|Karma front view
The speeds required to get a boat to plane are virtually impossible to achieve though paddling alone. Full planing requires the assistance of gravity and that is normally found on a wave. And that is exactly where planing hulls shine - in playboats. When a boat planes it has less resistance, resulting in faster speeds and easier maneuvering. That's surfing.
But this doesn't really happen when creeking. So why would you want a planing hull creek boat? Because that planing nature of the hull can create different characteristics even if full planing speeds are not achieved. (not to mention that people who use playboats a lot are more used to the feel)
|Karma side view
Another benefit of a flat hull that isn't buried as deep in the water is maneuverability. They can spin quicker. Again, that can be a great advantage on the river. Overall, planing hulls often feel quicker (as opposed to faster). That's makes them good for reacting. The downfall to this freedom is the fact that when the water exerts force on the boat it is more likely to turn. Rounder hulls tend to hold their line better and resist currents pushing them about.
The first thing that I really noticed was that my timing was off. The river started rather wide and full of boulders. Lots of boofs and rock dodging. The ease of turning the Karma was great and it auto-boofs over most anything. But I was turning and reaching eddies faster than I expected. Same on the boofs - the last couple of strokes would accelerate me faster than expected and I would be late on my final stroke (1:24 in video). I had to realize that I could do less work myself and the boat would make up for it. That's a good thing but something that takes time to get used to.
|Villain on top; Karma bottom
Both boats bow forward
One of the other things that I was worried about with a flat hull was the landing off of said boofs. Flat hits can be hard on the body and displacement hulls definitely land softer. While I didn't launch off anything that high, I found the Karma never seemed to hit hard. The Jackson folks claim that the design of a narrow bow and lots of rocker allow the boat the accelerate through landings. The picture to the left shows the narrower/flatter hull shape of the Karma (bottom) compared to the Villain (top). I'm not entirely convinced that it will hold true if you manage to catch air and land flat on the middle of the boat, but if you let the nose hit first it does seem to work.
|Karma rear view
That's another area where the planing hull shines. A wave is not the only way to get the boat to plane. If you're traveling fast downstream and skim into an eddy where the current is moving up stream, the relative speed of the boat to the water can be enough for a quick burst of planing (0:54 in video). This can give you great control and speed when going through different currents, common when dodging around rocks. This was one of the funnest aspects of the Karma for me that I hadn't really found in class II/III water. It takes class IV boulder fields and some bigger, pushier water to really make the boat shine.
And our river got more gorged up and pushier as the day moved along. I found the firmer edge on the Karma made it easier to control in the big waves and made it easier to use the river to move where I wanted to go (2:18 in video). And as long as I kept my speed up I flew over the holes (1:55 in video). The only issue I had was on a seal launch where I wasn't paying attention and slid into a hole sideways without much speed - got flipped real quick. Definitely user error, but I do think my Villain would have been a little more forgiving. Just means I need to pay attention more.
By the end of the day I didn't feel like I had mastered the Karma, but I had a better understanding of it. And while I still think that the Villain (displacement hull) is the kind of boat that suits me and my paddling, I ordered myself a Karma. Having to figure out a new boat is a challenge and challenges can be fun. It's new and different and that can be scary, but if we don't push ourselves we don't learn and improve. I think the Karma gives me the benefits of the planing hull but in a way that is more forgiving than some of the boats I've tried in the past. Our creeking season is almost over here in California, but I should have a long summer of teaching and a few opportunities to push the boat on harder stuff. A good chance to learn and have it dialed when the winter rains and next spring's thaw roll around.