Call it Mission Possible. Or the Mamba Phantom, which has the same initials.
Credit Snowy Robertson and his design team at Dagger for breaking the code on the perfect all-around creeker with the new Code, a new creek boat/river runner even James Bond would thank Q for. And why wouldn’t he? The Code combines the speed and performance of the Phantom with the agility and friendliness of the Mamba — and it’s a way better name than the Phamba or Mantom.
A planning hull, wide stern profile for stability and high-rise bow rocker lead the design charge, making it at home in creeks or big water. The rocker keeps your bow moving up and over features, boosting confidence to go bigger or try harder lines and boofs. We tested it in Gore Canyon of the Colorado on a late fall run, which offered a little of both, creek and big water. And we loved it, especially the way it punched (and exited) holes, sliced into eddies and lent itself to auto-boofs. (Though, granted, it didn’t make my line off Tunnel Falls any better than usual, due to that confounded, momentum-blocking hole at the drop’s edge; I still flipped over at the bottom).
And you have to love the Contour Ergo Creek outfitting, which is as bomber as it comes in the industry. Throw in such safety features as a vertical Step Out pillar design and large cockpit and you feel as safe as you can, given your environment.
Robertson says it was designed for all skill levels of paddler, in SM, MD, and LG sizes, with its semi-planing offering performance for all walks without sacrificing stability and flat sidewalls that increase nimbleness while reducing resistance (i.e. fast lines for the Green Race or simply making your move) — and also for those mid-stream corrections when you screw up your line. He also gave it balanced volume on the rear and bow decks for predictable handling and resurfacing power, as well as extended hull rails for momentum and bike driving into eddies.
At 27 inches wide, it’s a hair on the wide side, note our quiver of reviewers, but you don’t notice it too much — except perhaps for fitting on a too-small rack side-by-side with another boat.
One Diehard Mamba Paddler’s Perspective
Paddler: Jed Hawkes
Dimensions: 6’2”, 180 lbs. 34” inseam, size 13 foot
Locations: All test rivers located in Washington. Skykomish River, Cable Drop – Split Rock 2700 CFS (medium low), SF Stilliguamish River, Robe Canyon 5.4’ (medium), Green River, Kanasket Palmer – Paradise 2400 cfs (medium), Sultan River, Lower 1100 CFS (low).
The Beta: For better or worse, the Code is not a Mamba. I’m sure that many VPs of marketing and store managers will draw this comparison when describing the Code to interested buyers. But having paddled the Mamba for the past nine years, I assure you that they share less in common than the comparison would lead you to believe. The Mamba was a river runner that could creek, the Code is a creekboat.
First glance: At first glance the boat is a modern creek boat that has a similar kick-rocker profile like that of the Waka OG or the Zet Toro. The manufacturing, hull assembly and outfitting is of a quality you would expect from a modern kayak — no loose bolts, everything reasonably tight and the seat adds rigidity and doesn’t move around in the hull. I can see the utility of the thigh lifter in the Contour Ergo outfitting, but unless this boat is being used in a school program or is a demo boat I’d get rid of it.
For my boats, I pull out the seat pad and then rivet the lifter to the center pillar (goodbye one-year warranty) and then glue foam into the seat. This removes the moving parts and makes it so that every time you get in the boat there is one less ratchet to adjust. Moving the thigh hooks and seat are about as difficult as it should be, just make sure that you put some thread lock on before retightening.
At my size I fit into the medium with a surprising amount of room to spare in the bulkhead and not having to move the thigh hooks or seat to make the cockpit feel similar to my Mamba.
On the water the first thing I noticed was the shorter waterline than the Mamba — the increased bow and stern rocker of the hull makes the boat feel like it’s sitting on the water rather than in the water. The thing I was most concerned about with this hull was how well it held its line. The best characteristic of the Mamba was that you could drop the edge and point the boat across the current on a ferry or just a downstream arc towards a feature and it would track well and not get swatted around by waves; if I’m being honest, it’s probably the feature that kept me in that hull for so long. The Mamba could drive towards things reliabily and this is what I hoped from the Code. In my first time on the water the Code did an admirable job of this. It ferried and moved well in the water without lots of corrective strokes.
On the Water: The first three times I paddled the Code I had the seat in the stock center position and initially that felt fine but I eventually discovered the boat was a bit stern heavy in that position. The bow had that tendency to “bob” up and this made it feel like you were paddling a loaded boat. In this position the stern also would get loaded with water on the deck when leaning into diagonal wave and hole features.
I eventually moved the seat forward about an inch and that seemed to make the boat feel more balanced and pivoted more naturally. With the seat in the stock center position the boat boofed really well, but didn’t carry speed away from features like I would have liked. It would land and the bow would stand up but wouldn’t really accelerate away from the feature. Once I moved the seat’s location forward the boat would still boof well but upon landing the bow would stay lower and it would carry away from the drop rather than just sitting where it landed.
The pronounced bow of the boat really came to life when interacting with hole features like “Nash Compactor” and “Mrs. Robinson”. Even the slightest of strokes allowed the bow to release and get on top of the pile and skip off and leaving me grinning in the eddy.
The thing that was most different from the two boats was how it caught eddies and peeled out. The Mamba “carves” into and out of eddies, in a way it was a positive and negative thing about the boat. In big pushy rivers it was great but on a proper creek it had a tendency to over shoot coming out of the eddy requiring extra paddle strokes to not carry a bunch of speed or overshoot your turn. The Code is snappy in this regard, when coming into the eddy high and aggressive the boat would quickly come around and settle high in the eddy. The same goes for peeling out, if you wanted to get out in the current and get pointed downstream you could do it without much effort.
Verdict: I still have more paddling to do before I can make a full judgment but so far I have an overall positive take on the Code. The boat is confidence-inspiring but not a barge, it’s a performance boat but not sporty, it’s a tool for the whitewater craftsman looking to paddle a boat that gives them joy.
The big open question about this boat is how does it paddle with overnight gear in it? The Mamba was seemingly bottomless when it came to overnights (I did a four-night, five-day on the Middle Fork Salmon with a 30-rack of Rainier in the Mamba and it never even noticed), so I hope the Code can still perform loaded although I’m not sure it’s going to do as well as the Mamba.
Still, Dagger did great with the design and development of this boat — let’s just hope that we start to see more of these out in the wild.
|LENGTH: 8′ 9″|
|BOAT WEIGHT: 49 Lbs.|
DECK HEIGHT: 15″
|COCKPIT LENGTH: 34″|
COCKPIT WIDTH: 19″
|VOLUME: 89 GAL|
PADDLER WEIGHT: 140 – 220 LBS.
Quotes from the Pros:
“The Code stays stable and drives through unpredictable features, and the bow rocker keeps you on top of large holes or laterals with minimal effort.”
- Trent McCrerey, Dagger Pro Team
“The Code’s stability and consistent performance gave me the confidence to run the waterfalls in Iceland I’ve dreamed of running since I was a kid.”
- Knox Hammack, Dagger Pro Team
“I love paddling the Code because it boosts my confidence and my fun when I’m river running.”
- Anna Levesque, Dagger Pro Team