A couple of weeks ago I ran the Upper Nantahala for the first time, and demoed a LiquidLogic Stomper 80 for the first time as well. The Upper Nanty was around 550cfs (our guess). My friend Chip was kind enough to bring his Stomper for me to try. My stats are 5'6", 160. I took a gamble that Chip's seat position would be right for me, since we are around the same height - and it was. He had the seat slightly back from center. On my own boats I have had the seat as forward as possible, so this was a different setup for me, and it worked well. I had to move the bulkhead up one notch. Carrying it down the riverbank I could tell it was lighter than some other creekboats I've paddled, which is important to me. Some of the best class III - III/IV Alabama creeks have hikes to and/or from the putins and takeouts, as well as portages that can be challenging.
There was a large group of paddlers putting on at the same time as us, and I knew several of them. At first I tried to join their group but after considering the logistics etc. Chip and I decided to bomb down by ourselves instead. For me this was a set of brave decisions - first D of a continuous class III run, in a boat I'd never paddled, read and run with one other paddler. Somehow I just knew it was going to be fine, and it was.
The Stomper paddles smaller than its 80 gallons. It felt like a smaller boat in some ways than my 72 gallon Riot Magnum. Correction strokes were easy though I kept trying to do an open-faced bow draw to turn, sweep was what was needed and I said it out loud after the first couple of times, "sweep dammit". I had this same habit in the Wavesport Recon (which I recently demoed) and it will simply not work when I try to bow draw to turn in these boats.
My posture was not the best and I kept telling myself to sit up and forward. Good thing is the Stomper stern isn't grabby like the Magnum can be so I wasn't punished. My only flip was at the top hole of the first big rapid after getting dried out on a rock (PB&J rapid). My only option from the pin was to go down the main drop backwards. I went on a low brace in a crazy suspension of secondary stability on edge - my Remix does this too btw - then flipped over, a few helmet knocks, I swept out for my c2c roll and it rolled effortlessly. I was stoked after that.
The Stomper is quick to turn, effortless to boof, and easy to maneuver. It does however require driving, rewarding good forward posture and keeping an active paddle in the water. It's not a float and let-the-boat-do-its-thing kind of boat, at least not for me.
The Bad-Ass Outfitting is familiar to me from my Remix 69. It's comfortable and plush and I think it helps my posture (which needs all the help it can get). I don't like the way the paddling goes over the hippads and cockpit rim, sometimes that part gets in the way when I get in the boat and I wonder sometimes if the skirt rand is going to seal well over it, but to be honest I haven't had any problems with the skirt coming off or imploding on my Remix.
The thigh-hooks are adequate but I much prefer aggressive (ala Wavesport) thigh hooks. I never had a problem with my legs popping out of the LiquidLogic thigh hooks during my demo but if I bought a Stomper I would have to add foam knee blocks to approximate the contact of a more aggressive design.
I don't have any 'cons' for the boat construction except the foam pillar. My Magnum has a foam pillar too but it seems like the plastic pillars are more sturdy and add the feature of a step-out in case of a vertical pin, though again they add weight. There are several bars on the deck of the Stomper for attachment of a z-drag. The grab loops are bars as well, these are bomber but not the most comfortable to use to carry the boat. Together they add up to 5 attachment points. My Magnum has four and they're all webbing handles not bars. The Stomper has the LiquidLogic bulkhead which works well, supplied with foam to pad it out. I think the Recon's plastic pillar and spring-loaded bulkhead are the reason it is so heavy by comparison.
Did I feel invincible in it? No, it had to be driven and was sporty. The Recon in comparison feels like a tank conquering all beneath it. Was it forgiving even though it felt sporty? Hell yes. Did I love it? Yes.
The following weekend I ran the Middle Tellico in my Magnum and I was wishing I was in the Stomper. It's just more comfortable and a faster, more fun ride.
So far I have really enjoyed demoing creekers. I had a blast in both the Wavesport Recon 83 and the Liquidlogic Stomper 80 and it may come down to the weight of these boats as to which one I choose to replace my old faithful Magnum.
I do want to demo a Dagger Nomad 8.5 as well. NOC would not let me take a Nomad demo down the Upper Nantahala, I wonder why? B^) Chip is selling his Stomper to get a Nomad 8.5, because he feels at his weight (about 175-180) and with added gear the Stomper 80 is just a bit too small for the (much harder) whitewater he runs, and the Stomper 90 is way too big. This illustrates the fact that a big part of choosing a creekboat is choosing one suitable for your size and the type of runs you want to paddle, even if you choose a different brand of boat than you usually prefer.