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Machno Small: Reviewed in Chile

Double Drop, Rio Palguin, Chile

I’ll be honest, the first Machno I saw, I just plain wasn’t interested. I spotted a shiny, size medium boat sitting on a trailer and my first impression was that it looked boring, puffy and soft. Not that I had a lot to base that off of; at the time, I had been paddling for fewer than two years and had owned two creek boats – coincidentally, both by Pyranha: a first-generation Burn and an original 9R. When paddlers gather around to ogle a new design and discuss its merits, I tend to stand there and nod sagely while they prattle on about such esoteric mysteries as “chines”, “rocker profile”, and “secondary stability”, hoping no one will ask me to venture an opinion. While I may be able to point to the parts of a boat, I don’t have the experience to predict how a craft will perform based on seeing it out of the water, so as is typical of the ignorant, I jumped to conclusions for no good reason.

Thankfully, Chris Hipgrave was unaware of my prejudice against the Machno, but knew that I was in the market for a new creek boat. I loved the 9R, but at 52 kg (115 lbs), I was just too lightweight for the boat. I jacked the seat up with 6 (yep, six) seat shims, dedicated myself to an aggressive, proactive paddling style, and still felt like I had to fight the boat for every inch. Chris’s initial advice was, “eat more cheeseburgers,” but his second suggestion was, “demo a small Machno.” I felt obligated to give it a try, mostly out of politeness. I didn’t bother to outfit it beyond adjusting the bulkhead and hopped in, expecting I would spend half an hour goofing around and return it with a friendly, “thanks but no thanks.” Man, I was in for a surprise. I couldn’t get off the water soon enough; not because I wanted to stop paddling the boat, but because I wanted to order one while they were still in stock!

Tsunami, Rio San Pedro, Chile

Surprise #1: It’s quicker than it looks

Paddling a 9R, I became a firm believer in #fastisfun. The Machno is not a race design and can’t match the speed of its nearly-nine-foot big brother, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quick it is. It accelerates in a few strokes and feels light and nimble on the water. Its bow, though toned down a bit from the 9R’s signature high volume, dramatic rocker design, still skips over features and allows the paddler to maintain speed and keep their face dry.

Surprise #2: No surprises

Typically when I try out a new boat, I need to play around for a bit in order to familiarize myself with how that particular craft will handle. Not so in this case. From the very first ferry I made and the very first eddy I caught, I knew exactly what the Machno was going to do. I can throw the boat on edge with confidence, and it responds predictably every time. It feels balanced, tracks well, and is easy to adjust with a flick of the wrist. I never feel like I have to fight the boat; I just will it in a direction and it goes. The “softness” I scoffed at when I first saw the boat is probably better described as “smoothness.” The Machno doesn’t catch an edge unpredictably, but it still has performance available when I ask for it. Is it less dynamic than an edgy river runner? Sure, but when I’m in a shallow, technical creek, sometimes “dynamic” is not exactly the goal. “Upright” is more like it, and the Machno does a great job of keeping it hairy side up when things get hairy while still being fun and responsive to paddle.

Surprise #3: Easy rolling

This was a cool bonus! I’m not a big fan of the attitude that certain boats are “hard to roll,” especially when that’s used as an excuse for swimming. I feel like if you have a solid roll, you should be able to roll any modern whitewater boat. If not, keep practising. That being said, the narrowness of the small Machno and its low height at the hip make it particularly easy wrap your body around it to roll. I recently swapped boats with a gal who wanted to try out the Machno. As we were floating through the flat water, I asked her if she knew how to hand roll. She said she had tried, but protested that she couldn’t do it, and had only managed one or two after several pool sessions. I convinced her to give it a shot, and she immediately hit two in a row. Since getting the Machno, I have gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my hand roll, and have hit two combat hand rolls in Chile this season! (Maybe I should learn to hang onto my paddle better…)

Salto Blanco del Sur, Rio Blanco del Sur, Chile

Overall, I have truly been enjoying the Machno during Chile’s whitewater season. I think it is a great option for those of us on the lighter end of the scale. It is a confidence-inspiring boat, delivering predictable performance that allows the paddler to focus on the river instead of on what the boat is doing. Is it a Ferrari, like the 9R and similar creek racing boats? No, but it’s a fun-to-drive Jeep that I want with me when I need four wheel drive.

Words by: Melissa Hickson
Pictures by: Casey Bryant Jones