Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Oct 2003
Jackson Karma: I paddled one. I bet you haven't.
Yeah, I paddled one, I bet you haven't. Does that make me better than you? Some might say yes.
Well, here's the deal, Iím at home with a cold, without enough energy to do much more than geek out on some gear talk.
I did a low water Gore run last Sunday on a ridiculously nice November day. Marty was kind enough to let me try out his new Karma L for the last part of the run (we swapped out below Tunnel). Marty probably figured I couldnít do much more damage to it than what heíd already done. Since this thing isn't very available yet, I thought Iíd share my impressions for those of you dreaming that Santa might drop a new creekboat down your chimney or Harry Hanukkah will put something other than a dreidel under your menorah. Oh hell, who are we kidding, us Jews always get something crappy like a dreidel.
I'm about 155# (no gear) and 5'11. Iíd be considered on the small end of the weight spectrum for a Karma L. Iíve been preaching the bigger is better refrain for a while now, but honestly the manufacturers are starting to call me out. So I was curious to see if the Karma L felt too big.
When I first heard about the specs on this thing, I kind of thought they were putting out another LL Remix-type boat - long, fast, sharp edges, low rocker, etc. But looking at it, it looks more like a replacement for the creekboat line. Thereís plenty of rocker, the edges/chines were well defined, but up and out of the way for creekboating. I didnít study it too carefully, but the edge profile looked similar to the Stomper - just eyeballing it. I was told the squared off end of the stern is supposed to help push it out of features, but I never really had an opportunity to test that.
If you know Jackson outfitting, then you pretty much know what youíre going to get with this boat. Theyíre now just using standard foam on a plastic seat, rather than the happy seat. I kind of liked the happy seat, but this one doesnít take any adjustment, you just sit down. Anyway, the seat felt comfortable and totally adequate. Iím not a big fan of the rope cleats for the backband, but with the creekboats (at least this one and the Villain), I find the cockpits are so large that I can get in and out without ever adjusting the rope at all, so it doesnít matter too much. Iím a big fan of the break way bulkhead - there should be plenty of room for even the tallest guys and biggest feet. The thigh hooks are integrated into the boat like all Jackson boats. I wish they were more adjustable, but my thighs fit just fine into the Karma L, so no real complaints. The hip pads are just normal adjustable hip pads like you find in almost all boats. The cockpit is large and you need a big skirt.
I jumped out of my Wavesport Habitat 80 and into this thing and it definitely looked like a lot more boat in front of me. The thing is about 9ft long and feels much faster than what Iím used to paddling. The extra speed was fun. However, the boat has a good bit of rocker in the bow and the stern and with some edges, it seemed to maneuver fairly easily. Their design seems to keep a lot of volume out of the water, therefore the extra volume seemed to be less of a burden to push around. Similar to my impression of the Villain, it felt easier to move than what the specs might indicate. At least in the low water Gore milieu is was not more difficult to hit my lines in this than in the Habitat. Iíd be curious if I could say the same in a steep, tight creek.
There seemed to be a little less of the bulbous deck extending outward from the cockpit toward the bow compared to what Iím used to seeing in Jackson boats. Even in this big boy boat, I had no trouble getting adequate reach around the boat to plant my paddle strokes. The seat height relative to the cockpit rim felt neutral to me - not high or low compared to compared what I'm used to. If you were a little shorter or with shorter arms than me, it might feel a little too big.
Putting this boat on edge felt strange. It has mad secondary stability and stops you dead in your tracks as you lean over to the side. It felt very different on edge than the Villain. Low water Gore doesn't really have large features. Iíd be curious to see how the secondary stability reacted in big features when placed on edge: riding a big brace, in squirrely water, etc. It seems like that strong secondary stability might really help out in those situations. It seemed to roll (sweep, backdeck, finishing forward/back) like any other creekboat, which is to say, easily.
It has more edge than Iím used to, which I think helped for ferries. Ferries felt easier than in the creekboats I'm accustomed to (no trouble with the bow trying to blow downstream) and it generally seemed to just ride over cross currents. Given the edges, it didnít snap as hard into eddies as I expected it might, but no major problems either.
Boofing felt fine as the ample bow rocker seemed to make up for the extra length. The boat stayed on top of the water, as I hope it would, having a medium sized guy in a 100 gallon boat.
My overall impression was quite positive. When I first saw the specs on this boat released, I didnít really see myself favoring this over a Villain, but now that Iíve paddled it, it seems like Jackson is making a sensible evolution in their creekboat design. I equate it to what LL did with the Stomper - basically bringing what they learned from their Remix into the creekboat line. Jackson seems to be bringing characteristics of the Zen into their creekboat line.
For me, Iíd be curious how the medium compares, and Iíd like to feel how the large handles in tight, steep creeks, but it sure felt good on my test piece. Iím one of those people who tends to believe almost all the newest creekboats are pretty damn good. The really unique characteristics in the Karma seemed to be speed (while maintaining good rocker) and the secondary stability. I would put it in the mix of contenders if youíre looking for a new creekboat.
By the way, unlike most of the reviews youíll read about this boat, Iím way too unimportant to be sponsored by anyone or have any affiliation with Jackson Kayak. Iíve owned Pyranha, LL, Wavesport, and Dagger creekboats in the past. I'm not proud of it, but I even threw a brown claw once. Iíve paddled a Jackson Hero a few times and thought it was a good boat but not what Iíd want as my primary creekboat. I paddled a Jackson Villain for a week out of the country and thought it was a great boat that I could certainly paddle as my primary boat.