Friday, December 11, 2015

P&H Hammer

I got my first spin (literally a quick spin) in the prototype  P&H Hammer at the 2013 Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.  The idea of a 13-14 foot keel-less kayak built for ocean play was very appealing.  After the symposium, the prototype Hammer journeyed with us to the Mendocino Coast and I got to witness Paul Kuthe and Jeff Laxier rock it (granted both Jeff and Paul are phenomenal kayakers that can make any kayak look good but these guys showed off the potential of the Hammer).
Jeff Laxier surfing The Hammer on the Mendocino Coast. Photo by Bryant Burkhardt
In the spring of 2013, the production Hammer came out.  According to the website, it is 13' 4"", 23.25" wide and 61.7 pounds and doesn't give a depth.  I would venture that it is more like 65-68 pounds and the depth is in the 14-15 inch range.  Over the past 2 years, I have seen the Hammer in various venues and in the hands of paddlers of various sizes and skills.  Only this summer did I start paddling one.  My review is going to reflect my paddling experience with the Hammer as well as my observations of others in it.

Review of P&H Hammer

First Impressions:
This is a ridiculously deep and heavy kayak.  When I sat in it, the cockpit combing was about at the bottom of my ribcage.  I initially had no desire to paddle it.  This summer I decided to take it for spin.  I was more than pleasantly surprised by its performance in the rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast.
P&H Hammer in the Ocean Rock Gardens of the Mendocino Coast
The Hammer is very deep with a long cockpit - my 2 biggest issues as a smaller paddler (I am 5' 4" and 120 pounds).  To paddle it, I put Jackson Sweet Cheeks 200 on top of the stock seat.   This brought my butt up about 2 inches which made a huge difference.  My elbows cleared the side of the kayak and the sprayskirt and cockpit were no longer pushing up on my life jacket.  This also brought my center of gravity up which gives better leverage for strokes.  The problem is that I am sitting way up - high away from the water.  This necessitated that I use a longer paddle so I switched to a 200cm paddle.

The Hammer has a long cockpit.  I end up using an Immersion Research XL sprayskirt or a Seals Sprayskirt 1.7.  I would like to wear a snugger fitting spray skirt; however, my arm length (which is actually on the long size for my height) and strength necessitate that I use a looser fitting skirt.

I was pleased that the stock bulkhead had plenty of adjustment and could be adjusted to fit my short legs without modification.

On the Water:
Most of my trips with the Hammer have been in teaching or guiding situations so I have not had the opportunity to really push its limits in meaty conditions.  I have surfed it in rock gardens but have not had the opportunity to surf it on nice peeling wave.

As soon as we got the Hammer on the water (I say we because this is not a kayak that I can carry on my own), I was amazed at how comfortable it was.  I love the solid feel and support of a bulkhead (versus foot pegs in many sea kayaks).  With the Sweet Cheeks, this was an all day comfortable kayak.  I was also surprised how well the kayak glided on the water given its weight and extreme rocker profile.

Stability - The stability of the Hammer was unreal in all conditions.  It felt super solid as I rode pour-overs, swooshed along rocky walls, and paddled it through washing machine like chaotic water.  I played with it sideways in some suck holes and never felt like I was going to get window-shaded.  I only capsized it when purposefully dropping an edge to get off of a wave.
Rock gardens and  whitewater is where the Hammer excels. Photo by Deb Volturno
Maneuverability - The Hammer is extremely maneuverable.  I love that it is a "sea kayak" that handles like a whitewater kayak.   One of the key skills in whitewater kayaking is learning to utilize the spin momentum of the keel-less hull.  Many sea kayakers are not accustomed to kayaks with spin momentum and tend to use the skeg at all times with it.  I like using the skeg when paddling in open water but found the looseness of the hull to be ideal when playing in rock gardens.   I liked that I could spin the Hammer on a dime to turn and catch a wave but also to make turns on and in features.

Rolling - The Hammer is not an easy kayak for me to roll.  I can and do roll it but due to its depth and my elevated seat position it is not a quick snappy roll.

Multiday - I paddled the Hammer on the Tsunami Ranger's annual retreat on the Mendocino Coast.  We don't pack light for these trips of luxury camping by the sea, and I was pleasantly surprised how much I could fit in the Hammer.  This made it really heavy though, and I was thankful to have the skeg to help with tracking.  It was awesome to have a kayak that could pack a lot of camping niceties yet once unloaded be maneuverable and playful for rock garden play.
P&H Hammer out with the Tsunami Rangers. Photo by Captain Jim Kakuk
The plastic on the Hammer seems very solid.  It doesn't nick at the slightest offense.  The Hammer in our fleet has definitely seen some use and is holding up well.

I really like paddling the Hammer in ocean rock gardens because it performs like a whitewater kayak yet is capable of light touring.  I think that the Hammer is best suited for paddlers who have a whitewater kayaking background and are looking for a kayak that will comfortably paddle 5-10 miles in a day of ocean play and touring.
Paul Kuthe styling a pour-over on the Mendocino Coast in the Hammer.
I see many sea kayakers and beginning paddlers frustrated with the Hammer because of its keel-less hull.  This makes the boat less likely to track straight and more likely to spin.  For sea kayakers who want to paddle the shorter more maneuverable kayaks like the Hammer and Jackson Kayak Karma RG,  I recommend getting whitewater kayaking instruction to build the skill set specific to paddling whitewater kayaks.

I do not recommend the Hammer for smaller paddlers (my size and smaller). It is just too much kayak both on and off the water.  I really wish that P&H would revise the Hammer and/or make a smaller version.  It seems that it could be lightened up by pairing it down to 2 hatches/bulkheads, going with carry toggles or carry handles, simplifying the outfitting, and getting rid of the pod and the extra deck grommets.  I think that a smaller, lighter version will appeal to a wide range of paddlers looking for a playful ocean kayak.

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