I don't often do reviews of gear on my blog. There are a few exceptions, sometimes because something new and exciting came across my path, but mostly I talk about gear when it lets me talk about something more general. I don't really feel that one person's opinion of what works for them is particularly enlightening to the consumer. It also gets tricky when you work in the business and half your paddling buddies are sponsored by someone (or work full time for a company/shop). I try to keep the focus on kayaking and not what's used to do it.
Recently I've had the chance to try out a prototype and then the production version of a new boat. It's the Jackson Kayak Karma RG. To me, the interesting thing is not this boat in particular but what it represents. The easiest way to talk about that is to talk about the boat itself, so that's what I'll do.
The Karma RG is meant to be a rock gardening boat. It's based on the Karma Unlimited which was built as a class V whitewater racing boat. The RG version (stand for Rock Garden or River Guide) adds a stern bulkhead/hatch, a retractable skeg, and perimeter deck lines. The mold (and thus basic shape of the boat) is the same for each version.
The idea of using whitewater boats to play in the ocean has been around for quite a while - probably since whitewater boats first were designed by taking sea kayaks to the river. If you combine water and rocks you get the same basic outcome - whitewater. Doesn't matter if there's salt involved or not. So it makes sense that a boat that performs well in one place performs well in the other. Let's look at what makes a good rock garden boat.
All these things describe the regular Karma (which I reviewed here). But what makes a rock garden boat different? Should it be different?
A skeg is a little fin that sticks out from the bottom of the boat. It helps the boat go straight. The problem with creating a maneuverable boat with lots of rocker is that it likes to turn. Paddling a whitewater kayak in a straight line over flat water takes some effort. The skeg reduces the amount of effort required, allowing you to save your energy for the fun stuff. Having a retractable skeg allows you to pull it up out of the way when you do start playing. The best of both worlds.
The hatch that's on the Karma RG is also not just about convenience. If the event of an out of boat experience on the ocean, you can't always just swim to shore and drain your boat before climbing in. Any sea kayaker will tell you the quickest rescue (after the roll, of course) is the T rescue. In order for it to work, you need a bulkhead behind the seat that allows the water to drain out when your buddy picks up the front. That makes a ocean worthy boat that is much safer for users at all levels.
The deck rigging is also a convenience/safety twofer. Sure, it's nice to be able to stick some snacks or a chart of the area under the bungies. But in the out of boat experience you also need to be able to hold onto your boat. And so does your rescuer. The Karma RG comes with solid deck lines [ON THE STERN] with piping that make it easy to grab. It's also easy to rig up more lines in front if you want them (I suggest you do) [EDIT: The boat comes with stern deck lines installed and space to rig bow deck lines if you want them - I reversed it in my original post.]. It's these little changes and details that turn a whitewater boat into an ocean going vessel that not only performs well but is designed for the environment.
Jive to see what I mean). I really like the rigging on the production model, but the hatch leaves a little to be desired in the security department. It would be easy enough to add a strap holding the cover down, and you probably want that if you're going to be playing hard. For most folks it won't be an issue.
I also like the idea of taking the RG on the river, using it as a River Guide boat. I could definitely teach whitewater classes in it since it has the same features, but the speed would help with attainments to get back up to students and the hatch would be great for storing lots of stuff with easy access. It would also make a great boat for multi-day trips, with way more room than a typical whitewater kayak. Bringing the luxury of sea kayak camping to something like a self-support Grand Canyon trip would be heaven.
There area couple other similar boats out there: the Pyranha Fusion, Liquid Logix Remix XP and Stinger, even the Dagger Green Boat. Each started as whitewater boats that were adapted to something else. What stands out most about the Karma RG is that they outfitted it expressly for rock gardening. It's not just a boat you can make do what you want, it's actually designed for it. Let's hope that's a trend that continues.
Here's a video of the brand new production version of the Jackson Kayak Karma RG being put through it's paces on the Mendocino Coast. Sean Morley, legendary sea kayaker and now Jackson Sales Manager, led the charge. Jeff Laxier and Cate Hawthorne of Liquid Fusion Kayaking also lent their expertise. You'll get a taste of what this boat is capable of in the right hands.