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This year, I had the grand opportunity to spend a month in White Salmon, WA, to paddle new whitewater and compete in the 2024 Little White Salmon Race. In prepping for this trip, I had to choose between bringing my medium Gnarvana or Nirvana. Knowing the season in the Pacific Northwest had been incredibly rain-heavy up to the end of February, I opted for the Gnarvana as it handles mostly every creeking/river running scenario better than the Nirvana. This paid off as the Little White was on the high side for most of March, and, though I did not go on any missions outside the gorge, having the Gnarvana for the possibility of waterfall or overnight missions was ideal.

As the race approached and all focus was on timing race laps, the debate over Nirvana and Gnarvana reemerged. Less rocker, a flatter stern, a lower waterline, and a touch extra length make the Nirvana wicked fast through flats, boils, and out of drops. While, on the other hand, higher rocker, sharper edges, and higher knee placement make the Gnarvana generally easier to paddle and more forgiving. 10 or so days before the race, I got my hands on a Nirvana, so I now had the chance to test the boats back-to-back.

Everything I previously mentioned became very apparent. The Gnarvana handled the chaos of medium/high water Little White with ease while the Nirvana planed out of low-angle holes, boils, and sped through class II better. Boulder gardens, steep holes and holes with larger piles are a breeze in the Gnarvana while proving to be more of a challenge in the Nirvana. My training times revealed similar times between boats, so I was left with an unclear choice: Nirvana for raw speed or Gnarvana for precision and comfort. While I made plenty of mistakes in both kayaks, I felt more on target in the Gnarvana even if I was sacrificing speed in specific areas. Knowing the water level would rise in the couple days leading up to the race, I decided to race the Gnarvana as the holes would become tougher to boof over.

Race day arrived, and even without the run I was hoping for, I laid down a fast enough time to take 8th place; I felt happy with my choice to use the Gnarvana. Having more confidence to hit my lines and with less effort enabled me to paddle harder for longer and worry less about saving energy to fix errors. That said, I bobbled several lines in the first half but pulled it back together and laced the back half. I imagine a few of the mistakes could have resulted in worse outcomes if I used the Nirvana due to the lower rocker. However, had no rain come, I likely would have raced the Nirvana as holes and wave trains would flatten, allowing for more effective paddle strokes.

The best takeaway from all this is that one boat may not always be the fastest. Many people argue over which boat is faster; even though the Gnarvana is less fast than the Nirvana in flatwater, sometimes the easier boat to paddle is faster. At 3.7′, the Gnarvana felt faster to me on the Little White because I could afford more mistakes, but I may argue otherwise at 3.5′ when the river slows and mellows out. In contrast, I will always race a Nirvana down the Green (if I’m not in a long boat) despite the level because there are minimal waves and more flat pools. Boat choice depends upon the course, so try out different boats, find the one that works for you, and it may not be the one everyone raves about.