First Impressions - Jackson Kayak Gnarvana Review From a Not So Average Paddler

"For the first time I am in a boat that does everything well."

- Jes Amacher

First Impressions - Gnarvana Review From a Not So Average Paddler

The Jackson Gnarvana Large, oh man, where do I even begin?  Okay, let us start here and work our way through how I reached this opinion.  Jackson Kayak has hit a home run with this boat!  As soon as I saw the release for the Medium Jackson Gnarvana, my interest was piqued.  I was super eager to see the large. Now, to understand why, you have to understand that I am not an average built female paddler.   I am 6’ tall and on a good day I weigh somewhere around 298 lbs. Therefore, finding a boat that plays well with me is always a struggle. It is just understood that most boats are going to be spicy for me. I have tried almost every modern boat from the Dagger Code L, Jackson Z3 L, to the Pyrahna Machno L, as well as some of the older designs. 

I got my start paddling in a Jackson Karma and if you have paddled one, you know that boat was a tank.  Although it was stable, it was not the most maneuverable. The Karma and I had a love hate relationship.  It took care of me for the most part, but for me, it felt like it drove me more than I drove it.  In the boat's defense, that was more me being a beginner and developing my skills. From there, I got in the Jackson Superhero and fell in love immediately. However, it had its drawbacks. Where it was easier to maneuver, it was not very fast and you had to plan in advance how you wanted to run the river, not to mention at times it could be hole bait. My style of paddling is river running.   I enjoy surfing on the fly, catching eddies, jet ferries, boofs and so forth. Granted, I am not running the Gnar like the pros, I do truly love a good day of river running. 

About 6 months ago, I had a vehicle accident that almost took my life and left me with some serious injuries and a long recovery time.  Honestly, I did not know if I was ever going to be able to get back in a hard boat after my injuries, but with summer ending, it was time to get out of the inflatable if I was going to continue paddling in the fall/winter months.  I knew I had no choice but to start planning for colder temps and cold water paddling. Therefore, the training wheels had to come off. It was time to transition back to a hard boat.  I attempted my return in my Dagger Code Large, however I was back to being over capacity due to some weight gain post-accident.  It sure made for a very spicy and stressful first day back for me. Therefore when Jonny Ortiz called and said he had gotten his hands on a Large Jackson Gnarvana, I knew this was a make or break moment for me. I had no choice but to send it. 

 Jackson Gnarvana Large - Nantahala River

My first impressions of the specs were that they resembled the size of the Karma Large, which initially brought on concern due to my previous experience with that boat.  Let me be the first to say that although on paper, they favor, on the water they do not.  As we un-wrapped the boat from the plastic with anticipation, the consensus was very similar.  This a BIG boat. Let me tell you, it might be a big boat on paper with specs for the large being Length: 9′ 3″ Width: 28.25″ Height: 14.75″ Volume: 102 gal. Weight 51 lbs., but that boat did not paddle like that. I was in shock and super impressed from the first peel out at the put in of the Nantahala all the way to the Falls. This boat is like a tank and a sports car combined. This boat is not sluggish at all, it was surprisingly fast and nimble.

Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak - Ice

The Jackson Gnarvana surprised me. It had re-stoked my confidence within just the first few minutes on the river and by the time I was through the first rapid, my confidence was back as well as a giant smile and the nervousness was gone.  It was time to have some fun. I started catching every eddy I could find to test the edges out and to my surprise, the sharper edges were friendly. When I would peel out it gained speed. Unlike other boats I have tried, I did not find myself tripping over them. When the edges were engaged it held its line I had planned but it didn’t lock in so much I couldn’t change my path.  Because of the ability to edge to edge transition, this boat did exactly what I told it to do when I told it to.  Now there were a few times I found myself missing my line or move (which is more me than the boat)… for instance, my favorite fader boof move into the eddy past Pyramid Rock, however, the Gnarvana didn’t make me pay for it. I was able to recover and get back online quickly.

 Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak - All Smiles on the Nantahala

I know typically every boat Jackson comes out with they say, “it’s our driest bow ever” but, with the bow rocker on the Jackson Gnarvana they weren’t kidding. The Gnarvana put me up and over holes and waves.  Normally where I would get a face full of water, I didn’t in the Gnarvana.  It honestly caught me off guard. I did notice when we got to bigger features it came alive.  It craved big water, but on the creeky lines it excelled too.  I cannot wait to get it out on some bigger water.  

Most class II - III boaters like me always have butterflies coming into the falls on the Nantahala.  It is a technical class III rapid that can be ran a multitude of ways.  For the first time ever, I wasn’t nervous.  Once we made it through the entrance rapid and I got lined up for the racer line, I intentionally didn’t paddle to see if it maintained its speed and to test the overall stability.  The Gnarvana maintained speed and went up and over the bottom hole with ease.  It just simply skipped out.

For the first time I am in a boat that does everything well. This is going to be my do everything boat going forward.  Not just when I am nervous about a river, but when I want to play as well.  It surfs well, rock spins are a delight, it river runs amazingly well, it goes through holes like they aren’t even there and is a boofing machine.  It is incredibly stable on both primary and secondary, yet fast and nimble.  If you are considering the Jackson Gnarvana whether you are a newer paddler or a pro, GO TRY THIS BOAT!  You absolutely will not regret it. 

Jackson Kayak, you out did yourself with the Gnarvana.  Well done.

Written By: Jes Amacher


Julia @ CKS Online

Julia @ CKS Online

Hi Jim, it rolls very similar to other Jackson boats in its range like the Zen 3, Nirvana, etc. The width of the boat did not seem to hinder the roll performance and I am sure you will roll it up just fine!

Jim Forbes

Jim Forbes

How did it roll?

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