“Are you going over the devils – in this?” asked the Texas River guide.
It was referring to our choice of craft, which at the time was folded to the size of a chart table. His worried look and tone of voice caught our ears, but growing up in the South, I attributed it to the obligatory antics of a good old lumberjack. He then explained that we weren’t heading for a leisurely float and fly fishing. There were rattlesnakes. There were technical rapids. There were Texans with itchy fingers on the trigger.
The Devils River is 94 miles of rugged terrain just north of Del Rio in Sutton County. It flows southwest until it reaches the Rio Grande, and thence the Gulf of Mexico. Was I really about to wade 47 miles in a boat made from the same polyurethane they use for those mail boxes at the post office?
Yes we were. And yes, the Devils lived up to his bill. Because it’s backed by private land, you can only get out of the river in certain places or in an emergency – we passed a sign that said, “Keep paddling, we’re settling our banjos.” But it was also a beautiful place, with some of the coolest aquamarine waters in America.
We were there for a two day float to test Oru Kayak LT Beach. Measuring 12 feet long and 28 inches wide, the foldable single-seat boats handled the river much better than expected. The Devils had a lot of different terrain: Class II rapids, a giant waterfall that required a portage, lots of deep canals, and swirling eddies.
Before launch, the kayak took less than five minutes to nest. Our biggest complaint? Probably the open cockpit, which tends to take a lot of water when the going gets tough. The neoprene handles at the ends are easy to remove, so we were able to tip the water around when things got too slippery.
The kayaks, although rudderless, handled gusts of wind steadily exceeding 40 miles per hour with aplomb. We rowed nine to ten hours a day and the foam seats were as comfortable as any kayak. We kept all of our gear – tents, clothing, food, stoves – securely in the bulkheads, which are held by a plastic board that needed to be repositioned every now and then.
At the end of each day, we didn’t just put our kayaks on the beach – we folded them up, stowing our paddles inside after quickly taking them apart, basically like you would a tent pole. And that’s the real beauty of an Oru: Once the kayak is folded, you can throw it over your shoulder with backpack straps. From there it’s easy to transport it deeper into the woodsâ¦ or on a plane, if you’re looking for international waters. You’ll have to check it out, and when you do, just tell the agent it’s marketing material – they’ll hesitate if you say it’s a boat.
Would this boat hold up on a stronger river? It’s not something we want to find out. But we’ll be using ours to explore the waters across America this summer.
A return to the Devils wouldn’t hurt either.
This article originally appeared in the InsideHook Texas newsletter. Register now to learn more about the Lone Star State.