This whitewater canoe review originally appeared in Rapid magazine.
When Jeremy Laucks landed a spot on the U.S. Freestyle Team to compete in OC-1 at the 2007 World Championships, there was just one problem. The pro kayaker and C-1 paddler couldn’t find an open boat that felt quite right.
Armed with some modest shaping and molding experience gained from dabbling with composites in grad school, Laucks built a prototype based on a shortened Spanish Fly, named it the Blackfly and paddled it to a bronze finish at the Worlds. Two years later, Laucks and his refined prototype took the gold medal, and long neglected OC freestylers took notice.
Production was a logical, if risky, next step. “With the small market for these boats, the cost of an aluminum mold was prohibitive,” says Laucks, who used his skills working with composites to produce a short-run fiberglass mold. He built the first Blackflys in his garage in the New Hampshire foothills. Now, nearly three years on, the canoes are molded at a shop in Pennsylvania but Laucks still finishes each one in his 800-square-foot, backyard barn-cum-boat factory.
In 2011, Laucks introduced a new design to the growing Blackfly Canoes line-up, the Option. At 8’8”, this poly creek boat is positioned as an obvious rival to the popular Esquif L’Edge.
The Option is just six inches shorter than the L’Edge and, according to the spec sheets, weighs the same 56 lbs, but the overall impression is of a much smaller and lighter boat. It accelerates faster than the L’Edge and glides amazingly well given its length. There’s no need to drive it forward on every stroke, and it doesn’t stall or spin out like many shorter boats. This makes it a great option (pun intended) for paddlers looking for a creek boat that can do double-duty as a river runner.
The Option loves to be paddled from the front, but won’t punish you if you lay down a less-than-perfect forward stroke. The short waterline lets you snap it into micro eddies, surf small waves, slide over rocks and boof almost anything with ease. Driving it down boulder inclines and over drops on the Tellico Ledges, the predictable stability took the focus off keeping the boat upright and put it where it should be, on hitting the line.
Thank the Option’s unique double chines for its blend of continuous, confidence-building stability and must-make-eddy maneuverability. Inspired by kayak creek boat design, these stepped transitions strike a balance that’s somewhere between boxy boats like the Ocoee and L’Edge and rounded hulls like the Rival.
At nearly two inches wider and a hair deeper, Esquif’s creeker edges (zing!) out the Op- tion slightly on stability and dryness, but only slightly. Laucks suggests a dynamic paddling style to match the Option’s inclination toward snappy performance over Pampers dryness, “It’s responsive to leaning forward or backward to adjust the trim and keep the bow up through waves and when punching holes.”
The Option comes completely outfitted with airbags and a foam bulkhead. If you’re a fan of the more precise fit of thigh straps, the bulkhead takes some getting used to, but it’s a mandatory compromise when paddling a plastic hull. Glue-on patch anchors simply won’t stick to polyethylene. Additional foam on the inside sidewalls helps snug up the fit.
The finish on the Option is not as polished as more mass-produced boats, which are manufactured in a metal mold. Laucks responds matter-of-factly to criticism of the fiberglass-molded Option’s aesthetics, “There’s a reason my boats are cheaper. But I’m learning a lot very quickly and getting things figured out.”
Given the enthusiasm of Option paddlers for their boats and the continuing growth of Blackfly Canoes despite an increasingly anorexic OC whitewater market, larger volume production—and an aluminum mold—could be in Laucks’ future. Until then, for sporty, rough-and-ready creeking and river running performance without the weight and expense, there’s no better Option.
BLACKFLY OPTION SPECS
MATERIAL - Polyethylene
LENGTH - 8’8”
WIDTH - 28”
DEPTH - 15.75”
WEIGHT - 56 lbs
- ALF regular Peter Kasurak joined the Rapid boat review team for intensive testing.