Dagger Axiom Review

The Axiom is a planing hull slicey-stern design from Dagger Kayaks. A lot of what I like about it could apply to any slicey boat, so I'm going to split the review into two parts: one part about slicey boats in general, and the other about what's specific to the Axiom. I should also preface this review with a note that slicey boats aren't right for every situation or every paddler. This review is basically aimed at a time-traveling version of myself from the past. I'm imagining a creekboater that hasn't really thought about getting a slicey boat. If you're a beginner or intermediate paddler, or an older paddler who has the skills but not the desire to crush hyphie lines, then there are still plenty of reasons to consider a slicey boat. I'm just not going to discuss them much here in this review.

Slicey Boats

A lot of advanced paddlers really enjoy paddling slicey boats. If you ask why, they always seem to reply with something along the lines of "it's more fun," but they often have trouble articulating why that is the case. I've been thinking about it for a while, and I've come up with a few reasons. It basically boils down to the fact that slicey boats make simple things easy and complicated things harder. More simply: they usually require skill, not strength.

Sometimes... you see this. It's tons of fun.

First, steering a slicey boat is easy. However, once you've got more than a moderate amount of experience, you know how to steer the boat whether it's slicey or not. When you have trouble steering a creekboat, it's usually not because you are doing something wrong, it's because you didn't apply enough muscle. I mean, sure, there are some subtleties to the sweep, draw, and rudder stroke that you can continue to hone in over many years, and these small differences can make your steering more effective, but most of the time you can correctly identify which type of stroke to use, and on which side, and you can apply a moderately effective version of that stroke when needed. However, in a conventional creekboat, turning often requires slapping the thick stern through a wave, or at least turning with the whole length of the waterline in the water. In a slicey boat, you can slip the lower profile stern through waves sideways, and even if there are no waves, by slicing the stern slightly under the surface you can lift the front half of the boat off the water, meaning roughly half as much drag when trying to rotate. So turning the slicey boat is easier in the sense that it requires less muscle. This is like a cheat mode in a video game. It's a huge part of the enjoyable experience.

Now, the other part of the experience: lots of stuff is harder. With a low volume stern, if you do not apply a nice boof (and, depending on the situation, sometimes even if you do apply a nice boof) you will get stood up on end and possibly trashed. If you drop the wrong edge in a difficult rapid, you could be more likely to flip over. Why does this make it more fun? Turning easier was a plus, why should a harder boof also be a plus? My answer is that this gets harder in the sense that it requires you to use better technique and timing, not more muscle and effort. Overcoming this extra difficulty gives you the warm glow of knowing that your skills are improving, not the burn of aching muscles. As with turning the boat, boofing can often require less raw force, but needs a lot more skill.

In a slicey boat, the reason that everything requires less strength and more skill is, at its core, the edges on the boat. In a bulbous conventional creeker, the edges are not essential. Sure, depending on the design, the edges will do slightly different things, but in general, they are way less important in a creekboat than they are in a slicer. I wrote about this briefly in my Nomad review. On a serious creek run at the limit of your abilities, this is great; you often don't have enough control to pick up the appropriate edge when approaching a critical boof in the midst of some heavy syrup. If this meant that your boof would fail, you would eat a lot of... syrup. However, even in the most rounded giant turd of a creekboat with barely any edge (everyone pictured one of about three designs right there, and I'm resisting making jokes about those three designs), if you're on the correct edge, your moves will work just a little better. With a more edgy creeker, the enhancement will be more pronounced. If you paddle a slicey boat on a run that you're familiar with, it will force you to start choosing the correct edge more often, and will set in some really good habits. When talking about steering, I mentioned that most paddlers can select the right stroke instantly and only need small modifications of the finer points of their technique. However, it can be much harder to select the appropriate edge or even be aware that you ought to select an edge, and it can be frustratingly hard to actually have the necessary balance to actually tilt the boat over even if you know what's supposed to be happening. This skill gap is the one that slicey boats magnify, with increased penalties for mistakes but also increased shreddie rewards for good technique.

So, which edge should I lift for the optimal- oh crap!

The Axiom

So, slicey boats are great, let's all rush out and buy an RPM, right? So far, everything I've said could apply to any slicey boat. Let's discuss a few things, both good and bad, that are unique to the Axiom.

I paddle the large, and the stern is thick enough that when stern squirting, I can get it up just a little on flatwater, up to about 45 degrees on weaker eddylines, and I need a nice vigorous eddyline to go over the top. The tapered bow is still pretty thick, so cartwheeling is a little tough, although I've linked 4 ends once or twice, and straight endos are pretty easy. It still has a lot of play to it, though. I've had some really fun surfs, doing flatspins on reasonable sized waves, and getting a couple blunts and airscrews on some larger waves (big waves, and it was really hard - don't get your hopes up). In the same way, even though I mostly place this boat in the river running end of the spectrum instead of the playboat end, a couple of the play characteristics make river running harder. Specifically, there is about the same amount of rocker on the bow and the stern, and it's not a ton (by creekboat standards). Most creekboats have a huge amount of bow rocker and a flatter stern. The Axiom's reduced bow rocker means that on steeper creeks, it can be tough to keep the bow up, and the relatively enhanced stern rocker means a slight speed reduction on flatwater or when skipping out after boofs. The Axiom's rocker profile looks more like that of a playboat. There's no inherent right or wrong there; it just makes the boat excel in slightly different areas. It's really nice in big water, for example, where the little extra stern rocker keeps the stern edges from catching quite as often.

Photo by Ben Marr. The day I ran a new (to me) line at Pelican on the Slave River.

Negative aspects have got to appear somewhere in the review, so there is one thing that I am completely opposed to in the Axiom. That is the outfitting. It's comfortable and easily adjustable, but Dagger puts their playboat-style outfitting in the Axiom, and it will break. The thought is that since the Axiom has a planing hull and is not a serious creekboat, the playboat outfitting, which features a rail welded on to the inside of the hull, will keep the boat rigid longer. Surfing an old planing hull playboat from the late 90s is often a big disappointment, because the big flat areas of the hull lose their stiffness very quickly, leading to a much less responsive boat that's slower and just... sucks. Surfing a brand new Axiom is a blast. The hull is almost as stiff as a carbon boat, and it just feels great. However, if you use the boat like I do, this will not last. If you boof anything over about 10 feet tall, or consistently land with rocks right under the seat, it starts putting enormous stress on the welds that hold the rail in place, and if (when) they break, there is a chance that they'll also break through the hull itself. This has happened to me, and Dagger was kind enough to replace my boat, but I can't speak for the company and guarantee that they'll do it every time.

This will break the outfitting.
With that said, many users will never break an Axiom. If you use it to paddle big water, or if you are more of an intermediate paddler, or even if you just portage prudently, you can have a durable boat that lasts many seasons. It's not like any rock touch will cause the hull to shatter, you just can't go straight to Spirit Falls and send a massive pancake boof and expect the boat to be as good as new. I had a really really fun time paddling the Axiom on the big water of the North Fork Payette, and after a quick adjustment period I was more confident in the Axiom than I was in my creekboat. That's some hard water and it didn't do much damage to the boat.

Photos By Catherine Loke. The day that I kickflipped Jacob's Ladder on the NF Payette.

The final thing, which honestly was the first thing that I checked on when looking at the Axiom, is the size of the boat. The Axiom comes in three sizes. The smallest size is quite small, the medium fits most paddlers, and the large is big enough for me. I am 6'7" with size 14 feet, and weigh something over 220 lbs. For comparison, I can't fit in the RPM Max, and the regular size RPM is a joke. The large Axiom is comfortable for me even with my creeking shoes on. It's a sporty boat for me, which is a big part of why I like slicey boats in general, but it would still be perfectly maneuverable for much smaller paddlers. My friend Pierce told me about borrowing his dad's large Axiom and having some great surfs in it when he was in high school. However, if it had been too big, there are other sizes to try.

The Axiom has been my favorite boat to run rivers in since I got it. I don't really care that much about the playboat aspects of it; I have a real playboat for doing tricks. I like running rapids in it. I've tried to be really careful to not take it on runs that involve big boofs, so as not to crack it, but every time I get back in the Axiom after paddling a creekboat, I breathe a sigh of relief and immediately start telling everyone in the eddies about how much I like it. If it had different outfitting, I would probably paddle the Axiom almost exclusively. Once I knew for sure that my cracked boat was going to be warrantee replaced, I started taking the Axiom down the Little White Salmon. It has been an absolute blast, and I think that it led to a recent little breakthrough in my skills. When I hop back in a normal creekboat, the edges seem ridiculously forgiving and it's really easy to be stable enough to lift up the correct edge to really kick out some sick jams in hard whitewater.

Here's the axiom in action:

NWCC EFL Mass Start Raw GoPro from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

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