by Bryant Burkhardt
Let me start by saying I normally paddle the Villain S. Before that a Rocker. I prefer displacement hulls and active paddling and I spend zero time playboating. I’ve used the old (2008 version) Hero for teaching out of quite a bit and regularly put my students in one. The 2011 Hero is generally similar to the 2008 version with some tweaks that greatly affect performance. I paddled the new Hero on the SF American – Kyburz (IV) at medium flow; Slab Creek (IV+) at medium low; Chili Bar (III) at high water.
The Hero is a river runner/creeker which started with the hull design from the fun series and added lots of volume to the deck. It made an incredibly stable boat with a very flat planing hull. I felt the 2008 Hero was a great river runner but a little too flat and slow for my liking when running steeper stuff. The 2011 version has definitely improved the package for creeking while maintaining most of the river running goodness.
The most noticeable change in the 2011 boat is the nose – it has more bow rocker and the chines fade out a little sooner. This allows the boat to boof easier, ride up over the pile better, punch through holes and waves and resurface more smoothly from steep drops. The boat is still short and slow compared to full creek boats so it does get slowed down more easily. But that size allows for quicker corrections – it’s quite nimble – and it’s easy to lift the nose up with one hard stroke.
At 170 lbs. plus full day paddling kit (breakdown paddle (or split for you pommies out there); first aid, pin kit, extra food/clothing, etc.) I felt like I was at the top of the weight range. That being said I kept expecting to get back endered but it never happened – the stern holds up much better than you might think. But I was cramped with the seat in the middle position and size 11 feet wearing full shoes. Moving the seat back unbalanced the boat for me, your mileage might vary. The knee bumps on the deck are also toned down so it makes paddling less of a knuckle bruiser – though I did find the knee position is still a little wider than most other boats out there.
All in all the 2011 Hero is a great improvement for creeking if your style is compatible – it’s great if you’re most comfortable in a playboat and if your river running style is to drift and correct quickly when needed. It’s also still a great river runner that carves turns, provides great stability and rolls super easy (easier than the 2008 even). I hope to try out the Super Hero soon since I expect it will handle a full load better and have a little more speed to it. But the Villain fits my style better so I’ll be happy to get back in it next time I get out on something serious.