Pump it up. Cinch the seat in place. Now, push off into the rapids. That's what it takes to start a whitewater adventure with Zoik Inflatables's AlterEgo kayak (zoikinflatables.com). The pump-up boat, made for whitewater and flat-water touring, weighs about 26 pounds when deflated. It rolls up into a package about as big as a large bag of groceries. But after a couple minutes' work with a hand pump, an inflated boat emerges that's almost ten feet long and worthy of whitewater up to Class III.
Zoik, a Colorado company, makes whitewater rafts, riverboards, and inflatable kayaks. The AlterEgo model, at $549.99, is a super-buoyant watercraft--a half-kayak, half-raft build popular with paddlers who favor whitewater where waves can wash over an open deck.
For the past month, I have paddled the AlterEgo on rivers and lakes, including serious rapids. In mid-June, on a stretch of the Baptism River in northern Minnesota, I slalomed big rocks before pointing the AlterEgo off a drop. The boat, which feels large for a kayak, busted through standing waves and kept its line. It is a fun boat in whitewater, though calling it a kayak is a stretch. For me, the experience is more akin to rafting than whitewater kayaking.
You can't roll the Zoik kayak. It cannot turn on a dime like a hard-shell kayak, though the AlterEgo's maneuverability is good enough for most paddling. Because of its width, about 38 inches, and its elevated seat, the boat feels bigger than its 9-foot, 6-inch length.
The boat has drain valves that can be left open. Water sloshing inside the craft can then drain as you go downstream. On flat water, you shut the drain valves to stay dry. A paddler in the AlterEgo, which comes with a clip-in padded seat, sits fairly high off the floor and above the waterline. A removable skeg under the hull helps for tracking straight.
The Zoik boat has a max load capacity of 320 pounds. For fun, I loaded the craft up with three small kids--two of mine and their cousin--for a float down a city creek. I paddled and the preschoolers sat up front, their feet tucked under a splashguard at the bow. The boat was perfect for the family cruise.
Overall, the AlterEgo is a good choice as an entry-level boat for people wanting to dabble in multiple water venues, from ocean paddling to whitewater. For advanced paddlers, the boat can handle big water and standing waves on serious rivers and creeks. The deck and hull are made of nearly bombproof PVC. Three air chambers, including a pair of 11.5-inch-diameter side tubes and an inflatable floor, keep you high and afloat--no matter the bumps and drops along the way.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoor gear at www.gearjunkie.com.