First, the disclaimer: Unlike my past reviews, this one has a much stronger bias than just that of a team member.
The Loki was my idea. I sent a series of very impassioned emails to Graham at Pyranha to try to convince him to revisit the 7' slicy playboat era to create a new and improved boat in a genre that many people loved very much some years ago. Lots of those people - like me - had been left out in the cold as playboats evolved away from the tricks and paddling style that we enjoyed.
There is no way I can thank Graham enough for going out on a limb and creating a modern version of these classic boats!
I was also involved in the design of the Loki. So I can give you a lot of insight into what we were going for, and also some answers on how well I think we did.
So first off, the goals:
The idea was to bring back the old school slicy playboats and modernize them to make them easier for today's paddlers to handle. As many people know, those old boats like the I:3, S:8, Ace, etc. performed really well, but they were super twitchy. Back then, people were much more used to a high level of grabbiness on the edges and stern, but today's paddlers are much more accustomed to the forgiving creek boats that they spend most of their time in.
So one major goal was to make the boat easy to paddle, and also to make it more suitable/pleasing for river running up to class IV+ or even V-. One of the things I had observed is that the majority of modern paddlers aren't comfortable river-running in the modern short poppy playboats. Or even if they are comfortable paddling them, they are putting up with the river running in order to get to the playspots instead of enjoying the river running as well as the play. That's why I wanted something 7' long with some sweet paddling aesthetics - speed, glide, and elegance. I wanted to give people something that would do a lot of tricks, but that they also would enjoy taking to a lot of different rivers and simply paddling when they weren't playing. I also wanted a boat that would open up play possibilities for people who don't live near a great looping spot or an awesome big wave, but who just want to add some tricks like surfs, spins, squirts, and splats to spice up their local runs.
Another primary goal was to create something that modern paddlers could transition into from their creek boats without getting destroyed. This is not just a retro boat for crusty old-school holdouts to paddle. I had noticed that a lot of paddlers only paddle creek boats these days; so I figured that if we want more people to try out playing, we have to make playboats more friendly, familiar, and pleasant to paddle. This means more length, more speed, and the glide you get from the progressive rocker profiles that most paddlers are used to.
I also wanted to work out some of the kinks in the abilities of my old favorite boat the I:3, as well as the ever-popular cult-classic S:8 - namely, that their sterns would often hang when trying to spin on a wave, and that their sterns had to be engaged most of the time in river running and boofing. I also wanted to take advantage of the more modern hull designs to get better, looser surfing and better spinning. Basically, the goal was to throw looping out the window and make a boat that did everything else in the book easily and well.
And totally selfishly, I wanted something that creeked well enough that I would be willing to run it through Gorilla on the Green - so that I could enjoy all of my favorite rock spins and splatwheels on my local summer run without skipping the biggest rapid of the day.
It was a tall order.
So how did we do? Here are my observations.
Sizes I've paddled - small and medium.
I'll first comment on sizing based on my experience and the experience of friends who have paddled the boat.
Note: This is a slicy boat with relatively low knee position, so the position will take some getting used to if you haven't paddled a boat like this before. It might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but most people's bodies will adjust to the new position given a bit of time. Trust me, the Loki is MUCH more comfortable than many of the older slicy boats and has significantly more footroom.
Medium: I fit very nicely in the medium and can wear creek boots in it. I can get the ends under well with some small effort, and it runs rivers very nicely at my weight. I have a friend who is 6'4" or 6'5" who paddles a medium as well. He's lighter than me but has plenty of leverage to throw the boat around and gets the ends under with ease. He does have skinny legs, which helps him fit in the medium at his height. I put a friend who is 215 lbs in the medium one day on a local class III river run, and he had fun in it. It was pretty squirty on him, so that's probably the absolute top of the weight range for the medium, and then only if you want a really spicy ride.
Small: I fit in the small with shoes on, but I have short legs and relatively small feet. I'm surprisingly comfortable river running in it considering how heavy I am for the boat. Andria also paddles the small at 5'3", 28" inseam, and 125 lbs. It looks like a perfect fit for her, and she gets great surfs, splats, squirts, and spins in it at her weight. I would guess the practical weight range for this boat goes down to 100 lbs for river running and up to around 165 lbs if you really want to throw down some ends. I am still comfortable creeking familiar class V like Green and Rocky Broad (but not V+ like Gorilla) in mine at 175 lbs, which is a testament to how well this boat runs rivers. Obviously, the ends go under effortlessly and often at my weight.
Large: I have only seen one large on the river thus far and have not paddled it, so I can't comment on the sizing. I have heard from taller/bigger guys that taking the seat pad out of the boat gave them significantly more leg room and comfort.
Downriver: The first thing I noticed when I got in the Loki is that the increased stern rocker makes it a touch slower than boats like the I:3 and S:8, especially when sitting up straight. It's still WAY faster than any of the short modern playboats. It has some nice smooth glide due to the progressive rocker, so it feels slinky on the water - although not quite as slinky smooth as the boats with less stern rocker. I find that the Loki's top hull speed is greatest when I sit back a little bit and get the stern in the water to lengthen the waterline of the boat. The other difference I noticed immediately between the Loki and the older slicers is that this boat feels super stable because the stern is not engaged when you sit up straight. So there's no more having to tense my abs all day long like I did in my I:3. I can sit back and paddle this boat on the stern like the older boats, or I can sit up, lean forward and paddle it like a modern creek boat. It's really the best of both worlds.
The Loki also boofs like a dream. The bow is turned up so that it will rocker out of 45 degree landings without penciling in. The increased stern rocker means it releases well on boofs when you're sitting forward. This is a huge difference from the I:3 and S:8 - in those boats you basically had to lean back and engage the stern a split second before you boofed in order to keep the bow up, or the stern would hang in the water as you went over the drop and cause your bow to fall. The Loki really boofs a lot like a creek boat, although you can still lean back and engage the stern for those springy squirt-boofs if you want - you just have to go looking for that action a little bit more. Try it, it's a lot of fun!
Stern Squirts: Easy, easy, like a dream. You do have to exaggerate your back lean a little bit more than in boats with less stern rocker. The increased stern rocker means you don't have to get your stern under nearly as far to get your bow vertical.
Surfs and spins: The rocker of this boat means it rarely purls while front surfing. As I said above, the added stern rocker has the advantage of allowing the stern not to hang when you spin. What I wasn't expecting but was very pleased by is the way the progressive rocker helps spinning. On planing hull boats that had more of a kick rocker, there was a very precise angle that you had to maintain with your hull in order to remain in a plane and spin on the wave. They were especially picky on where your weight was front to back on the long axis of your boat. The progressive rocker hull is WAY more forgiving on where you can have your weight and still plane - it can plane on almost any point between your knees and the back of the seat. The softer, lifted edges also hang far less than on the older boats, meaning I was instantly much better at flat spinning in this boat than I had ever been in a boat this length before. I even find that in the small Loki (which I am way too heavy for) I am able to flat spin in places like the bottom wave of Double Trouble on the Ocoee or Insig Wave on the Upper Gauley where I wasn't ever able to flat spin the I:3.
Ends: At first I was concerned that the added volume in the foot area would make it harder to get the ends under in the Loki than in the I:3 or S:8, but the softer sidewalls more than make up for the added volume. It feels like there is less of a wall to try to force under water, which makes the ends feel really smooth. I do notice that the added stern rocker means I have to have my weight in a different place when I'm on my stern in order to not fall over. Once I got used to it, it's actually easier because I can have my bow vertically in the air while keeping my stern at a lower angle in the water.
Rock spins: This hull is awesome for rock spinning. Due to the progressive rocker, the boat is less picky about the position front to back in which you can spin. I feel like it's easier to balance on the rock.
Splats: Like with ends, I had to spend some time learning the new angles because the stern doesn't need to go as far under in order to get your bow up and splat in the Loki. This means that I can go a little bit easier on my splats and end up exiting the move upright more often and flipping over less than in boats with less stern rocker.
This boat took some getting used to because of the differences from the older boats I had previously paddled, primarily due to the increased stern rocker. I do miss some of the speed and slinkiness of the older boats, and the extreme ease with which I could get the stern under in those old designs. I'm a squirt boater at heart, so I miss some of the more squirt-boaty aspects that the older designs had.
The increased ease of river running, surfing potential, and the ability to flat spin more than make up for that.
I find myself paddling the Loki on more days when I'm tired or out of shape - days where I would have probably gotten my ass kicked if I was in the I:3 and might have decided to take my Burn instead. I also find myself taking it out at higher water levels and on more rivers than I would have in the I:3, so I use this boat more than any playboat I've ever had - even my trusty old InaZone. The Loki is a confidence inspiring boat. It makes class II fun when I'm teaching in summer, and it also allows me to paddle through class V to get to some of my favorite splatwheel spots without being scared out of my mind. It took me some time to get used to it, but when I gave it a chance I found that it's really an awesome ride - and one that I hope I get to play in for a long time.