Fluid Anvil hydrospeed-style riverboard – the full review

Josh Galt and Celliers Kruger outfitting the first made-in-the-USA Fluid Anvil

FLUID ANVIL IN-DEPTH REVIEW

Fluid Anvil hydrospeed-style riverboard
Fluid Anvil hydrospeed-style riverboard

I wanted to do a more in-depth review of the Anvil, now that I’ve had a few months to spend some time with the production model on all types of water and in various settings.

There are good points and bad points, and I’ll address them all equally. This is a pretty long review, so I’ve included a free prize at the bottom for those who make it all the way through – a link to some video from Japan of riverboarding through a snow cave, one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had on a river!

DISCLAIMER: Your goals, needs, and wants on the river may be very different than mine. This is simply my opinion based on my observations and experiences, as well as my personal philosophy. In talking about the Anvil’s positive features, I do not mean to disparage any other riverboard designs or by insinuation speak negatively of anybody that might use them. I also do not work for or have any ownership in Fluid Kayaks (beyond rider sponsorship and FLI’s reseller agreement), nor did I have anything to do with the design of this board beyond basic conversations on a friendship level with Charl.

I just wanted to get that out there ahead of time. And since this is a really long review, it needed a long disclaimer. πŸ˜‰

First of all, here’s what the Anvil is good at, and why:

+ Moving fast and quick (hull and materials)
+ Punching holes (weight-to-buoyancy and shape)
+ Boofing off rocks (hull and materials)
+ Dropping waterfalls (everything)
+ Surfacing (shape)
+ Rolling (shape and weight)

Here are some negatives, and I will offer a solution for each:

– Hand-paddling is difficult
– Takes on some water via the hatch
– It’s heavy
– It’s harder to surf

All right, we’ve scouted, we’ve gotten lined up right, so let’s drop in and go!

+ SPEED & MANEUVERABILITY
I have used other rotomolded boards over the years, both of European and the US (originally New Zealand) design.

The Anvil is much faster in the water than those boards, and turns much more efficiently. Why?

Because of the aerodynamic hull design.

In experimenting with creating my own boards over the years, I took pages out of the designs of creekboats, playboats, and whatever Corran Addison was doing at the time, and built some moderately usable riverboards.

But I also made some really stupid boards that didn’t work very well at all.

One of those boards was a pontoon-style board. It was incredibly stable, which I’d been going for…but, it turned like a barge. Which was a shame, because I’d sketched up some really cool-looking boards designed on that pontoon hull.

Fluid Anvil front, back, and hull
Fluid Anvil front, back, and hull

That foam-and-duct-tape riverboard’s complete opposite is the Anvil, which has a convex hull, like a kayak, with a purposely designed flat area and tiered channeling. The front end functions like a creekboat nose, while the backend planes flat, like a playboat.

Combined with the fact that it’s rotomolded out of the best kayak plastic on the market and finished smooth, the end result is a board that moves swiftly and effortlessly through any kind of water.

+ PUNCHING HOLES
You might have noticed that I put the fact that it’s heavy under the negatives column. I’ll get to that below, but the weight is also responsible for a lot of the board’s positive performance.

I’ve taken some beefy holes head-on over the years, on “riverboards” of all types, sizes, weights, and buoyancy. The more buoyancy and the lighter the weight (and / or a larger surface area), the worse off things were.

But it’s a fine line, because with too little buoyancy you’re probably going to get well acquainted with the bottom of the river before you come up downstream. Too much buoyancy, and you’ll learn firsthand why getting tossed about in a hole is often referred to by the name of a washing machine brand.

The Anvil is one of the best-balanced weight-to-buoyancy boards I have been on. Yes, it’s heavy out of the water (9kg / 20lbs). But in the water, it floats the average rider at a very similar level to any foam hydrospeed or riverboard.

So its weight-to-buoyancy ratio is awesome. Heavy enough to submerge and give you force when punching through holes, but buoyant enough to want to resurface, and float the rider at the level they’re used to being in the water.

The other part of punching holes is the shape. Again, I’ve experienced boards with a nose that tapers to a literal spearpoint, and boards that had a “nose” a meter wide.

When it comes to what punches through holes best, I think it’s fairly obvious that pointier = better. The Anvil is quite round up front but shaped to enough of a point that it punches through very well.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing that point go even further, to taper even sharper like a creekboat. However, that’s not practical in this Anvil design, because it’s a multi-purpose board that was created for a lot more than just extreme riders punching holes.

Given the Anvil’s ease of use and practicality for riders of all levels, including tour groups, a sharp nose would not be wise. After all, legend has it that the French quickly went to foam hydrospeeds in the early years because of “skyrocketing dental bills” from crashing into each other with their pointy plastic boards. [Editor’s note: Raphael Besson, the president of RIPH, weighed in to correct this and explain they were hitting their own faces on the boards, not running into each other. Nowdays there are full-face helmets, so no worries.]

So the nose is rounded, keeping it safe for guide companies using them with newbie tourists, but effective enough for the most demanding riverboarder.

The combination between the weight-to-buoyancy ratio and the shape of the nose give the Anvil an astounding ability to punch through holes of any size with ease.

+ BOOFING, DROPPING WATERFALLS, & SURFACING

josh galt riverboarding 10m waterfall pozo azul
Josh Galt dropping a 10m waterfall in Costa Rica on the Fluid Anvil

I’m going to combine these three since they’re the beginning, middle, and finish to vertical whitewater of any size.

At the top, many drops require some sort of boof. It could be the pourover rock forming a 1m drop in a boulder garden, or it could be a rock flake positioning the perfect line off a 10m drop.

Wherever it is, you need to be able to hit the rock (or boil or roostertail or whatever you’re boofing off of) with speed, and you need to be able to get some bounce out of the contact.

The Anvil allows you the speed, as I mentioned earlier. It’s very fast. The tapered-into-flat hull also allows plenty of surface area for great connection with your boof, and while it’s hard plastic and slides over anything smoothly, there’s enough flexibility in the hull to allow a tiny bit of pushback – which is what you need to boof, just a little bit of bounce.

The balance in the board – in terms of where your body is positioned centrally – also helps, in conjunction with the position of strength your upper body is in.

That’s something that I have been very vocal about from the first day I ever rode a Carlson many years ago, and something that I see just about every board doing wrong – the position of the rider’s arms and especially the handles.

Quick, what’s the biggest muscle group in the upper body? The back muscles, the Latissimus Dorsi.
Quick, what’s the weakest muscle group in the upper body outside of the hands? The forearms and the wrist area.

The Anvil puts your body in position to utilize your strongest muscles – your lats – to control the board by using a vertical handle system.

This is unique to the Anvil (and to homemade or French foam hydrospeeds) as all other board designs use a handle system that forces you to control the board with your forearms and wrists.

In a weight room, I can move far more weight using a close-grip lat pull than I can when I do forearm curls.

On the river, I want to be in position to use my strengths to control the board. The Anvil handle and sidewall design allow for contact with the board at the elbows and the perfect grip at the hands, taking advantage of natural physiology.

Like a fighter jet yoke, it allows complete control in every direction – up, down, side to side, rolling, and any combination in 3D, all from the same strong body position.

This makes a huge difference on the river, especially running waterfalls.

Josh riverboarding waterfalls in Japan. Photos by Darin McQuoid
Josh riverboarding waterfalls in Japan. Photos by Darin McQuoid

Without getting into a long discourse on waterfall running – since this is an Anvil review, not a how-to – I’ll simply say that the bigger the falls, the more you need complete control over your board, and the more you want to “pencil in”. Landing flat is about the most dangerous thing you could possibly do, in any type of watercraft.

The angle should go from about a 3/4 vertical angle on small drops where you can boof over the hole, to straight vertical the higher up you go.

Interestingly enough, the past few years as more and more kayakers have taken on higher and higher waterfalls, you see them tossing their paddles, grabbing their boat, and taking the hit headfirst.

It’s the same on a riverboard, only we’re not bent in half when we land, which makes it, in some ways, a better landing (to a certain extent…I’m not sure how landing from 57m / 189ft would feel headfirst).

Since the Anvil puts the upper body in a position of strength – as I mentioned it being control in 3 dimensions like a fighter jet yoke – you’re able to control where you go as you fall just the same as you would control your body if you were diving.

The Anvil is the only production board with this handle design.

Once you’ve boofed though, dropping a waterfall is more than just the hand position and contact with the board. How well you can land and take the hit plays a big role too.

Remember how well the Anvil punches through holes? The same characteristics apply when penciling into the water vertically at the base of a waterfall.

The board’s nose shape, the way the hull is designed for water to flow around it, the weight-to-buoyancy ratio, and the overall material construction allow for straight-in landings as easily as any creekboat.

But what happens then? Maybe the most important feature when running big drops is the board’s surfacing ability.

When I run a waterfall that is followed by a rapid with must-make moves or a must-catch eddy, followed by another drop…I want to know that I’m going to fluidly come up with my board in position for me to go where I need to go.

Charl Van Rensburg, who designed the Fluid Anvil with Fluid's owner Celliers Kruger
Charl Van Rensburg, who designed the Fluid Anvil with Fluid’s owner Celliers Kruger

In my opinion, the hydrospeed style is much more suited for running waterfalls than any other design, because the rider has contact on 3 sides of their body, allowing them to stay in the board much easier underwater.

If you’ve ever been deep in a hydraulic, you know how violent and chaotic it typically is, even when it’s a clean drop.

From personal experience, I know that the chances of surfacing after a drop ready and in position for any move I need to make, increase according to the amount of contact that I have with my board.

On the Anvil, there’s contact with the board on 3 sides, giving the experienced rider a very high probability of staying on the board regardless of what happens underwater. Even if you surface upside down, you’re still in the correct position thanks to that 3-sided contact, and rolling up is incredibly easy (more on that below).

What the Anvil gives you from a design perspective in terms of surfacing ability is really remarkable. Celliers has been designing creekboats for Fluid since he started the company, and he’s a very experienced kayaker himself. So he has a unique understanding of hydrology from an athlete perspective and an engineering perspective.

Since the Anvil was designed with Charl Van Rensburg orginally as a creeking riverboard, surfacing was a very important characteristic.

I wish I could speak intelligently to the physics of the hull design and what makes it work the way it does – but I’m not an engineer, and Celliers won’t tell me his trade secrets!

So I’ll just give it to you from my athlete perspective – the board surfaces effortlessly.

Seriously. That’s all there is to it.

I have been blown away by it. I think it has to do with the balance of the board and the body position in it along with the amount of buoyancy in the front and center, combined with the shaping and design of the board’s hull from the nose backward.

So basically, the whole board. πŸ˜‰

It really surfaces easily though – big drops, little drops, nasty hydraulics, punishing holes, you name it. If you can hang on – which the handle positioning and 3-sided contact makes it easy to do – you’re going to come up in position and ready to ride downstream.

+ ROLLING

This isn’t something you hear much about in the riverboarding world unless it’s a conversation about an el rollo trick on a surf wave.

But if you’re going to be basically wearing your board, as you do with the hydrospeed-style boards, then you have to be able to control it in every direction. This includes rolling.

I’ve already talked about the hand positioning and the contact with 3 sides. Those are the reasons the board is easy to roll, along with the materials, smooth surface, and weight.

Rolling is very important, and being able to do it easily is a big step for our sport.

Because if you’re upside down for whatever reason, that’s the one position where your body is going to fall off any riverboard, including the Anvil. (Well, Vade Retro actually makes an “extreme” board that wraps around your back, which Mike Horn used, but apart from that…)

So in that brief moment upside down you must either roll the board right-side up, and come up on it, or you’re stuck swimming, likely holding on with one hand while you flip it over with the other, then have to get it into position to climb back on. Not safe or efficient.

In the hands-forward-palms-down standard riverboarding position, it’s very difficult to roll most boards. Which is probably why it doesn’t get talked about too much – it rarely happens.

The Anvil puts you in a much more controllable hand / arm position though, and is very easy to roll, to the point of being able to stay in position, totally horizontal, and roll it without fins.

That’s a great performance feature that is sure to turn heads – including the rider’s!

Josh Galt and the Fluid Anvil riverboarding in Japan. Pic by Darin McQuoid.
Josh Galt and the Fluid Anvil riverboarding in Japan. Pic by Darin McQuoid.

A FEW NEGATIVES

As with most things in life, the Anvil isn’t perfect. But the negative aspects are, in my mind, not that big of a deal and easily fixed if desired.

– It’s harder to surf.
I wouldn’t say it’s harder to surf, I would say it’s perhaps not as versatile. Perhaps.

Because it’s actually extremely easy to surf.

The hull design and the way it tapers to a smooth, flat bottom all the way back mean it can stay on a wave with the best of the surf-designed boards.

But it probably isn’t as versatile to surf as a Kern, Carlson, or bodyboard. I’m not sure you could dropknee on it, flatspin, or stand up. Although the wide-open cockpit might allow for that. But I’d be surprised.

I haven’t put as much focus into freestyle riverboarding lately as I have downriver, so while I have surfed the Anvil on several waves, big and little, I haven’t sought out a great retentive wave and worked on tricks.

So, I’ll just say that in my experience it’s easier to get into waves than foam hydrospeeds, because it moves faster in the water. Staying on waves is easier, because of the hull shape and smooth plastic outer.

What the Anvil isn’t, is super flexible like a bodyboard or flat-bottom riverboard. But it’s shorter than the flat-bottom boards, so I’m not sure that the small amount of flex they have makes a huge difference.

Thus, the surfing negative boils down to it appearing harder to drop-knee or stand on. And it’s certainly heavier to throw around.

But, a fan of the hydrospeed-style design can bring their own tricks to the table that no surf-specific board can – hydrospeeds can do front flips! πŸ™‚

But no, it wasn’t designed to be the best surfing board, and while it surfs on a wave easily, it remains to be seen if surf tricks can be done with it. I believe they can, but it’ll have to be proven.

– It’s heavy.
The Anvil is certainly a heavy board, compared to foam hydrospeeds, flat-bottom foam boards, and boogie boards. True. It’s pretty heavy to carry.

But it’s not any heavier than other rotomolded boards on the market, and the benefits of the weight-to-buoyancy when IN the water (as I’ve been discussing) make this a moot point.

(The shoulder straps will also make this a non-issue for long hikes, because they make the board super easy to carry, but they have taken longer in production than planned.)

No one complains about creekboats being heavy to carry, and kayakers have been doing epic expeditions with fully-loaded boats for decades. Even the lightest playboat is far heavier than any riverboard.

So, given that the Anvil’s weight is such a benefit IN the water, the solution to it being heavier on land is perhaps that as a collective, the riverboarding industry needs to add some muscle! πŸ™‚ Myself included (because I’ve helped kayakers portage their boats, and man…I was happy to shoulder the Anvil again afterwards).

– The hatch takes on water.
I won’t attempt to defend this one. It shouldn’t happen, and it does. I’m sorry for that – I don’t exactly like it either. [UPDATE: Thanks to Rob Robinson for finding a good solution – simply unscrew the plastic ring on the outside of the hatch, and re-glue it using Marine Goop. Problem solved.]

Fluid is still looking into the issue because they are the same hatches they’ve used on their expedition creekboats for years, and they shouldn’t ever leak.

But still, that’s what the drainplug was put there for, just in case.

And if you really can’t stand the thought of having to take 30 seconds to drain the water out of the board from time to time (I usually do it when getting out to scout, or when other people are surfing and I’m in line), then my suggestion would be to decide which you want more – zero water in the board, or the ability to use the hatch.

If you’d rather not deal with the water issue ever, then you can aquaseal the hatch and solve the problem. Done. Easier than the Staples button. On boards that I don’t plan to use when I need a hatch, I’m doing just that.

– It’s hard to hand-paddle.
This is true, but it’s not because the sidewalls are too high, as I’ve seen stated several times.

The sidewalls up front are fine – they’re great, actually. The way the outside of the board is designed makes all those wonderful things I just spent 1,000 words gushing about, possible. The punching holes, the surfacing, the rolling, etc. Especially the surfacing and rolling.

The issue with hand-paddling is that the rider’s body is in a low position inside of the board. This was done on purpose, to lock the rider in as much as possible for creeky rivers and big drops, and in the process make the board as balanced as it can be with the rider in position.

The low center of gravity inside the board adds stability to an otherwise very squirrely hull design (which, like the rounded hull of the long-popular Dagger Nomad, experts will love), which makes it very usable by newbies such as on commercial riverboarding / hydrospeed trips.

But it does make hand-paddling really challenging, no question.

I personally hand-paddle a ton. More than I just hold on and kick, usually. I use my hands to ferry, to get lined up right, to catch a wave, and a lot more. That’s why I like webbed gloves.

So the challenge with hand-paddling did not go unnoticed the first time I used the board.

But my view of it is this – I’ve never dreamed that someday the industry would produce a perfect ergonomically comfortable riverboard design, nor has my biggest request been the ability to hand-paddle (there are plenty of boards that are made to hand-paddle already).

But I HAVE wanted (along with many other people in the sport) a really awesome hard-plastic outer hull on a hydrospeed-style board, with the right shape to it.

The Anvil delivered in a big way.

The ergonomics of the cockpit, if I can call it that, are easy to adapt to a rider’s personal preferences, without altering the overall performance of the board in any negative manner.

A stock Anvil with one Josh customized to raise his body up higher and flatter for easier hand-paddling
A stock Anvil with one Josh customized to raise his body up higher and flatter for easier hand-paddling

So for me, since I’m in love with the board’s performance due to the handles, body positioning, and everything about the outer shape, I don’t mind if I need to customize the inside to my liking. Kayakers regularly do this to the outfitting in their boats in some fashion.Β 

I’d do it anyway, since one of the hallmarks of all the boards I’ve ever built is that they’re incredibly comfortable to ride. Maybe I’m a crotchety old man already, but I’ve never seen the logic of an awesome sports car with back-achingly-uncomfortable seats.

I prefer the Bentley or Rolls Royce mindset – power, performance, AND comfort.

So, to the point, fixing the hand-paddling issue was very easy to do and in the process I also made the board nice and cushy to my liking.

It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll be selling my aftermarket personalized JG3 Luxury Interior Series upgrade kits or not, but it’s very possible. πŸ˜‰ (They’ll look nicer than the outfitting to the right, which was one of the first R&D attempts at making it work.)

At any rate, the challenge of hand-paddling is about the only real ‘flaw’ that I found with the board from a design perspective, but it was easy to fix. And since I come from a flat-board and ocean surfing background, I think I hand-paddle more than most anyway.

Riders coming from a strictly hydrospeed background, like in Europe, will actually appreciate the way the Anvil is naturally designed, because when you’re hunkered down in the board with your body like you’re used to, it is very well balanced and easy to maneuver.

That is, after all, how it was designed to perform.

TWO PERSONAL EXAMPLES OF PERFORMANCE BENEFIT

All of this adds up to make a great riverboard for whatever types of water you want to ride.

Here are a couple recent personal examples where I noticed a big performance difference better than any board I’ve ever ridden (including the hydrospeed I built to my desired specifications and used for almost 5 years):

1. Rio Reventazon (Costa Rica), wide high-volume – I hit a couple massive holes, one in particular I remember (as does everyone else, gleefully) getting ragdolled in. But I didn’t exit swimming, holding the board above my head with one hand, as tends to happen to riverboarders many times in that situation. I stayed on, got thrown around and rolled, but washed out still in the board.

Credit the weight, the buoyancy, the hand and body positioning, and the balance the board has when it’s underwater. It wants to surface right-side up it seems like, and since it’s designed to be easy to hold onto and control, the combination gives you a definite performance assist in this type of situation.

2. Kiyotsu River (Japan), narrow and deep low-volume – there were two sections where this river gorged up to maybe 3m wide, creating really powerful holes and hydraulics. While my speed and drag as a riverboarder in the water caused some problems, there were no struggles with staying in or on my board. I didn’t have to think about hanging on or controlling my board, as I was getting spun around, tossed up and down, and pushed against the undercut walls.

Josh riverboarding the Kiyotsu in Japan. Photo by Darin McQuoid
Josh riverboarding the Kiyotsu in Japan. Photo by Darin McQuoid

Because of the position of strength my upper body was in, in union with the board, I was able to work with the water and its ebb and flow and eventually work my way out of the narrow gorge. This happened on several occasions, and each time I was thankful my focus could be on dealing with the water, not concentrating on keeping my board under me (while simultaneously trying to deal with the water).

In both of these examples, the design of the board and the position of my body in the board allowed for my focus to remain on the water and the situation, rather than on controlling the board in the midst of it.

That in and of itself is a major step forward in riverboard design.

SUMMARY (& PHILOSOPHY)

What it really comes down to is flow. Being one with my board, so that I can focus on the water.

Or, in less intense moments, focusing on the beauty of the surrounding canyons, and the mysterious gift that is being in a place few humans have ever been.

I’ve riverboarded for a long time, and I know my strengths and weaknesses. And there have consistently been two primary reasons why I’ve constantly searched for the best possible boards and gear:

  1. Because I want to reach my potential as an athlete in the sport, while simultaneously pushing the limits of the sport.Β 
  2. Because the more gear and board designs I have tested, the more I’ve experienced things when they go wrong.Β 

I’ve had some scary times in the river. It happens to everybody from time to time. Thankfully, I’ve survived them all, and been able to learn from them and grow as a waterman and as a human.

But I’ve also learned a lot about gear through those negative experiences. Not that I blame my gear when things go wrong, but in certain cases, gear has definitely been at fault.

Analyzing situations objectively, and then testing the hypothesis, leads to finding factual evidence.

The two most important pieces of gear as far as day-to-day performance is related, and in conjunction with my two reasons for seeking the best boards and gear in the first place (as stated above), are fins and the riverboard.

Both fins and your riverboard are fundamental in determining whether or not you can just flow.

In both cases, there are variances in personal preference. What I like might be different than what you like. That’s fine, and that’s to be expected – humans are different. But the laws of physics and hydrology are consistent.

For me, though, in wanting to just be in union with the river, that means I don’t want to be fussing with my gear when I’m in the river. Frankly, I don’t even want toΒ think about my gear.

That might sound strange coming from a gear junkie, but really, the reason I’m a gear junkie, and the reason I think anybody becomes one, is to enable myself to have the best possible experiences enjoying my sport(s).

Where the Anvil fits in is this: I don’t really think about my board on the river anymore. At all. (Unless I’m analyzing it, like for this review).

Even when I was using my foam hydrospeed the past few years – which I considered the best board I’d ever ridden – there were many times when I made decisions based on the board, not on whether or not I thought something was runnable.

Why? Because it had two drawbacks: A) It was extremely lightweight and high buoyancy, and B) It had a soft foam / rubber hull, which didn’t slide or boof on rocks.

Nasty holes, boofing, even just certain lines became less about whether or not I thought it was possible, but more about what was going to happen based on the board’s shortcomings.

And I say that even though I believed that it was better for me than anything else out there.

Charl Van Rensburg Fluid Anvil Molenaars
Charl Van Rensburg Fluid Anvil Molenaars

I have long believed that when the boards and gear allow riverboarders to simply flow, when what we wear and ride is for all intents and purposes maximized to the point of being an extension of ourselves and our abilities…that’s when the sport is going to take a giant leap forward.

If you read my email or saw the post on Team FLI or facebook earlier this week about the potential of the sport of riverboarding, this review dovetails nicely.

I don’t believe the Anvil is the end-all-be-all riverboard. The world keeps spinning, and product evolution should never stop.

But for right now, for me personally and the type of riverboarding I like to do, it’s the best thing I’ve ever used, AND it allows me to just flow.

That means I can push the second point from my mind (gear causing things to go wrong), and no longer make decisions based on whether or not I think my board is going to cause me problems in some way.

Now, the only question in my mind when studying a river or water feature is this:

“Can I personally do it?”

And the only way the answer will be yes…is if I believe I can get in the river and just flow. There’s no longer any question about board or gear – now it’s all up to me.

If you are a riverboarder, you owe it to yourself to give the Fluid Anvil a test run. Challenge it – try and find its flaws. Be safe, but go for it – I know you’ll be impressed with the way this board performs, in virtually any type of whitewater.

Until next time, get outside and FLI!

joshgaltfli_sig.png
Josh Galt ~ FLI
Face Level Industries

PS – You did it! Way to go, I hope you got a lot out of that review. Here’s the video I promised – enjoy. πŸ™‚
Josh Galt ~ FLI

An artist, athlete, and entrepreneur, Josh Galt is the creator and editor of FaceLevel.com and the director of the Riverboarding World Championship. Josh has been riverboarding all around the world now for 20 years, and sliding headfirst on snow since he was old enough to walk. He calls Costa Rica home, but is currently based in Asia.