I’ve waited long enough to author this review to allow me a chance to use the River Elf, Storm Rider M for close to a dozen times under varied, low water/high water conditions. That, to avoid the manifestations of the typical instant euphoria reflecting in reviews of new, exiting toys.
So, here it goes:
If I wanted to summarize the boat’s performance, I’d compared it to a super-nice human being, “having not single bad bone in her body”. The Storm Rider is an incredibly well designed, well built kayak that has shown me simply no vice. It makes everything easy and fun.
The model I have is the SR Medium. 8’5” long, 26 ¼ wide and 83 gallons of volume. That volume, nicely concentrated in the stern and around the cockpit, is plenty enough for my 190 lbs (with gear) weight. That rear volume and stern shape gives the boat superb stability under all tried conditions. Be that big water hydraulics, deep eddy-line seams, wild turbulence, the SR handles them in a reassuring, calm manner. Thus far I could not find anything to upset that calm stability. All this while the SR provides surprisingly decent forward tracking despite the large amount of hull rocker typical of Creeker designs. Turning, spinning is so easy, hardly requiring any paddle input. Not even funny hydraulics that tends to grab and pull-down on the sidewalls of some boats seem to effect this one. Simply fun, confidence inspiring behavior, combined with the low weight that produces truly rewarding, high performance handling. The weight of my model with all the options installed came to a bit below 29 lbs. Huge difference from the typical plastic creek kayaks of this size being at least 45 lbs.
This is where this boat makes it into the truly “exceptional” category. I started kayaking when we still built our own composite boats, as well as purchased them from the manufacturers. I can say that this SR has the quality built that exceeds anything in my long experiences. The layup is rather heavy-duty, including many layers of Kevlar+S Glass in the hull and also adding Carbon fiber layers to the deck. To break this layup one needs to land on some ultra sharp lava-rocks that would be hard on any plastic kayak, as well. The average river bedrock touches should not hurt this hull!
Even in my $5000+ full Carbon ocean racing ski kayak the carbon layer seams are imperfectly visible under the mirrored finishes. In the SR all carbon pieces seem to have been made from a single piece. No edges to layers are visible. The one thing I would have preferred is for the thigh-braces to be more aggressive, for more thigh contact. I could easily add the additional surfaces but, am reluctant to alter and mess up such beautiful pieces of carbon fiber :-).
Inside the cockpit the added reinforcement layers under the seat area are seam-taped, to avoid any potential sharp edges that the additional layers would leave. The high-backed carbon fiber seat is light weight as well as supportive. The shock-absorbing foot support actually has a spring that retracts it automatically into the bow when the adjusting webbing is released. The outer finish is simply gorgeous, evoking admiring comments from boaters around me.
While shipping to CA from Alabama was expensive in terms of dollars, it seemed inexpensive after taking apart the many layers of special padding that protected the boat during shipment. It had to take hours to pack thea boat with such attention to details!
So, when it comes to performance and quality, the boat excels beyond my expectations. However, the review would be incomplete without mentioning the Customer Service. My contact is Chris, one of the Brothers that run the River Elf business. He has shown such a, “beyond my wildest expectations” type of customer service that simply does not exist anywhere else. Long, personalized instructions included, extensive repair kits included, and offers to help with anything, including spare or replacement parts are included. There is a person/family that truly stand behind their products, even after the sale.
All together the Storm Rider has hit all the right buttons for me. I am an extremely discriminating whitewater kayaker, having designed and built my own very successful competition kayaks. Ahead of all, I appreciate performance and light weight. In the Storm Rider treasure a river kayak that is my, “Dance Partner” where I simply lead and she makes all the perfect moves to make my lead-moves even better, more elegant. Nice to know that such degree of perfection still exist these days!
The one suggestion that I could make to River Elf is to consider making a River Runner type kayak with less overall (particularly stern) rocker, faster hull speeds and even increased precision handling. These days the class II and class III rivers are overrun with folks using dedicated, ultra heavy Creek Boats. Many of those people likely would never progress into Class IV and beyond and would, no doubt, appreciate a light weight, quick, yet maneuverable design. I know, I would snap one up in a fraction of a second if/when available.
Words: Albert Romvari