets you from point A to point B. So does the Dagger Axiom. It’s pointy shaped bow, gives you speed and maneuverability that you will need to navigate rapids. Just like a car, you want to show off your Dagger Axiom to your family and friends. That means that they will want to try it out. Another plus of the adjustable foot brace is that it easily allows multiple people of different heights to use the same boat (though at different times, of course)! Alternative features in other models of kayaks are compressible air bags typically referred to as “happy feet” or foam padding. The happy feet are less desirable because the happy feet are squishy and do not provide a stable surface for the paddler’s feet. The foam padding used in other whitewater kayak brands must be custom cut, which means that the kayak cannot easily be used interchangeably among paddlers of different heights. Though not an essential feature, the adjustable foot brace is great to have for this purpose.
Sizing is crucial to a great fit. The Dagger Axiom 8.5 featured in this review is ideal for a paddler between 130-210 lbs. If you don’t fall within this weight range, the Dagger Axiom 6.9 (65-120 lbs), Dagger Axiom 8.0 (90-150 lbs), or Dagger Axiom 9.0 (180-265 lbs) might be more appropriate for you.
If you are spending $999, for a new boat, you certainly want it to last you for many years. You want a kayak that is durable. Going back to the car analogy, you don’t want a lemon that is frequently in need of repair. The Dagger Axiom is sturdy and able to uphold hitting rocks and being dragged across rugged terrain on the way to the put-in, or launch site. When I considered purchasing a kayak, I also looked at the Jackson Fun series as a competitor. However, watching multiple kayaking companions’ Jackson Fun boats crack, I decided to look at more durable options for my money. However, one disadvantage of the Dagger Axiom’s durability is its weight of forty-four lbs. Compared to most whitewater kayaks brands, it is on the heavy side, which can make it difficult to carry. If you are the incredible Hulk, you can carry it by yourself. However, it is not a big deal if you need assistance because in the whitewater kayaking world helping others carry boats is part of the culture. You can even make a new friend or find a new date by asking someone to help you carry your styling Dagger Axiom boat.
Flipping upside-down in the water is part of the fun of whitewater paddling. However, when you are underwater and upside-down, that can be a bit scary. You want a boat that you can either exit quickly or roll easily (a kayak move you will soon learn, if you haven’t already). The length of the Dagger Axiom allows for a fast exit and the rounded hull makes rolling simple compared to other brands that have more of an edge. However, if you have trouble with balance you may want to try a boat with more of an edge, because the round hull of the Dagger Axiom decreases your stability, making it more likely to flip. However, for people who are average at balancing, this should not be a problem.
Being a newbie to the sport, you want a whitewater kayak with class. The Dagger Axiom comes in a variety of colors such as rain, flame, glacier, sky blue, lime, ember, and dagger red. Some of these styles are tie-dye like, while others are solid colors. The color choices are a definite upgrade from older versions of this model.
As you continue to develop your whitewater kayak skills, you may become more interested in playing in features like waves or doing stern squirts (standing the boat up at a ninety degree angle with the back end in the water). The Dagger Axiom has limited play and trick capabilities. It is able to front surf well (bow pointing toward the wave), but for intermediate moves such as spinning in a wave or more advanced tricks, a shorter play boat such as a Wavesport EZG or Pyranha S8 would be more ideal. However, if you love whitewater kayaking and decide to become an instructor, you will want your Dagger Axiom. I have a Dagger RPM 9.0, the precursor to the Dagger Axiom 8.5, and find it extremely useful for instructing beginners and leading trips. Its length provides increased speed that allows me to rescue students who swim after flipping in a rapid and it attains easily (goes against the current), if necessary. The security grab handles make it easy for a swimmer to grip while I tow him/her to shore.
Ultimately, purchasing a boat is about your comfort and your needs. Like purchasing a car, try before you buy, though it’s no wonder why the Dagger Axiom is a great whitewater kayak for both beginners and instructors alike.
- Rounded hull makes it easy to wet exit or roll
- Adjustable foot brace
- Pointy bow design makes it great for maneuvering in rapids
- Length makes attaining (going against the current) easy
- Length provides increased speed
- Length makes it comfortable to sit in for extended periods of time
- Security grab handles are easy for swimmers to grip
- Rounded hull reduces stability
- Limited play capabilities
- Weight makes it difficult to carry