A few weeks back, Jackson announced the Rockstar V, their newest whitewater playboat. We took this kayak down Waterton Canyon of the South Platte, one of the only rivers in Colorado with enough water to paddle in the late fall.
Read below for CKS Employee Nick Gilbert's first impression and review of the Jackson Rockstar V kayak.
The Rockstar V is a welcome upgrade from previous versions with a balanced, intuitive feel that makes it not only a competition-focused tool, but a fun way to spice up the backyard run.
About the Tester
- Height: 5’9
- Weight: 155 lbs
- Shoe Size: 9
- Size Tested: Medium
- Playboating Skill Level: Mediocre
As far as my playboating talent goes, no one besides my mom is impressed watching me surf a wave, and I'm not much better in a hole. I’m happy if I can get sideways on a blunt or catch good air on a loop. A good ride for me might involve 1-2 moves before I flush off the wave or out of the hole.
If you are curious how easy it is to initiate a pirouette as you phonics monkey, I'm not the right guy to tell you. But if your playboating style is about messing around and having fun, then you are reading the right review.
When we first received a Rockstar in November, we all thought we would have to wait till Spring 2022 to post anything about it. But after a few laps down Waterton Canyon, one of the few runs in the state with any water left this time of year, I decided it was worth it to put my first impressions down on paper.
Why write a review of the most cutting-edge high-performance competition playboat on a Class 3 downriver run? Well – this is exactly how most of us will end up using a boat like the Rockstar V.
While we may daydream about surfing the largest waves in the world at Stakeout in Quebec during Spring snow-melt, at the end of the day - many of us are paddling a playboat to spice up a run like the Ocoee, Brown's Canyon, or Waterton.
For many kayakers, our playboats are most often used for that early or late season run when the water is low and we don’t want to take kayaking too seriously. Competing at World Championships is not on the radar for most people, and if it is, you probably aren’t reading my review.
Outfitting, Comfort, and Sizing
Right off the bat, you will notice the Rockstar V is extremely comfortable for a playboat.
There is a lot of space in the knees, which in turn meant that my feet weren’t forced to be crammed into the front of the boat. The two major updates to the outfitting are Jackson’s new Bee’s Knees thigh braces, and a Linear Foam Foot Block instead of the Jackson Happy Feet Bag.
Jackson's Bee's Knees and Linear
The difference between the Happy Feet and the foam block is a matter of personal preference and I prefer the foam. Foam is more straightforward and easy to get right, I think most people who haven’t spent some time experimenting with the Happy Feet will prefer the foam. Happy Feet take practice to get right and can be a little finicky and unstable if you are not used to it, but once you figure it out the happy feet allow for more customization.
The foam foot block comes as one solid piece, and can be cut down to size for people who require more foot space.
Jackson kept the classic backband
The Bee’s Knees are a solid upgrade – they offer some adjustability and their exaggerated hook shape really cups your thigh, making the boat more responsive.
With the Bee’s Knees, I felt like I had more control of the boat as any movement of my legs caused the boat to move in response. Normally I jam two foam shims into each hip pad and risk losing circulation in my legs to get the boat control I want, but with the Bee’s Knees I only needed one hip shim on each side due to the added responsiveness.
Aside from the Bee’s Knees and the Linear Foam Foot Block, the rest of the outfitting in the Rockstar V is similar to previous generations. The backband is secure and easy to adjust, and the Sweet Cheeks seat pad is extremely comfy. To adjust the seat, fill the seat pouch with air, sit down, and release the air to mold the seat pad to your shape.
Overall, it’s hard to imagine a way to make a playboat more comfortable. All in all, Jackson’s outfitting is at the top of the industry across their whole range. It is quicker and easier to dial in your perfect fit in a Jackson than in other brands and the Rockstar V is no exception.
It is worth noting that the Rockstar V is 2 inches shorter than the Rockstar 4.0, which leaves a little less length to fit your legs and feet. Paddlers on the edge between sizes should feel confident sizing up because this boat is relatively easy to throw around.
Waterton Canyon starts with a few minutes of slow-moving flat water, giving me the perfect chance to cartwheel, bow stall, double pump, and get a feel for the boat.
The Rockstar V immediately felt more balanced than the previous version. It felt more stable front to back, and I noticed a bit more secondary stability compared to the previous version. I would attribute this to the second edge, which is a new feature for the V.
Trying a few cartwheels, the boat was very balanced and more stable on its ends than the previous version. I felt that cartwheels were very easy to initiate despite being on the lower end of the weight range. I also thought that it had a smooth rotation and was noticeably easier to balance on the stern and bow than the previous generations of Rockstar.
The V also has a more slicy bow, which makes flatwater tricks easier than in the 4.0.
As I made my way downstream, the Rockstar V was intuitive and balanced through Class 3 rapids.
Intuitive is my favorite word to describe this boat – it just felt easy to paddle, for a playboat. There wasn’t much of a learning curve, it just worked as I hoped and didn’t give me any surprises.
Tricks I already knew in my Jed or Rockstar 4.0 were easy to bring to the V, and as a downriver playboat I was impressed. Moves that are normally 50/50 for me were working out more often than not.
The V also paddled downriver much better than previous generations. I think that the volume distribution was improved for river running, making this boat much less likely to backender than the previous version.
I had fun stern squirting in shallow eddies, pulled around a couple wave wheels, splatted a rock or two, and surfed some small green waves. The improved balance on edge and smooth, balanced rotation when throwing ends were confidence inspiring and encouraged me to treat every tiny feature as a play spot.
Overall, the Jackson design team brought together scores of small improvements and tweaks to make a fully new and enhanced boat.
I'm really excited to get the Rockstar V out this Spring and explore the hull's ability to surf green waves. Jackson told us that the "new double-railed drop chine system gives the V the highest planing performance of any boat yet." While Waterton wasn't the best test venue for green wave surfing, the few small waves I did find left me very impressed and excited for more. The hull felt very quick, loose, and maneuverable – letting me flat spin surprisingly well even on small waves.
Double Chine on the RSV Hull
Many paddlers think of playboating as rodeo competitions or bouncing down a green wave. For most of us though, our playboat is a way to spice up the local Class 3 run when other things aren't running or we only have time for a quick after-work lap.
The Rockstar V excels at this type of paddling with its well-balanced stability and intuitive handling. The comfort of the outfitting will give you more energy to paddle all day or try one more trick as the sun sets on your post-work surf session. Initiating tricks in the V is about as easy as it can be and will make you want to surf, squirt, cartwheel, wave wheel, and generally just mess on runs that might otherwise grow old.
I'm especially excited to bring this boat out to some larger waves this spring when the flows are right. Jackson nailed the volume distribution and hull design on this boat and I’m going to be day dreaming about taking it down a high water Browns Canyon lap all winter.
If you are on the upper edge of the weight range or have long legs, I would recommend sizing up.
For those who value flatwater performance or want to dial in their technique on a boat that is easy to throw around, consider sizing down.
The majority of paddlers will find that being on the middle to low end of the weight range improves downriver performance and big air along with comfort, while the bow and stern design will still let them throw the boat around a bit in calmer waters
Should I upgrade from the Rockstar 4.0?
The average paddler will enjoy the Rockstar V more than the 4.0.
The V feels like it will be easier to progress in and is more intuitive when initiating tricks and paddling downriver. Don’t expect one week in the Rockstar V to take you from your first loop to winning the local Friday night rodeo, but you can expect for most moves to feel better in the V. The new hull and slicey, low-volume ends of the RSV will make most kayakers excited to paddle, and I can’t wait to see what this boat will do with more water.