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Old 09-09-2015   #1
Pucon Kayak Hostel's Avatar
Pucón, Chile
Paddling Since: 1990
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 41
Thoughts on Zen performance and sizes?

I'm ordering kayaks for our Chile fleet and I just got a couple of requests today for the Zen M and L from intermediate boaters. I thought the Zen was more of a high performance expert boat. I've heard good things at least on the expert boater level but this is the first I've heard an intermediate kayaker raving.
Can anyone with personal Zen experience give honest feedback? Good and/or bad?

Have early round production boats been observed to break or dent in areas? Experience with durability? Experience with intermediates? Expert boaters experience and use?
Also, I could not find on the JK site if the Zen comes in a small. Does anyone know if they have smalls?

Thank you everyone for your honest feedback.

Keep Kayaking.

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Old 09-09-2015   #2
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 772
They do come in small.

My perspective is from closer to the expert side than inter intermediate, but I paddled the Lg Zen this year. I have 30-40 days on the boat, mostly on CO manky creeks, and it is holding up better than the Md Karma I paddled last year. My Karma looked like a slice of bacon with similar number of days on it and broke. I feel the boat is showing a better level of durability than my past boats.

As far as performance, I have a little skewed perspective because the size difference in the Lg. Zen vs. Md Karma. The Zen is a perfect size for me and the Karma was a little small. Both boats reward aggression and are fast. I didn't think there was a noticeable difference in speed. There have been several days this summer where I was missing the forgivingness of the Karma. The Karma was easier to boof, the Zen trips up on the stern because it is so long. The majority of the added length is in the stern. I enjoy the sporty nature of the Zen, if you have an aggressive intermediate they will probably enjoy it. If they are not always aggressive they will have some struggles with it.

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Old 09-09-2015   #3
Sacramento, California
Paddling Since: 2012
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 232
I do know that around my area, every instructional course you see on the river has twice as many Zen's as all other models combined. They obviously are viewed as a beginner boat around here. I also thought they were primarily viewed as a river runner, rather than a creek boat. The latest model added volume to make them more creeker friendly, only because so many were loving the boat and wanted to creek in it.

I've paddled one once, and found it to be very forgiving.
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Old 09-09-2015   #4
Sumas, Chilliwack, BC
Paddling Since: 2012
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 120
I have a large Zen and enjoy it immensely. It is faster than a MD karma and is super stable on edge. With the added rocker it goes up and over stuff better than punching thru waves like the Zen 75. I use it on class 2 to 4 and it seems to do well anywhere. Both Versions of the Zen are fun, easy to roll and comfy. I have the seat all the way back in my Large and the stern isn't too grabby whereas a forward position locks in the front edges and will want to spin ya going over eddy lines or cutting it close to holes. The Zen 75 seemed more grabby in the back but was a little more racy, probably because it's smaller.

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Old 09-12-2015   #5
Eagle, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2009
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 3
I purchased a medium 2015 Zen for my 16 year old daughter this summer, who is an intermediate paddler. She had been in the Fun, but we wanted a more stable river runner and more room, since she's 5'10". It has been a great boat for her, helping her solidify her class III skills. I have also heard good reports from our local Kayak school. Seems like a good boat to have as part of your fleet.
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Old 09-13-2015   #6
Pucon Kayak Hostel's Avatar
Pucón, Chile
Paddling Since: 1990
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 41
Demo'd the Zen on Lower Gauley

JK's Stephen Wright is letting me demo a Zen M this weekend on Lower and Upper Gauley. I weigh around 155, 5'7", 30" waiste.

Boats I typically paddle - In WV I paddle a Riot Magnum 72. Anyone whom has owned a Magnum knows why. Even though this is around an 8 year old design it is still an excellent one. Great creeker, excellent stability and usability...
Chile - Remix 69 and Habitat 74 are my goto kayaks. I love the Remix on bigger volume runs and when I want speed. Backyard Trancura, Futa, Maipo... Do not like the Remix on runs with lots of cascades or drops with violent holes.
Habitat 74 I love it's stability and usability on creeks. It just cruises over holes at the bottom of falls, boofs and stomps are easy to control. Pretty much opposite to the Remix I don't like it on runs where I desire speed.

Zen M -
Rollability - Important cause I want a boat to teach entry and intermediate levels as wells as rent to expert kayakers. I have a bad hand roll and can't hand roll some designs that have ease of roll issues. So one of my roll tests is if I can hand roll the boat. Check. This boat with a low deck profile I found easy to roll and noticed nothing hendering. If I had a couple of beginner students I could see myself picking a Zen, Mamba or Remix for roll lessons.

Edgability - Putting the Zen on edge and holding balance the Zen performed well. A narrow hull profile worked well for my narrow butt profile (some narrow bottoms struggle with wide and high deck profile boats). When practicing paddling on edge both straight and in arcs the Zen also held good secondary balance.
Cruising across, into and out of fast eddy lines the Zen on edge had excellent balance. And maybe even better it held a speedy consistent tracking arc through and out the eddy's ranging from big boily to tight eddies behind mid-current boulders.

The Zen has a distinct hull edge. Not sure what to call this edge but I like it. Experienced boaters can easily engage this edge for tracking and cruising through eddies and currents. For the advanced kayaker this edge may be the best addition. I tested that edge crossing big eddy lines, boofing on edge to landing flat, boofing on edge to landing on opposite edge, and landing on edge on top of small holes. I liked it.

Missing test - The one thing I'd like to test but did not was how well the stern can handle a drop with a violent or challenging hole. Today, I will make certain to look for spots to test punching holes and feel out what the stern is doing.

Does anyone have feedback on the stern's performance off drops with holes?

Overall assessment is that this has been an impressive design for entry level instruction. I also see myself using this kayak on river runs and if the stern checks out off drops I'd use it on class V days.

Today's assessments - Give the boat some strength tests, check hull strength, examine outfitting closer, check deck strength and sidewalls.
Practice punching holes.

Possible cons - Narrow kayak profile may see wider butts having a tight fit. My 30" waist fit well with the factory hip pads.

FYI - This is not a plug for the company. Pucon Kayak Hostel has no company affiliation and strives to give honest positive feedback as we desire to put kayakers in the best boats for their personal goals.

Thanks for everyone's feedback thus far.
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Old 09-13-2015   #7
Flagstaff, Arizona
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 383
Demoed a L Zen in June for high water Ark runs. Many laps on #s, fractions, and Browns. I don't boat much Class V and loved the Zen! Im pretty tall at 6'5" and slipped in totally comfy. I loved the speed and maneuverability. I felt totally confident and in control right away. I also paddled a Mamba, Recon, and Flying Squirrel at about the same levels for the #s. Far and away the Zen was my favorite. I can't speak to durability, but I want one! Not only do I want one, but I want to rent one from you in Pucon! I say go for it!!

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Old 09-13-2015   #8
Sedgwick, Alberta Canada
Paddling Since: 2014
Join Date: Sep 2015
Posts: 1
I bought a 2015 zen this year and I love it! I am very new to whitewater kayaking (novice) and am finding the zen to be very forgiving. It rolls very easy, and from my limited experience it seem ride through the waves very nicely (the highest class I run with it is 3 to 3+). I would recommend it to a beginner.
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Old 09-14-2015   #9
Chinle, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 1
Zen performance characteristics

Hi there,
I have a Zen 55 with an AT curve paddle and have found the combo to be responsive and stable. I'm still in the beginning stages of paddling, but up to Class 3+, it responds well!

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