Terry and Rebecca Ryan

“Thought you might like to hear that we have now used our “Sunny” double in adventure races, and in ocean, river, and lake environments. We competed in the Lake Champlain Challenge (six miles in the lake in Burlington, VT) and the Jacksonville (FL) Open Water Series, a one-mile ocean paddle. The Lake Champlain event was in windy, open conditions. We had to stop on an island halfway to empty the boat. Chop was about 1 1/2 foot, and swells maybe 2-3 feet – about the limit for the boat I think.”

“Of some slight special note, we were crowned the champs in the “Mixed Married Masters Tandem Inflatable Kayak” at both events. We actually won the double kayak category in both the events, but the organizers thought it was a hoot that we are married, masters, and using an unconventional boat. It would be more impressive if we had more competition, though we did beat other people in “normal” kayaks.”

“A bigger challenge for the two of us was the Beach Endurance Adventure Race (BEAR) The BEAR course is complex, with many ‘special’ events, but featured three kayak legs, two of about 4-5 miles each, and another of about 2/3 of a mile. The first two were interrupted with a land navigation challenge. The break between the 2nd and 3rd leg required a very long (~2 mile) portage, the short paddle, and then another 1/2 mile portage. We had a tremendous advantage on the portages with our light and easy to carry double kayak – we put it on our heads and just walked, while others wrestled with plastic and fiberglass boats. Had the portage been even longer (no thanks!) we could have deflated the boat and run with it in the pack. The boat seemed to be pretty tough also – we had to beach on oyster beds and thorn bushes several times, and I thought we might puncture, but that hull material was fine. Very cool. We finished third coed team overall, and first Masters.”

“We fielded a lot of questions about the “Sunny”, both during, and after all three events.  We spread the word that we love our boat!”

Terry and Rebecca Ryan, Florida

William Corr

Mekong River, Laos: Mekong River adventures in a Safari Kayak

October 12, 2000

The Mekong, flowing from the frigid Tibetan plateau to an immeasurably vast delta on the South China Sea, is the twelfth longest river in the world and the world’s tenth in terms of volume of water. It is not a navigable whole, much to the chagrin of the French former colonizers of Indochina. Rapids obstruct the river’s course in several places. Of these, the mighty falls in the Sihandon (four thousand islands) region of the Lao Mekong just north of the Cambodian border, Somphamit to the west and the larger and more ferocious Khon Phapheng to the east, are splendidly impressive and would certainly excite interest among the intreped readers of Canoe & Kayak, Whitewater Paddling and similar publications. Unknown to recreational paddlers in the wider world, the mighty Mekong’s immense falls patiently await the attentions of the likes of Shannon Carroll and Doug Ammons.

Both sets of falls offer Class V+ dangers and thrills; the time to attempt either would be in July and August when the Mekong is running full and swift. In January there is more rock than water in evidence and fearless local fisher folk clamber over slickly wet rock surfaces to rig precarious, flimsy but visibly effective fish traps over the tumultuous billows and crashing surf. A brief experience of tubing the comparatively demure Nam Song River at Van Vieng in Laos encouraged me to try tubing the Mekong, Then brown as oxtail soup, full and flowing at a brisk walking pace, in August 1999.

Dire warnings of probable disasters and the menace supposedly posed by electric eels (they are, in fact, both rare and shy) reduced my tube trip to a mere three kilometers, from Mr. Tho’s inexpensive bungalow resort on Don Det to the sturdy old railroad bridge linking Don Det and Don Khon. A light railway was constructed early last century to bypass the falls and make the Mekong a navigable waterway of sorts; it was abandoned in 1945 and the rails are now used for fencing local yards.

Khong Phapheng Falls

For the locals who inhabit the thirty-odd inhabited islands of Siphandon, the Mekong is both larder and highway: every adult, wrinkled crone and toddler can handle a wooden canoe with confidence and adroit skill but tubing was seemingly unknown in Siphandon until then.

Kayak recreational tourism has to be one of the cleanest and nicest form of tourism; we pollute hardly at all. If we spend relatively little, that modest expenditure finds its way into the packets of the lower-middle entrepreneurial class and peasantry of the locality, rather than the metropolitan wealthy who own vast hotels and resorts. Ideally, I would like to see Siphandon become a year-round kayaking resort for responsible kayakers; the local children are well nourished, cheery, self-confident and healthy but they could use some better clothes.

My Innova Safari kayak now lies at Mr. Tho’s ramshackle thatched-hut resort on Don Det; readers of this article are welcome to use it so long as they stay at Mr. Tho’s or have a meal there. Should you feel you need it, written authorization may be had from me by e-mail at sonoekurimoto@yahoo.com

From the Chinese truck tube (“Double Coin Brand”) rented from Mr. Pye in Muang Khong to an inflatable kayak is none too great a step. Then a resident of Osaka in Japan, I ordered an Innova Safari kayak to be sent to Mr. Pon’s guest house at Muang Khong on the island of Don Khong ( Don means island in Lao, as Ko does in Thai and -shima in Japanese) from the Innova distributors in the U.S.A. (www.innovakayak.com). The Innova, made by the painstaking Bohemians of Gumotex in the Czech Republic, proved to be everything the American distributor claimed; it is tough, buoyant, comfortable and light enough to haul around and carry with ease.

The morning of the kayak’s inflation drew a crowd of onlookers and eager participants; the kayak’s rightful owner was brusquely elbowed aside while every available man and youth in the village tried the Innova experience, to be followed by Mr. Pon’s serving girls – almost certainly his second or third cousins, for everyone in Siphandon seems to be related to everyone else. Squealing with glee, the two waitresses crossed the navigation channel to Hat Xai Khun, accepted the plaudits of all onlookers and returned aglow with triumph.

In January the Mekong is low and sluggish, a mere shadow of its mighty self in July and August. Still, I had not been in any kind of kayak or canoe in moving water for over two decades and the 22 kilometer passage from Muang Khong to the old railroad bridge at Ban Khon was a languid delight of six hours, enlivened by numerous stretches of Class I whitewater, rather fewer stretches of Class II and one lamentably brief stretch of Class III.

Every village on Don Som and the other islands passed contributed a host of enthusiastic, if bemused, onlookers; a simple kayak journey had the improbable air of a royal progress, like the young Elizabeth Tudor being rowed on the Thames. A bright red inflatable kayak had never been seen before in Siphandon. Being now neither young (alas) nor unduly given to strenuous endeavors I was content to return from Ban Khon to Muang Khong with the light Innova by powered launch (an informal waterbus service makes the journey several times a day) and then to return with the current. A muscular and enthusiastic young American set an interesting precedent by taking the Innova, in the unaccustomed role of a cargo vessel, thrice from Mr. Thos on Don Det to Ban Nakasong on the eastern Mekong shore to bring back crates of Beer Lao on the grounds that Beer Lao was to be had cheaper at Ban Nakasong; this entailed strenuous and unceasing paddling against the Mekong current, a fairly demanding feat.

A glance at a detailed map of Siphandon suggested possibilities beyond unswerving adherence to the main channel, that had been delineated by navigation markers in the French period. Bearing to the west of Don Som takes one into quiet water frequented only by local fishers, local delivery boats and occasional waterborne commuters (grannies, aunties, tiny children and piglets).

I regret not having taken the westernmost channel from Muang Saen on Don Khong through the maze of islands to Don Xang and thence to Don Det; there simply wasn’t enough time. It shall be done by other outsiders, if not by me.

There is a drawback to exploring the more minor channels of the Mekong when the water is low and sluggish. In January such channels are often blocked by green water weed in dense mats like the thick white polystyrene used for encasing computers and refrigerators. An hour or so spent struggling out of this heavy, clogging and impeding stuff can upset the best laid plans; I was overtaken by nightfall in a baffling maze of bushes and islands west of Don Det. Forward progress in the starlight appeared impracticable, a night spent in the Innova would have offered a midnight feast for every mosquito in Siphandon and invited agonizingly stiff joints the next day. While pondering these uninviting alternatives, your chronicler was cheered to observe a bonfire flare up a mere hundred or two meters away. After forty minutes of struggling with the mats of weed, I bumped into a moored canoe, struggled up the riverbank leading to a small community on Don Puey. Let it suffice to say that the civil and hospitable people in this insular hamlet, Don Puey being an island with maybe 25 families, offered the forlorn wayfarer a change of clothes, a hot meal and a bed with a mosquito net. A payment of approximately $4.00 was readily accepted (costs in Laos are low, except for the visa and the expenses incurred in getting there in the first place. My spouse complained bitterly that on occasion I was spending over $20.00 in a single day!).

Now, let me offer suggestions: go to Laos in July and/ or August. The truly adventurous could try doing the falls mentioned above. Those with more time but less enthusiasm might consider a kayak/canoe trip from Luang Nam Tha down the Nam Tha River to its confluence with the Mekong and a journey downstream to Siphandon. Whether a kayak journey from, say, Jinghong in China to the river’s mouth in Vietnam is politically possible is necessarily open to question. Sooner or later someone will do it; why not you, dear reader?

William Corr
Professor of English
Yosu National University – Korea

Dr. Alex C. Spyropoulos

Southwestern coast of Crete in Greece: 120 nautical mile Greek Odyssey in a Helios 380EX

Dear Sirs,

I would like to thank you for a truly sturdy and seaworthy product – the Helios 380EX. I ventured on an interesting journey – a solo, self-supported kayak tour of the south-western coast of Crete in Greece.

Sunset in the Greek Isles

This happens to be one of the most unspoiled and rugged coastlines in all of Europe, with towering 300-800 foot cliffs, jagged coral shoals, deep, wild waters, beautiful white sandy beaches, and sparse habitation.

The area is so remote that in certain instances I had to use old World War II German Maps for topography and water well sources.

After120 nautical miles in his Helios Dr. Spyropoulos appraches the village of Elafonission just 5 minutes late.

I completed the 120 nautical mile journey in 10 days – dubbing this the Odyssey II in epic Greek fashion. On the way I battled contrary currents, waves up to 10 to 12 feet high, and winds of up to Force 6 on the Beaufort scale. My Helios stood up to these test magnificently with only minor valve repair needed.

When I reached Elafonission, my final destination, I was scolded for my tardiness for our appointed time by my friends – after all, I was 5 minutes late!!!

Helios on the beach in Crete

You may very well imagine the shock from the surrounding people when they found out my starting point and the fact that the journey was done with an inflatable kayak. Thank you for a wonderful product (my life depended on it).

Alex C. Spyropoulos, MD
New Mexico

David Nitsch

Guide for Mountain Travel Sobek, South Pacific
Helios 380 excels in Papua New Guinea

November 28, 2001

Dear Innova,

I have spent at least 700 days paddling the Helios 380 in the South Pacific, Guiding clients and going off on my own, and am convinced the Helios is the best boat you can have for tropical applications. French Polynesia, the Cooks, Fiji, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, you can go ANYWHERE in this boat!

 I’ve never had a puncture, though I’ve scraped over staghorn corals at low tide more than a few times. I am always careful to let a lot of air out of the boat if it’s going to be out of the water for more than a few minutes , and I’m religious about parking it in the shade. A little caution with the heat, sun and pressure, and this boat will last you for many years. The rubber material handles the intense tropical sun amazingly well, better than my skin.

Using the boat as a single, I can stay out for a week without resupplying water, and as a double, we can easily stay out for more than a week, resupplying water. With the optional rudder, the boat handles well in any winds you care to go out in, even when paddling tandem. I’ve surfed in, bashed my way out and ridden big tide rips without a worry. The boats virtually untippable, unless you broach in big surf.

The Helios really excels as a snorkelling platform: ANYONE can climb back in, without fins, and the security of snorkeling with a boat allows us to dive into rough water or currents that wouldn’t be prudent without such a safety net.

I’ve landed at an international airport, bought gas and tanked up on water and been paddling within half an hour of clearing customs – the convenience and speed of this boat in a bag can’t be appreciated until you’ve tried it. I’ve struggled with a certain folding boat under the blazing sun, 90 degrees dripping with sweat and humidity, crawling inside the damn boat, and would rather pump up a Helios and be on the water any day – it’s too easy for words.

The Helios is also ideal for what I call “covert landings”: you’re paddling up to a crowded wharf or market in some third world island nation. Naturally, a large crowd assembles to stare at the boat, your gear. Do you really want to hang around with bits and pieces strewn all over, with everything you own up for inspection? With the Helios, I can land, have everything into one large duffle and be in a cab, on my way to the hotel, in 5 minutes!

Would you rather buy a new Helios and a PAIR of 6 month plane tickets to tropical Paradise (and have money lefr over for beers), or would you rather buy that heavy, bulky folding boat and stay at home? I’ll take the plane tickets any time!

David Nitsch
Guide for Mountain Travel Sobek

Maria Claudia Diazgranados

Omacha Foundation, Orinoco River: River Dolphins, Giant Otters, Fishes, Turtles and Caimans

Hello Tim,

The Foundation Omacha is a non profit, non government organization created to study, research, protect and manage aquatic fauna in relation to the physical and cultural environment. The research and activities of the Foundation can be summed up in three main programs (bio-ecological, social-cultural and educational) which, taken together, provide the basis for conservation strategies.

The Foundation has projects in the Amazon, Orinoco and on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. In the Orinoco we are undertaking five different projects with river dolphins, giant otters, fishes, turtles and caimans.

We have observed a lot of interesting things in our research, especially in the giant otter project. We learned a lot from a rescued baby otter. It seems that his family was hunted to be sold as pets.

I will send you a brief summary of the project as soon as possible. I am very interested in trying to get an article into the Natural History Magazine. I have prepared it and I will send it to you later.

Best Wishes,
Maria Claudia Diazgranados
Omacha Foundation

The Helios makes another friend.

Heidi Steltzer

Heidi Steltzer is a research scientist at Colorado State University working on a USGS study on Alaskan summers. She was flown into the Agashashok River setting by bush plane, staying on site for over two months.

Dear Innova,

Last year I purchased a Helios inflatable kayak from you for use at our field research site up in the Brooks Range in Alaska. It was GREAT!

I have attached a few photos to this e-mail to show you how we put it to use . . . and the fun that was had.
We used it to cross the main Channel of the Agashashok River in Noatak National Park and Preserve. For
work, we had two people kayak across, while one person would hold a rope attached to the kayak. Then, the rope would be used to pull the kayak back across and ferry the remaining two people over.

The river is shallow with a coarse gravel bottom. The kayak handled well even in the faster flowing sections, although we did tip over twice (once was early in the season, when the water was 45 degrees F). Angling the kayak perpendicular to the river and running into a small boulder just under the surface caused the tips. Also, it became a regular activity on our days off to hike up the river, fish and return in the Helios. The braided, shallow river channels could be floated in this boat, and I expect few others could have done so well.


Heidi crossing the Agashashok River in the
Noatak National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Larry Dunn

Norton Sound, Alaska: Fishing with the Yupik Eskimos.

Dear Innova,

The Helios 380EX is working great. It handles swells and waves with ease, especially considering I have only been out in it four times and I have no previous experience. The water has been too rough recently for the locals (subsistence Yupik Eskimos) to want to put out in their Lunds in the ocean to set their subsistence nets.  Consequently, most of the village is missing the silver salmon run.

Helios 380EX to the rescue.  With a 50 foot subsistence net we have been catching about forty, seven to ten pound, silver salmon every day. We give them to the villagers. They are very appreciative.

Thank you people at Innova!

Larry Dunn, Alaska

Barbara with new friend, a Yupik Eskimo, and the Helios

Ralph and Sharon Kast

SanBlas Islands & Fiji: Helios 380 aboard the Kastaway
09 ¼ 25.95 N
078 ¼ 31.43 W
October 15, 2002
Dear Innova,

We are sailing around the world in our Bowman 49 Ketch, Kastaway. We use the Helios 380 to explore the more remote islands of the South Pacific, and the world. The Helios is stored below in our sailboat when not in use. It packs down to a small size and it is easy to inflate.

We love to observe nature in its natural state without the noise of a dingy’s engine. The helios is perfect.

Two photographs were taken on the Island Tigre – Mamartupu in the San Blas Islands; one is of the Kona Indians gathering firewood from their dugout, called an Ulas; the other is of Ralph Kast and our Helios 380 next to a Kuna sailing dugout, called an Ulus.

The village on the Island of Tigre – Mamartupu does not look its best from the water due to many mildewing concrete houses along the waterfront.

Once you enter between the huts the island transforms itself into a little paradise. At shore you will find a Kuna handicraft store carrying Molas, wood carvings and good models of their dugouts or Ulas in the Kuna Language. Kuna people sail their dugouts daily as we drive cars.

We sailed from New York through the Caribbean to Trinidad and Cartagena Colombia. Then we sailed through the San Blas Islands and through the Panama canal to the Galapagos. From the Galapagos we sailed to the Tua Motus, Tahiti and the Society Islands, the Cook Islands, Tonga and now Fiji. Our next stop will be New Zealand. Our Helios has been with us the entire 10,000 mile voyage and we are looking forward to some good paddling in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

We really love the idea of exploring in silence without the sound of an outboard engine. Thank you for letting us get a closer look at nature in our Innova Helios 380.

Ralph and Sharon Kast aboard Kastaway in Fiji

Duncan McIntosh

Upolu, Samoa: Kayaking on Fanuatapu Island, Upolu, Samoa

Dear Innova,

I write to tell you of my happy relationship with my Helios 380ex. I ordered it in 2001 from your website, innovakayak.com, while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer on the island of Upolu in Samoa. I was working with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to set up two Marine Protected Areas, one in the Aleipata district on the east coast, chosen for its offshore islet ecosystems and one in the Safata district known for its extensive mangrove estuaries. During our work, the Helios became my trusty sidekick, enabling us to quickly and quietly survey areas of reef which would have otherwise required firing up the outboard skiff.
But my Helios was much more than a workhorse. It is truly unique in what it can do. I know of no other boat that can be paddled in serious conditions, outside the reef, in the currents and swells of the Pacific, and yet able to be carried on my back, on a bike, on a bus… you get the idea. It opened up new areas of the archipelago to me, areas that I otherwise would not have seen. Perhaps my most memorable trip was from Apia to Manono island; where the seagoing locals, after they got over their astonishment at the va’a pa’u (skin boat), clearly recognized the seaworthiness of the design.
When I first saw an ad for your boats in the back of a magazine, I was drawn to the design, and thrilled to have finally found an inflatable kayak that was clearly not a toy, but mean to be used. When I ordered my Helios 380ex, another volunteer made fun of me for ordering a “balloon…that could never perform in the ocean.” Well, after only a few months of jealously watching me prove him wrong by using my Helios all over Samoa, he ordered his own! I couldn’t believe it!
Kind Regards,
Duncan McIntosh

Ellen Anderson

60th Birthday, 150 mile trek across Canada: 250 miles Northeast of Yellowknife

Dear Innova,

I am planning to celebrate the new millennium, and my 60th birthday, by making a 3-4 week solo trek 150 miles along the eskers 250 miles northeast of Yellowknife, NW Territories, Canada. This trackless area is characterized by ponds, lakes, streams and elevated eskers (gravel bars left by sub-glacial rivers). I will travel early this summer on foot, pulling a small, collapsible cart. When water crossings are required, I will paddle my gear and self in an inflatable kayak.
Innova will clearly be acknowledged in any publications or presentations that result from this trek.

Ellen Anderson