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submitted by Christina Kossis 

The Gnarvana has transformed creek boat designs to the next level for all types of whitewater; being the most fun, agile, and stable boofing machine that I have ever paddled!

Find out why below in my initial impressions and full review of the kayak:

What do I want in a kayak?

Small Gnarvana

As I’ve advanced in kayaking, my values have changed regarding a design’s performance. I’ve steered away from the No. 1 focus of stability (although still very much appreciated) and now enjoy a kayak that requires more aggressive paddling. What I mean by aggressive paddling is that I want something that I am steering and controlling, that I can “dance” and maneuver through rapids. I can summarize my perfect creek boat with 5 words:

1. Balance: A properly distributed proportion of volume to allow the kayak to perform on entrances and exits of drops and going over hydraulics.
2. Rocker: The ability to flow over holes and launch boofs clear to the moon.
3. Smooth Edges: The ability to transition between edges, use the edges to steer the kayak along with paddle strokes, and surf gracefully in and out of hydraulics.
4. Maneuverability: Something capable of changing direction and turning on a dime when needed.
5. Speed: A kayak that is forgiving by gaining speed in big water runs to push through the hardest whitewater and not get bogged down.
In my experience so far, this kayak encompasses every one of those values.

Initial impressions, outfitting, and test runs.

Small Gnarvana

Initial Impression:

The Gnarvana is a kayak that you could just sit in and paddle down river with a few sizing adjustments, easily done in less than 5 minutes at a put-in. However, in order to get the optimal performance of the kayak, I have found I needed to outfit the kayak more specifically and snuggly to my body type.


This included a few approaches, adding more hips pads, raising the seat with foam (some paddlers replace the seat with a happy seat), and I tested the kayak downriver in every seat position. I found the seat in the back position was excellent for edge transitions through the stern, but it didn’t balance the kayak well enough to my personal liking exiting bigger drops. As a result, I tried the seat one notch forward and then two notches forward. I’ve concluded that having the seat all the way forward is my preferred placement, but partially forward was still fun for driving the kayak. I have been very focused on being the driving force for a kayak and found that all the way forward allows me to steer it best. In conclusion for seat position and outfitting in general, I think that everyone should test out what feels best for them and their paddling style.

Test Runs:

In order to understand a kayak’s full potential, I find that I need to paddle the most technical and diverse groups of whitewater, including high volume runs and steep tight creeks with significant drops. Below are the first 5 runs I tested the Gnarvana on:

1. Red Creek (low level, low volume steep creeking, seat in middle/neutral position):
This run was not planned, but the stars aligned. Being one of the most sought after runs on the east coast, requiring copious amounts of rain and located in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia, Red Creek felt appropriate for such a highly esteemed kayak’s first decent. This run has a series of steep angled continuous slides, boulder dancing rapids, and 10-15’ waterfalls. I paddled this run with the seat in the neutral position. I found that I was gleefully yipping after every boof and slide, as the kayak just floated over hydraulics and could almost boof on its own. It made me confident that I could run every runnable drop. The level was low and this allowed me to test the kayaks full potential to dancing between rocks and turning constantly. I noticed in the neutral seat position I needed to throw more corrective strokes than I prefer to keep the kayak paddling straight consistently. This led me to trying all of the seat positions.

2. Top Yough (medium level (450 CFS), mix between steep creeking and wide river boulder gardens, seat in the back position):
This run I consider a staple local run. It comes in often and I know it very well. Testing the Gnarvana on this was like a play day, allowing me to compare how it reacted to familiar drops vs. other kayak designs. I ran multiple laps perfectly, testing out ferry potential, surfing it, boulder garden boofs, and floating over the stickiest holes. A key takeaway for me on this test day was the kayaks’ ability to not only drive, but hold a line through technical, consequential rapids such as suck hole. I found that having the seat back, I could use the stern edges to maneuver the kayak around and the bow was raised slightly. My issue with the seat back was I had to aggressively lean forward or I felt the stern catching in landings.

3. Upper Yough (highwater (3.1 feet), more wide river style boulder gardens, seat one notch forward)
This run put the Gnarvana to the next test, high volume Class V performance. Above 3 feet, the Upper Yough loses it’s creeky feeling and becomes a continuous, technical big water run, with must make moves and consequential hydraulics. On this day I discovered that the Gnarvana almost takes flight on its own in rapids, I easily pointed, and it went exactly where I wanted to go. My favorite part of this run was discovering the Gnarvanas potential for launching big water boofs that sent you soaring clear out of the water. I found that with the seat forward I was still able to use the edges to maneuver the kayak, but it also helped me drive the kayak and have fewer corrective strokes.

4. Blackwater (both lower (320 CFS) and higher levels (450 CFS), seat one notch forward and fully forward)
The Blackwater is my personal favorite run in the world. It includes 2 miles of continuous Class 4/5 whitewater with 4-6’ boofs, long slides, tight slots, and technical maneuvers that flow together smoothly. The Blackwater has been the game changer for the Gnarvana. Before paddling this, my impressions were “cool, this kayak is fun, it boofs perfectly, it turns on a dime, it gives me confidence”. The Blackwater laps in this kayak were graceful dances, maneuvering through rapids fluidly and styling every drop effortlessly. The seat all the way forward allowed me to drive for every boof and maneuver the kayak through tight lines with ease.

5. Deckers Creek in Morgantown (both lower (300 CFS) and medium levels (360 CFS), seat fully forward)
Decker’s is considered one of the steepest most technical creeks in West Virginia. This section I’ve always considered a step up, “be on your 100% A game” run. My first time taking the Gnarvana down it, the run was low. I found myself frustrated constantly bouncing off rocks. However, I came to realize later, this had nothing to do with the kayak. And reflecting on it, the Gnarvanas rocker allowed me to not only maneuver more smoothly, but I was able to turn the kayak on its sides to avoid many of the surface level rocks. My second time testing the Gnarvana on Deckers, it was medium flow. This was the day that I finally connected with the kayak and regained that “dance” that I fell in love with on the Blackwater. It allowed me to smoothly maneuver down the run with perfect boofs and lines through very fast paced slots, turns, and hydraulics.


My personal takeaway: The small Gnarvana encompasses everything I want in a creek boat. The kayak is 80 gallons which is ideal for my weight range, driving power, and volume on highwater runs. It is playful, surfs out of holes nicely and can spin around, even in ledges.

5 Things to consider for testing the Gnarvana:

1. It takes more than one day to understand a new kayak.
2. For Beginners, I have received feedback that it is extremely easy to roll.
3. This kayak requires skill to paddle down harder rapids. It is not a kayak expected to turn a Class 3 paddler into a Class 5 paddler.
4. My body type works with a small or medium Gnarvana. So, I tested a medium Gnarvana once on the Eagle Slides in New York before deciding on the Small. I highly recommend trying different sizes, as I am a fan of smaller, low volume creek boats. Depending on the style of paddling, more volume will give you more speed and the ability to cruise through big water.
5. This kayak is designed to be playful; it’s not going to be the most stable if you don’t paddle and float down the river. To experience its full potential, you will need to drive the kayak.

In summary, this kayak can be both playful and forgiving. It makes paddling a creek boat guaranteed FUN on all types of whitewater!

Photo Credits: Jesse Shimrock and Tanner Henson