Monday, February 25, 2013

Kayak Review - Jackson Karma first impressions

I've been paddling Jackson creek boats for several years now. First the Rocker and now the Villain S. Their latest creeker is the Karma and I got a chance to try it out last weekend. I only got to paddle it on class II and III, so I can't say how it will do on the hard stuff (though plenty of people have been getting after it in the Karma, so I'm sure it's worthy). Here's my quick thoughts.

The hull on the Karma is taken from the Jackson Zen (my friend Matt's review here) and it feels like it. It's a planing hull that is very fast and quick to accelerate. It has an edge but it is soft when sitting flat but grabs well when edged. The Karma is super stable on its side and carves in a friendly manner.

The Zen is a great learning boat and fun river runner but it's lack of rocker and pointed nose means it tends to go through things instead of over them. It also makes it a little hard to boof unless you have a lot of speed. The Karma has more rocker and more volume in the nose (as well as a squared off tail) that helps it climb up over things and boof well even at slower speeds. I do worry about landing flat off a big drop given how flat the bottom is, but I didn't get a chance to feel that first hand. I was impressed with how well it held a line in swirly/diagonal water while still feeling loose when I wanted to turn it.

The outfitting is Jackson. Some love it, some hate it. I love it. The uni-shock bulkhead is simply the best and safest out there. I've never had the cleats fail me in any way. I do miss the sweet cheeks, but the current Jackson outfitting is just as comfortable as anything else out there. The new backband configuration is a lot higher and firmer, which is what most people have been asking for (I like the older, lower, less supportive style myself). Best of all, it takes about two minutes to adjust it to your body - great if you like to loan your boat out or are just two lazy to spend hours tweaking a boat's fit.
Lindsay putting the Karma through its paces

Jackson is still making the Villain so they have one displacement hull creeker (Villain) and one planing hull (Karma). Most kayak companies have gone to having two creekers and there seems to be a trend towards more planing hulls. Almost all playboats and river runners are now planing hull, so many folks like the planing hull creekers for a consistent feel to what they learned in or what they play in. That's fine, but I still like what you get with a displacement hull (actually, they're all semi-displacement these days). A little write-up I did on the differences is here.

So the Karma is a great boat for those who want that planing hull but all the goodness of a Jackson creeker. It's fast and solid with lots of volume and comes in three sizes. If you're looking at a Burn or Stomper you should definitely try out the Karma as well. Personally, I'll stick with my Villain.

UPDATE: I've had more time in a Karma and I cracked my Villain. So I've now switched to the Karma and I have a more comprehensive review here, and the latest update is here.

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