This review is based on a week long demo of a plastic Shaman on sheltered flatwater lakes and Class I moving water. I am primarily a river paddler and this review reflects that bias.
The Shaman is a very nice flatwater boat, but it would be a handful on anything more than easy Class I rapids. The full-length keel ridge is pretty grabby when crossing eddy lines and confused currents. Also, because this boat can't be spun unless edged, it's tough to reposition yourself in a small eddy. Eddy turns also tend to degenerate into "eddy deflections" unless you lean the boat hard and plant a huge duffek stroke.
That said, the boat does roll easily and is very maneuverable for a narrow, keeled hull. On flat water (moving or lake), you can initiate and control turns just by edging (though I would need a lot of hip padding to keep me from sliding side to side on the seat). I don't know how it compares to a "real" sea kayak, since I've never spent more than 10 minutes in one, but it glides beautifully compared to pretty much any other rec boat. It threaded its way through lots of downed trees in current on my local river without much ado, and it had great speed for attaining upstream.
But it's definitely not a whitewater crossover boat--more of a high end day tourer, if there is such a thing. Can't say how it performs in "open" water, since I'm not a tourer and don't have access to such conditions anyway.
The Phase 3 seat was incredibly comfortable, mostly due to the adjustable under-thigh support. First factory kayak seat I've ever sat in that didn't put my feet to sleep within minutes. If I bought a boat like this, though, I'd probably rip the backrest out and replace it with a backband. I just don't use or like backrests, high or low.
The plastic is of average toughness, I suppose. I scratched the heck out of it in the week I had it, but then I was banging over rocks and t-boning the riverbank (before I figured out that the boat NEEDS a duffek stroke to complete an eddy turn :). It also deformed where the roof rack contacted the front deck, but what do you expect from unsupported plastic?
Overall it's a very cool rec boat, I suppose, if you want the look and feel of a sea kayak but don't need something 17 feet long. Wow! This boat is great. I have taken it out so far only a few times, like 2, and I can roll it without effort. Not bad seeing how I had never rolled a boat in my life before. This is my first Wilderness Systems boat and I am glad I bought it. It handled the chop of the Cheasepeake Bay beautifully.
I have the no rudder option but she trackes well enough without, that I am not sure I would even go back to have one installed. My only complaint is that in two outings the footpegs in mine popped out and rendered the boat virtually unuseable. So I called up Wilderness Systems about the problem and pronto new foot pegs where on the way. So I am sastisfied with that issue.
I have found that when I transport the boat the areas where the boat rides on the pads on the luggage rack seem to dent in, but with a few hours out in direct sunlight they seem to pop back up.
Over-all great boat for begginers, and great multi-purpose boat. Trackes well in chop, flat and moving water. Its going with me to the beach in a week, and from what my dealer said, shes a fine boat to surf in too.Spent the day on Saturday paddling about 10 miles in the Shaman as a rental. It was my first time in one, as it seems hard to find the boat around my town, but absolutely loved it. Easy to paddle, INCREDIBLY comfortable with the Phase3 seating (makes it almost a no-brainer to buy a Wilderness Systems boat). Very easy to maneuver through riffles and light rapids, turned easily, but also tracked very well on calm water.
I wasn't sure about this boat from reading the literature, the cockpit seemed like it might be too small for my comfort. I was previously planning on purchasing a Pungo, but at the shop for the rental I hopped in a Shaman as it seemed designed for my interests in paddling (river touring, weekend + trips, class 1-2 water), and found it very roomy and comfortable. After sitting in it for 5 hours on the water, it proved to be very comfortable, and the new seating allowed infinite adjustments when necessary.
All in all, I strongly recommend the boat to anyone looking for a good multi-purpose boat. It fit me like a glove, and would work well for those larger and smaller than me (6', 205lbs). In fact, I liked it so much I ordered one and am picking it up next week! Why a 9? Nothing's perfect. 'cept maybe my wife... but the boat came pretty close to the elusive 10... I'll report again after more usage!