Frequently Asked Questions



  • Are your creek boats built differently than slalom or freestyle boats?
  • What's the difference between e-glass, s-glass, carbon fiber, and aramid?
  • What are the advantages of composites over plastic boats?
  • Why do composite boats cost more than plastic boats?
  • Why do your kayaks cost more than your C-1's?
  • What does the term "cut" mean?
  • What size skirt do I need for my Storm Rider K-1?
  • What size skirt do I need for my Storm Nymph K-1?
  • Which size Storm Chaser is right for me?
  • What size airbags will fit in my Storm Chaser C-1 or Storm Giant C-2?
  • Is there anything special I need to do to care for my River Elf boat?
  • Do you offer a warranty on your boats?



    Are your creek boats built differently than slalom or freestyle boats?

    Yes, absolutely!

    Slalom boats are constructed to achieve the highest possible level of performance by seeking the limits in weight minimization and maximizing stiffness.

    Slalom boat decks are formed by sandwiching a foam layer between single layer skins of aramid (kevlar), carbon, or aramid/carbon hybrid fabrics. Hulls are constructed in the same manner but generally use three skin layers: two on the bottom (for increased strength and toughness on the outside) and one on the top (facing the inside of the hull).

    A thin layer of foam combined with cured skins on each side creates very stiff parts that are brilliantly light. Seam the parts together (adding structure) and the result is an exceptionally light boat which is extremely stiff but has little to no give. Consequently, when a slalom boat impacts a rock, they tend to crack instead of bend. Despite this, those who paddle and train in slalom boats know that they are surprisingly much tougher than plastic boaters would ever suspect.

    The composite freestyle boats that are currently being made out there are usually full carbon layups that may or may not contain foam stiffeners or ribbing. Carbon is a very stiff fiber that imparts better performance but is not ideal for impact applications either. So, you get a boat that is also stiff and unbendable, but tends to crack instead of deforming.

    On the other hand, materials like Kevlar and Spectra are very tough and flexible and thus much better suited for applications where impact resistance is important. Our creek and river running boats feature Kevlar hulls (no foam) that are carefully reinforced with hybrid aramid/carbon fabric and a kevlar ribbing system. This makes for a stiff boat (for better performance) that will still bend during impact. We also utilize minicell pillars (instead of rigid pillars that are common in slalom boats) and have developed a carbon shock absorbing system for the bow that will engage during extreme impact and prevent the hull from over deformation. All of these elements combine to make for a boat that is very tough, flexible and has plenty of give while still retaining very good initial stiffness.

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    What's the difference between e-glass, s-glass, carbon fiber, and aramid?

    E-glass is another name for general purpose fiberglass. It is the weakest, heaviest, and least expensive of the reinforcing fabrics used in composite manufacturing today. In the 1960's and 70's (before the age of polyethylene), most whitewater canoes and kayaks were constructed using e-glass alone. Thus the origin of the term "glass boat". This unfortunate descriptor is still in use today and suggests an inherent false fragility with modern composite boat construction.

    We do not use e-glass in our decks or hulls and believe the term "composite boat" is a more accurate way to describe what we do here at River Elf.

    S-glass is a special type of fiberglass that is roughly 30% stronger than e-glass. S-glass can be used in place of e-glass to impart the same properties using less material. We use a small amount of s-glass in our boats for abrasion resistance as it works very well in this capacity.

    Carbon fiber is a light weight material whose properties include high stiffness and high compression strength. We utilize carbon in our decks to make them more rigid providing extra structural support to the hull. Carbon fiber is also the material of choice for our shock absorber system to impart compression strength between the deck and the hull.

    Aramid (Kevlar) is even lighter than carbon fiber and has the key properties of high toughness, high strength, and good fatigue resistance making it the ideal material for use in our hulls to impart flexibility, shape memory, and strength.

    Composite materials are anisotropic which means that their properties are dependent upon direction. For example, carbon fiber has very high compression strength down the length of the fiber but is brittle if a horizontal fiber is bent at a right angle. This is why kayak hulls made of solid carbon fiber tend to break instead of bending and rebounding. Kevlar, on the other hand, is very tough and flexible and does a great job of handling the fatigue associated with bending horizontal fibers.

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    What are the advantages of composites over plastic boats?

    The biggest misconception about plastic and composite boats is that plastic boats are indestructible and composite boats are extremely fragile.

    Composite boats are much tougher than most people realize – even foam core slalom boats are surprisingly tough despite being constructed with only speed in mind. Our creek and river running kayaks and C-1’s are built for abuse with weight minimization an important, but secondary consideration. We don’t use foam core or solid carbon fiber hulls. This means that our boats are significantly tougher than composite slalom or freestyle boats that you might be familiar with because they are built differently.

    The chief advantage that composites have over plastic boats is weight. Composite boats generally weigh 50% less than a similar boat built using polyethylene plastic. This has several advantages. The boat will accelerate much quicker and can achieve higher speeds. Lower “swing” weight at the ends makes for a boat that spins and turns with less resistance and can be thrown around effortlessly. Finally, a light weight boat is much easier to carry: whether back and forth from your vehicle or during a portage.

    It’s a myth that hull weight doesn’t matter once the boat is in the water – it does! If you have never paddled a composite boat you will immediately recognize the difference the moment you get in. There’s simply no comparison. If hull weight didn’t matter, international freestyle, slalom and downriver competitions would be won in plastic boats not in composites.

    Another advantage that composites have over plastic is that they have a higher “hardness” and don’t tend to gouge as easily during abrasion as softer polyethylene. Composite boats don’t “oil can” either.

    Plastic boats are certainly not indestructible and tend to be more disposable in nature. Yes, they can be welded back together again after being cut, gouged or cracked, but at that point, a plastic boat is on life support and it’s not long for the giant recycle bin in the sky.

    Composite boats, on the other hand, generally have longer life spans than plastic boats because they can be easily repaired by adding new material to the boat. It’s also very easy to highly customize a composite boat because you can add permanent loops, straps and custom outfitting parts using composite materials and epoxy resin. This means you don't have to drill extra holes in the boat or add unnnecessary heavy metal hardware to achieve the same results.

    We realize that our boats may not be the right choice for everyone - but for many, a composite boat may be the very trade-off you are looking for.

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    Why do composite boats cost more than plastic boats?

    The short answer is that material and labor costs are significantly higher.

    Raw Materials:

    Fifty pounds of pelletized polyethylene plastic costs very little and is the main raw material in the manufacture of an empty plastic kayak.

    If you research the cost of woven carbon fiber fabric, kevlar fabric, s-glass, seam tapes, and epoxy resin on the internet, you will soon discover that the raw material costs alone approach the retail cost of a finished plastic boat.


    Plastic kayak hulls are mass produced using energy for heating and to drive roto-molding equipment. Structural and outfitting parts are also made by machine molding and not by hand. Hand assembly of the manufactured parts into the hull is required but is minimal.

    Composite boats are truly hand crafted. Manufacturing composite decks, hulls, cockpit rims, and structural parts and then assembling these parts together requires the work of highly skilled craftsmen. Such processes requiring extreme care and artistry are by their very nature time and labor intensive.

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    Why do your kayaks cost more than your C-1's?

    Each price on our website is set based on a combination of materials and required labor.

    The prices of our unoutfitted kayaks are a little higher than the prices of our unoutfitted C-1's. The extra cost is due to the fact that we use additional kevlar reinforcement in the hull below the larger cockpit of a kayak than what is necessary in a C-1. Additionally, as part of our kayak builds, we also install a bow anchor for use in our bulkhead systems. This is not required for a C-1.

    Our accessory prices also vary between our kayaks and C-1's. Generally speaking, the prices for our kayak parts are higher than our C-1 parts because they are all separate carbon fiber composite parts that take longer to produce.

    Alternately, the outfitting prices of our C-1's are higher than what's required for a kayak. Once you have the parts built for a kayak, it's generally just a matter of bolting the seat in place and hooking up the bulkhead hardware. The only extra labor that is necessary is installing the thigh blocks. Some additional labor is required for mounting the anchors needed with our ACB system or for a backband seat if those options are chosen. On the other hand, installing a seat, foot pads, hip blocks and strap anchors in a C-1 (as well as sculpting knee cups to fit the inside chines) requires considerable time and effort.

    In summary, the mix of materials and labor are quite different when outfitting our kayaks and C-1's. However, at the end of the day, the total price of one of our fully outfitted kayaks is only minimally higher than the total price of one of our fully outfitted C-1's.

    Finally, keep in mind that we must charge you for our time to complete the simpler tasks as well as the more complex ones. If you are willing to do some of the outfitting work yourself, you can save some money on your order.

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    What does the term "cut" mean?

    Each boat shown on our "products/boats" web page represents an actual mold that we have here at the River Elf shop. When we build a deck and hull from one of our molds, the two parts are initially at the maximum size. Depending on paddler height, weight, and personal preference, we can trim a small amount of material around the deck or the hull (or both) to create a boat that is shallower than the maximum size.

    For example, the largest size that we can get from the "Storm Rider K-1 (M, S)" mold is called an "M" (medium). For an "M", we don't remove any extra material - this is the largest/deepest boat that we can produce from that mold. If we want to create a "S/M" (small/medium) sized boat, we leave the deck at the maximum size and "cut" 1/4" off along the top of the hull (all the way around). When we seam the deck and hull together, we form a boat that is shallower than the "M" size by 1/4". We call this a "S/M".

    We can cut up to 3/4" in depth out of most of our boats. The table on each boat product page summarizes the specs for all the sizes (cuts) that can be constructed from that particular mold.

    Cut is usually more about how the boat fits than about how the boat floats. It can be more noticeable than you might think. It often determines whether you feel more down inside the boat or more on top of the boat. Torso to leg body proportion is important when deciding on cut. Some people have short legs/long torsos, some have long legs/short torsos and some are more evenly proportioned. These proportions can be important when deciding on cut.

    Cut also affects the total volume of the boat by about 2-3 gallons per 1/4" removed and can be used to mildly adjust for paddler weight. However, boat width is a far more important characteristic than cut when choosing the approriate size boat for your weight.

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    What size skirt do I need for my Storm Rider K-1?

    Storm Rider Cockpit Measurements (both versions):

    Maximum measurements from the outside edges of the rim are:

  • max width = 19.5 inches
  • max length = 35 inches

    Measurements from the inside of the rim are:

  • inside width = 17.75 inches
  • inside length = 33.25 inches

    This typically translates to an XL deck size for most spray skirt brands.

    Use a bungee style skirt on our rims.

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    What size skirt do I need for my Storm Nymph K-1?

    Storm Nymph Cockpit Measurements:

    Maximum measurements from the outside edges of the rim are:

  • max width = 19.5 inches
  • max length = 31 inches

    Measurements from the inside of the rim are:

  • inside width = 17.75 inches
  • inside length = 29.25 inches

    This typically translates to a L deck size for most spray skirt brands.

    Use a bungee style skirt on our rims.

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    Which size Storm Chaser is right for me?

    The River Elf Storm Chaser is available in two different widths and eight different cuts that can accommodate a very wide range of paddler sizes and paddling styles. Choosing the boat that is best for you is a matter of personal preference. Two different people with identical height and weight might choose two very different sized boats based upon their experience level, what they are accustomed to, and the type of whitewater they intend to paddle.

    For example, someone with an open canoe background might prefer the wider version of the Storm Chaser for the extra stability that it offers. On the other hand, someone of the same size who has slalom or squirt boat experience might find that the wider boat is a bit larger than what they are accustomed to and thus choose the narrow design for its more nimble handling.

    Our most popular sizes are the M and L boats. These two sizes will accomodate most paddlers. Both of these boats have a depth of 10" at the back of the cockpit. The difference between them is simply a question of width. Do you prefer a wider boat (L) or something a bit faster but slightly less stable (M)? Generally speaking, if you are above 220 lbs, we recommend the wider boat and if you are less than 140 lbs we recommend the narrow boat. If you are in-between, you can go with either.

    Once you have decided which width you prefer, it's simply a matter of fine tuning your choice by deciding which cut is best for you. The cut is the amount (thickness) removed around the perimeter of the boat at the seam. More cut will make for a shallower, lower volume boat. While weight is part of the consideration, also think about what seat height you prefer, what size paddle you like to use, and how tall you are.

    For example, a shorter person (or someone who prefers a low seat) might choose a lower volume boat (more cut) so that they can easily reach across the bow when executing an offside stroke. Think about how you like to "ride" in your boat. Do you like to feel like you are "down inside" the boat (choose a larger cut) or do you like to feel more "on top" of the boat (choose a shallower cut)?

    We can help you decide which size is best for you - please contact us if you have any questions.

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    What size airbags will fit in my Storm Chaser C-1 or Storm Giant C-2?

    Generally speaking, use four kayak stern bags in your River Elf Storm Chaser. This will give you maximum flotation in the event of a swim. A large volume boat like the Storm Chaser will become very heavy if swamped. The more float bags, the more water will be displaced from your boat and the less it will weigh when filled.

    We recommend float bags with grommets at the ends. With nylon cord and some care, you can thread and closely tie the bow bags (and similarly the stern bags) together at the ends around the minicell pillar. This will secure the flotation inside the boat. By displacing water from the ends, a swamped boat will be a bit more balanced and a little easier to handle. Alternately, install accessory loops in your boat to tie your air bags in place.

    For example, we use four stern split kayak bags available from NRS. These lightweight urethane bags (with grommets) fill up the four chambers of the Storm Chaser very well and come with a lifetime warranty.

    For our Storm Giant C-2, also use 4 stern size split flotation bags to give you maximum bouyancy during a swim.

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    Is there anything special I need to do to care for my River Elf boat?

    With a little care, your River Elf boat will give you many years of whitewater enjoyment. To maximize the life of your boat and to keep it looking good, we recommend the following:

    • Store your boat out of direct sunlight.  Inside a garage is optimal, but outside in the shade is perfectly fine too. Like plastic, kevlar is susceptible to degradation when it is continuously exposed to ultraviolet light for prolonged periods of time.  The epoxy based gel coat will also fade more quickly (and perhaps unevenly) if the boat is stored in the sun.
    • Keep pooled water out of your stored boat.  Kevlar is also susceptible to degradation when in continuous contact with water over long periods of time.  Store your boat upside down to keep it dry inside.  If available, use a cockpit cover to keep insects and critters out.
    • Store your boat on a rack (off the ground).  The key here is to keep the boat from sitting on moist ground for prolonged storage.  The epoxy gel coat can discolor if the boat wallows against moist ground for a long period of time.  If you don’t have a rack, consider laying it on top of a couple of lengths of 3” PVC pipe. 
    • Occasionally wax the deck, sides, and hull. The opaque glossy epoxy coat on the outside of your boat is designed to help protect the inner kevlar layers from direct exposure to ultraviolet light.  A glossy boat reflects sunlight better than a faded boat.  Apply an occasional coat of mild liquid wax (like a carnauba) to protect the finish and keep it looking sharp. If available, a spray on, wipe off acrylic wax works great!
    • Use airbags in your boat. Paddling with a full complement of airbags in your boat will keep it on the surface in the event of a swim.  A boat without airbags and full of water can be extremely difficult to retrieve and more susceptible to damage.  We recommend using two stern sized split flotation bags for our kayaks and four stern bags for our C-1’s and C-2's.

    Storing your boat dry, off the ground and out of direct sunlight are the most important things you can do to ensure your boat’s longevity.

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    Do you offer a warranty on your boats?

    River Elf does not offer a written or implied warranty on our boats. Once your boat is delivered to you, it's care and maintenance are your responsibility. However, we stand behind the quality of our products and pride ourselves in delivering exceptional service to our customers. If you have an issue with one of our boats or accessories, please let us know. On a case by case basis (depending on the nature of your problem and at our sole discretion), we will do everything we can to help remedy the issue.

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