So it's getting close to creeking season in the southeast and lots of us are picking out those sweet new rides for the coming rains. With the multitude of choices and styles out there, it can be tough to decide on just one creeker. I've been asked a few times recently how to know a creeker is the right one for you? Well I'm going to do my best to answer this question as completely and concisely as I can.
First, ask yourself if you're a passive/reactive paddler or an aggressive/proactive paddler.
A creek boat should compliment your style and make up for your short comings.... so know thyself. I'm assuming you're considering creeking in it?
Active vs Passive: If you like to sit sideways and figure things out then throw out longer,faster boats like the Villain... they need to be driven deliberately and proactively. You'll probably be more comfortable in shorter, more maneuverable creekers like the Hero. If you're a paddler that KNOWS where you want to be and where you want to go with a strong forward stroke and no second guessing, faster boats like the Villain compliment your style and will work well with you. That said, you can actively drive a Hero or passively paddle a Villain... but It's a lot easier to actively paddle a Hero than it is to slow down a Villain in the heat of the moment when you suddenly aren't so sure where you're going.
Know your weakness: If you have a weak forward stroke or are a bit light and have trouble powering through holes and curlers, then a longer boat will put you at ease, providing all the speed you need the moment you want it. At the same time, if you're lacking technical skill and have to rely on powering through rapids, a longer and faster design may feel more comfortable for you. If you're a strong paddler with a powerful stroke but you tend to miss your boofs or lack the more fine tuned, technical skills of a seasoned creeker, then a shorter boat may be the best compliment for you since they boof and maneuver easier while still utilizing your speed.
Know your geology: For really steep, rocky creeks a displacement (round) hull will usually be better. For higher volume creeking or pool drop style runs, a planning hull can be a huge help for carving tight turns or carving out of holes. Planing hulls provide a unique level of control but can catch on the sharper rocks found on mankier river beds. At the same time, longer designs may handle longer, more violent rapids better where powering through is the best option.
Hole blaster or hole bait? This can vary with technique (ducking under vs punching vs boofing/ramping holes), but a common myth is that short, stubby designs are hole bait. It simply isn't true. While logically you would think that a short, bulky, stubby design should be more retentive, typically these designs have planing hulls. Longer designs typically have displacement hulls and many longer designs are MUCH more likely to overstay their welcome in a hole. Why is this? The real issue boils down to maneuverability and hull design. It doesn't matter what design you're paddling, if you end up hitting a hole at 45 degrees to 90 degrees (sideways) you will more than likely be getting to know your new bubbly friend. It doesn't matter what design you're in. If you have a displacement hull you're only bet is to gather speed and get to a corner so you can power out. Unfortunately, that isn't always possible. If you have a planing hull you have another option. You can initiate the edge, catch water as you would in a playboat and edge your way out of a hole. The edge has more drag and more applied surface area so you have more options and are much less likely to spend any time in the hole. Personally, I'll take the risk of a shorter design for the extra maneuverability and ability to edge out any day of the week.
So figure out what kind of paddler you are, what kind of skill set you have, your strengths and weaknesses, and what type of water you'll most likely spend the most time on and you'll be well on your way to knowing exactly what you want in a creeker.