Finding the perfect boat for every type of water is not possible, but SOAR Inflatable Canoes are just about as close as you can come. I was turned onto SOAR boats by a good friend from Colorado with whom I paddled occasionally over the past decade, and he highly recommended the boat to me. After acquiring an S16 (16 foot) boat I began running rivers with Class III to IV+ whitewater with an ease and confidence that I did not always feel in my hard whitewater canoes.
SOARs are set up to allow custom outfitting to meet the individual demands of each trip. Grommets located every 5.5 inches provide lashing points for seats and gear without the need for adding D-rings or other attachment points. Gear and supplies for multi-day expeditions can be located and secured for optimum performance loading while allowing for comfortable seating and good boat control. And, SOARs never fail to attract the attention of other boaters, as well as those along the river banks, because of their uniqueness (especially when they see you loaded for a 14-day excursion in a wilderness area.) The photo below is how we were loaded on Utah's Green River in 2011.
My experience paddling the SOAR S12 Blaze (12 feet X 40 inches), S14 Canyon (14 feet X 40 inches) and S16 Explorer (16 feet X 40 inches) has been almost 100% positive (SOAR also offers the 16 feet X 48 inch Pro Pioneer and the 10 feet X 40 inch S10 Squirt, neither of which I have paddled.) In trips on rugged whitewater rivers like Idaho's Main Salmon, Utah's Green, Arkansas's Upper Buffalo and Mulberry, and Texas' Rio Grande and Devils the boat has been the perfect choice for weeklong trips carrying 300-400 pounds of gear and supplies through rough water with deep holes and huge standing waves. It has taken me over 10 foot waterfalls and across limestone river beds that would scrape the bottom off a hardshell canoe. On more mundane waters the boat has been easily adaptable, keeping up with plastic canoes and kayaks on group trips with ease while allowing enjoyment of such amenities as double high airbeds, propane stoves, large tents and coolers full of food and beverages that cannot be carried in kayaks, or even most hard canoes.
I have been a proud SOAR owner since 2007, and every year it finds new ways to impress and thrill me. Its stability in turbulent whitewater is astonishing, and its graceful ease on flatwater is almost like being on a paddle wheel boat except that the paddle is in your hands. I have front- and side-surfed hydraulics on rivers, raced through huge rapids and enjoyed the ability to roll up the boat and stick it in the trunk or the back seat whenever I want to paddle. At least a dozen of my friends have been impressed enough to buy SOARs of their own, and I have talked with several people while on rivers who stated their intentions to buy them, as well. And, if you really want to know what most SOAR owners feel about their boats, then try finding a used one for sale. One of the things I like most about my SOAR is that it opened up some rivers that I just could not negotiate in my whitewater canoes and it will extend my paddling life on all types of rivers beyond the time when getting in and out of a whitewater boat is more pain and trouble than it is worth.
If I had to nominate one boat to be the best overall for somebody wanting just one boat, then the SOAR would be my first choice.
Marc W. McCord, PublisherSouthwest Paddler
Until 2007, I swore that I would never pay over $100 for a paddle because the ones I had always used, which cost less than that had always served me well. I used the same recreational paddles for everything from flatwater to whitewater to racing and was very satisfied. Then, while preparing for the Texas Water Safari I had the opportunity to experience Zaveral Racing Equipment (ZRE) carbon fiber paddles after which time I found it impossisble to return to my own paddles and be comfortable. The ZREs were light, strong, perfectly fit my hands and conserved energy both by the way the blades cut through the water and the reduced weight I was lifting with every stroke. It has been estimated that a paddler in the Safari will paddle about 300,000 strokes during the race, each one moving the weight of the paddle, so switching from a 40-ounce paddle to an 8.5 ounce paddle meant that I was now moving only about one fifth as much weight with each paddle stroke, and that makes a LOT of difference over a long race that has plenty else to wear down muscles. So, I plopped down the money and bought a couple of ZREs each costing about 3 times the maximum I had previously been willing to spend on paddles and looking back it was the best investment in equipment I ever made!
Over the years I have used my ZREs on every trip I have taken, and I generally paddle more than 1,000 miles per year. The ZREs have more than lived up to their reputation among racing enthusiasts - they have done everything I asked of them, and much more. At first, I feared using them in whitewater, but soon came to trust that they were just as well suited for the rough stuff as they were on flatwater rivers. I also found out that they were not as brittle and delicate as I had feared, and that they would withstand just about anything I would do to them. And, THEY ARE LIGHT! Until you have used a ZRE you really cannot imagine the difference because not all carbon fiber paddles are as lightweight and yet as strong.
Starting with the grip, I chose the palm grip and it was the perfect choice. The palm grip perfectly fits the natural curvature of the hand reducing the tension with which one grips a paddle. That results in less muscle tension and fatigue. It is also much easier to grasp when switching hands and it just feels natural when it is gripped. Rather than circular, the shaft is a tapered oval shape and just feels more natural in your lower hand. If you purchase uncut paddles to size to your personal needs (as I did) the tapered oval shape of the shaft makes perfect alignment of the grip with the blade automatic. Blades are available in various widths, each 18 - 19 inches long, to give a big bite in the water for maximum stroke efficiency. Paddles are also available with straight or bent shaft (0° - 15°, with 12° standard) in just about any length you prefer depending upon the type of boat you are paddling. ZRE makes paddles for flatwater racing, recreational, whitewater, outrigger, dragon boat and stand-up paddle board disciplines.
Experience has taught me that ZRE paddles are the best investment in paddling gear I ever made because of their quality, reliability, comfort, efficiency and feel. I have paddles made by 5 companies, but the only ones I use are my ZREs because they are simply the best paddles I have ever used. I never leave home without them!