Shoe size: 9.5
Damn you Jackson Kayaks! Damn you! Why does the new 2015 Jackson Zen have to be so good!!
As much as I want to dislike Jackson creek/river runners, they keep nailing it. And, with some of the most bomb-proof paddlers in the industry hopping on the Jackson Research’n’Design pay-roll, it was only a matter of time.
While Crested Butte, CO was in the throws of mud season, that awkward time when the mountain town doesn’t know if it wants to embrace back country skiing or manky creek boating on Oh Be Joyful, I had the opportunity to leave the muck and ice bridges behind to hit flowing rivers at lower elevations. What was in the quiver for a couple of days? The new Jackson Medium Zen and Fun.
Dan Loftus of the Brick Oven Pizzeria left behind his business-owner duties to give me a class III boaters perspective on each boat as well. Liberally taste testing each and every one of the 30 beers on tap and overseeing the quality control department of pizza tasting would have to wait, for there was shredding to be done on the Arkansas.
After paddling the old Zen for about 10 minutes last year, I wasn’t expecting many positive things to write about this 2015 Jackson Zen. Samsonite! I was way off.
I spent the day on the Pine Creek & #’s section of the Ark, boofing and spinning off of every rock I could and hitting every ferry and kooky attainment line that the local boys and girls had to show me. Sliding into the water in the Medium Zen was…automatic. Plug and play. Get in, fidget with a few ropes and maybe even a hip pad or two and it was like I had been running rivers with this boat for ages.Construction:
This boat feels like the little brother to the hugely successful Karma. It seems like EJ just threw the old Zen out and started tweaking the Karma to be more alike the previous river-running specific boat. The new 2015 Jackson Zen is more river friendly and stays on top of the water in a way that the old Zen didn’t.The Jackson design team raised and rounded the stern , much like the Karma and added volume in the back to keep the boat on top of the water or popping out of holes by displacing would be hydraulically sponsored beat downs… much like the Karma. Might as well call this boat, the ‘River Karma'.
The chines are forgiving and don’t catch quite as easily as the old Zen, but they are still present enough to hold a line during ferries, while surfing or while navigating any type of white water.
The 2015 Jackson Zen has a planing hull with crisp edges that are not too sharp. It surfs glassy waves really well and is easy to control overall.
Another shot of the edge and planing hull...
Forgiving chines that are there when you need them - very similar to the Dagger Mamba.
If you are paddling a Medium Karma, don’t think that you are going to order up the corresponding size on the Zen and have the same fit. The Medium Zen felt more along the line of a small Karma. Yes it’s sporty, but it’s nowhere near the same volume.
Dan, not possessing the most bomber of combat rolls and generally consuming far to much coffee, was jacked up on caffeine and potentially a little hung over after fulfilling his duties as proprietor of an establishment known for having the most delicious beers in town on tap. Understandably, he was a little gripped when paddling into the low water class III Brown’s Canyon. After all, rocks hurt and the less time one can spend upside down, the better.
In the end, Dan soul surfed a few casual waves, boofed on accident (User error, equipment triumph) a couple of times and only forgot one item of paddling equipment, his spray skirt. For the ‘casual kayaker’ the Zen was forgiving and comfortable right from the start due to it’s user friendly outfitting. Also, due to the lack of holes in the boat construction, it’s dry as a bone. Used to paddling an All-Star and Karma, Dan was loving the roll-a-bility of the Zens rounded design.
While hanging out in Mexico this past fall with North Fork sh#t runner, Alec Voorhees, he swore that this would be one of the best North Fork boats on the market in 2015. I think he might be right.
Plug and Play
User friendly outfitting
Forgiving hull design
Light weight construction
Glassy Wave surf machine
The backband locks off with this cleat. Replacement parts are easy to find at your local hardware store if you're on the road, and something breaks.
Jackson Kayak Backbands are supportive, light and durable.
The hip pads are easy to dial in, supportive, and durable. They are sold individually if you have another boat that needs a great pair of hip pads.
The Jackson Zen is very easy to outfit overall. To adjust the seat, you unscrew the wing nut and the screws on the cockpit.
One of the coolest features of the Jackson Kayak river runners and creekers is the Uni Shock bulk head. It is super easy to adjust the front bulkhead (not messing with wing nuts on the side). If you piton, it will release - saving you some pain!!
Sizes are not correlated to the Karma
Fairly flat hull (Ouch on big boofs) - You can teach a displacement hull to eddy out like a planing hull, but you can’t teach a planing hull to not break your back when landing flat quite as well as a displacement hull.
Not as easy to pack for overnighters as many other models on the market.
One of it’s predecessors was the Jackson Mega-Rocker
As the crisp air settles in for Fall Paddling season with popular events such as Beaverfest, Gorefest, Gauley Fest and Russell Fork Rendevous, make sure you are prepared with the gear you’ll need to have to stay comfortable and support your team on the river! Here are a few recommendations from CKS Online's Lead Buyer, Jonny Ortiz.