Testing the AIRE Sabertooth


When it arrived at our offices this summer at we pumped it up for the first time, all we could say was “Whoa!, this thing looks sweet.” That’s what you’ll say, too, as it’s easy to see it was bred for whitewater.

Two 20.5” side tubes are connected by two thwarts (ours came with an optional third in the middle which had its own air chamber; the other two are connected to the side tubes), for a ladder-like look built for boating.

Indeed, after taking the kids on it down the local Class II town run – and later turning them loose on it themselves – we found it to practically beg to be taken out on harder water. Which we did, R2ing it on the nearby Class III Elk River and later Brown’s Canyon of the Arkansas. Wherever we went, it punched through waves with aplomb, nimbly zigged and zagged when needed, and even kept its pearl genes in check when surfing.

At first, it seems like you’re sitting a hair forward, especially when you put your feet in the ample foot cups. But in reality, you’re not; your weight is centered right where it’s supposed to be. With a frameless design, it’s built for big, technical whitewater and gets up to speed and responds to turn strokes quicker than a PBR opening after you depress the tab.

Features built for its whitewater task include a quick draining mesh floor with built-in knee protection padding, built in foot cups and uber-supportive cross tubes. Sit on them for most maneuvers, and then kneel down on the pads when you need to really dig.

We found it perfect for R-2ing; R-3ing, with the guide calling shots from the stern; and even R4ing, though that’s a tad tight for four adults. Believe it or not, we even once stuffed it with five kids and a grown-up on the town run.

In waves, we discovered that its front thwart also serves as a great block, sending plumes of water skyward instead of amidships.

On the Elk River, we joked that they could well have named it the Elk instead of the Sabertooth, as it was seemingly perfect for its continuous Class III wave trains and easy hole-punches.

The only trouble came when when hit a hole askew and it spun into it; but that was pilot error, and nothing a highside didn’t fix. We later took it surfing in the monstrousness of the C-hole on the Yampa, and it spun and spun without a hint of flipping. When my partner and my paddle both got flushed out, I stayed on, casually lounging beach-style with elbow-on-head on the high tube as it surfed and surfed until finally popping free.

T it up and it punches through holes perfectly, which is easy to do since it’s so maneuverable.

In short, it’s the type of raft that leaves you yearning to tackle harder whitewater and gives you the perfect tool for the job. Perhaps its best testament comes from our testers. After friends Brandon and Sam took it out with their kids, they immediately started shopping for one.

Length: 12’6”
Width: 5’8.5”
Tube Diameter: 20.5″
Bow Rise x Stern Rise: 29″
Weight: 80 lbs.
2″ Waterline: 93
Aire Chambers: 4
AIREcell Material: Urethane
Fabric Denier x Material Weight: 1670 x 37 oz.
Seam Construction: Welded
Valve: Leafield B7
Warranty: 10 Year No Fault
MSRP: $2,749
Info: a href=”http://www.aire.com” target=”_blank”>www.aire.com