Your spraydeck is the difference between having a light, nimble kayak and having a water logged submarine. As kayakers it’s the piece of gear on which we place the highest expectations and demands. The forces that act upon us on whitewater are tremendous and often much more powerful than we perhaps first perceive. Your spraydeck will be working all day for you to keep water out of your kayak and also to keep the air inside – resisting blowing under compression from the direct force of a water jet but also stretching to accommodate the air compressed in your kayak as it flexes slightly under stress.
The grab loop must be entirely bombproof; the seams must live up to being wet and stretched without leaking for months, if not years, on end; it must fit on a range of cockpit sizes; and unlike other essential items like our paddles – we rarely carry a spare. You may favour one attribute in a spraydeck over another, for example: ease to take on and off; bomb-proofness; grab loop placement; reinforcement; or overall dryness. But by and large, the main choice you will have when choosing a whitewater spraydeck is between a shock cord spraydeck and a rand spraydeck.
A traditional shock cord spraydeck is great for everyday use, is easy to put on, and conforms nicely to a variety of cockpit rim shapes. A rand spraydeck provides you with a tighter and thicker seal against the cockpit rim which is a key component in stopping the spraydeck from imploding, it is however slightly harder to put on and take off. This is a trade-off that I am willing to make in order to have peace of mind above a rapid or waterfall where a blown spraydeck would be disastrous. As a general rule, I suggest that anyone running whitewater over class 4 should be using a rand spraydeck.
I have been using the Palm Orbit deck for the past three years and have been continually impressed by it. Whilst I expect the world from my equipment, I am also a realist, and there have been several times over the past few years where I have been astonished that my deck held. It has stood up to 100 foot waterfall descents, huge whitewater in Pakistan and Quebec and has always held strong. Trust in your equipment is a key component in being able to try new things on the river and ultimately to progress your kayaking skills.
On the Ottawa river, we came across a set of really powerful whirlpools. These things were fully capable of sucking down a full sized creek boat and I shudder to think what would happen if you were unfortunate enough to end up in one without all the air in your kayak. It is fair to say that most people would view these things as hideous nasties to be avoided at all costs. However, when you have full trust in your abilities and equipment, the paradigm shifts and you can begin to experience the river to its fullest, without the fear of ‘what ifs’. I spent the better part of two hours with Adrian Mattern riding the whirlpools and having an absolute blast as we were continually spun around, sucked down and generally thrashed by the converging currents. We had no doubt that our equipment would stand up to this punishment.
Often the most abused and underrated piece of equipment in our gear bag, our spraydeck can be the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘scary’, and key to feeling confident to try something new. Choose a spraydeck that is best suited for your needs, buckle up and enjoy the ride. See you on the water! – Bren