CKS First Look: The Rockstar V with Emily and Dane Jackson

Two days ago, Jackson Kayak announced their latest playboat kayak, the Rockstar V.

This 5th generation model follows a long legacy of World Championship winning boats. The design, and subsequent performance, have matured since the Original Rockstar kayak, first released in 2011.

The Jackson Rockstar has become the default choice for playboaters. In fact, the US market hasn’t seen a whitewater playboat designed to compete with the Rockstar kayak series since the Pyranha Jed, Dagger Jitsu, or Wavesport Mobius, all released between 2012 and 2013.

The previous iterations of the Jackson Rockstar playboat have been so high performing that many people are now left wondering: “how can they possibly make it better?”

We sat down (’s 2021) with two of the best freestyle paddlers in the world to get the scoop on the latest boat.

Jackson Rockstar V Playboat

The previous generations of the Rockstar already stand out in a category of their own. If you already own an older Rockstar, why would you want to upgrade?

Emily: Because it’s just better…..Ha! Okay, but really…The Rockstar is a continual progression and evolves to match the needs of paddlers and what they are working on – whether you are learning your first cartwheels or doing the most challenging combos.

We spent time in all our previous models (all 8!) and pin-pointed what people loved about each design, what flaws were found, and what we thought we could improve.

I’m excited about the results as I really feel this design pays tribute to years of innovation by continuing that trend. 

Top, bottom and side views of the production model Rockstar V.

What are the most noticeable differences between the 4.0 and the 5.0?

Dane: The Rockstar 4.0 was a great boat, and a much different boat than we had done in the past. What we did with the Rockstar 5.0 is take a lot of what we liked in the last few generations, and put them all together.

We kept the middle of the boat nice and high volume for maximum air, as well as for comfort. While at the same time, we brought back our slicey bow and ends, making it easier to initiate, cartwheel, and engage when needed.

For wave performance, we widened the middle of the hull slightly for higher floating and more planing surface, but kept the stern nice and narrow for easy take offs.

The other exciting addition that we haven't done before is we added a second rail to the kayak. This will make carving better, but the biggest thing is it makes the Rockstar V insanely loose. It will slide and spin like nothing you've paddled.

Tell us more about the design history and process.

Dane: The Rockstar V was designed with input from our team as well as our R&D department, led by our designer David Knight. We all worked together from different angles to bring this kayak to life.

We got to take the prototype out for some sessions on "Good Wave" in Columbus this spring, which is the site of the 2023 World Freestyle Championships. After comparing with our previous models, and paddling for days there, we felt we had the boat we wanted.

Dane on the Ottawa

Let's talk sizing. 

Emily: This model floats a wide range of paddlers, but I feel the closest model for fitting is the 2014 Rockstar.  It's between the 4.0 and the 3.0. With the 3.0 and 4.0 being on two opposite sides of the spectrum (one being the smallest of our Rockstars, and one being the biggest) We went smack dab in the middle while ensuring foot room was considered.

Dane: I am 5'6" and 150lbs, and I paddle the Medium Rockstar. I like that it is super comfortable. There's more than enough room, without feeling too big – especially from the knees forward. It feels like all the bow end moves, as well initiating, is going to be easy wherever I paddle it. The volume in a Medium provides everything I need to get maximum air. 

Emily: I’m a wanna-be Small. I pack a lot of weight on my 5’3 frame; I’m 145lbs, and I can throw around a Medium in flatwater. I do, however, love the ease of being in a Small. It doesn't require as much muscling when I'm trying to link together a lot of moves. If I was taller and had more leverage then I would consider a Medium for more stability in down river, but honestly, I’ve always been a Small.

Size S M L
Length 5’4” 5’8” 5’11”
Width 24 ¾” 26 1/8” 27 ½”
Height 14” 14 7/8” 15 ½”
Volume 50 gal 59 gal 69 gal
Weight 26.5 lbs 29 lbs 34 lbs
Optimum Paddler Weight 100-160 lbs 140-200 lbs 180-240 lbs


I’m on the fence between sizes, should I size up or down?

Emily: This question really comes down to you: What are your goals? What makes you smile when you’re on a river?

If the river itself is making you nervous and the idea of flipping over is intimidating, go bigger.

If you are confident on the river and you want to challenge yourself, go smaller.

Determining what your intentions are with your playboat (basically, having an open honest relationship) is the key to ensuring you are getting the right size.

If you're sizing specifically for playboating, smaller kayaks will be easier to throw around (flatwater cartwheels), but it will be flushier and have less speed if you are looking to park on a glassy green wave. 

If you're unsure, PLEASE feel free to reach out and ask us. Clay Wright and Stephen Wright (when not paddling themselves) absolutely love the interactions and questions, and they we would love to help you find the right fit.

What is the standard outfitting included with the RSV?

Emily: This year we went with Sweet Cheeks, Bees Knees, Hips Pads, and Foam Foot Block.

The big changes are the addition of the Bees Knees, and the Happy Feet being switched for Foam Block.

I know – I am foot bag enthusiast myself but we found that often they are not used to their full potential. When foot bags aren't used properly it can really affect your comfort in the kayak. Therefore we are keeping Happy Feet as an accessory for those that are in the know (I see you happy feet peeps!) and replacing it with the foam foot black to ensure that the kayak is looking as fresh as possible.

Worlds are on a wave in 2023. Is the new boat designed more with waves or holes in mind?

Dane: It will do both extremely well. For holes, it will be the easiest to initiate, learn tricks, as well as the best chance to get massive air. On waves, it will be the most fun boat to surf, spin, and take off. It will do what you want it to do no matter where you bring it.

Playboats are sometimes considered a niche or expert-only boat. Would the class II-III aspiring playboater still enjoy the RSV?

Emily: Heck yes, they would! Jackson Kayak’s foundation is in inclusivity, so while we push innovation and design, we don’t sacrifice user friendliness.

The Rockstar 5.0 is easy to roll, one of more balanced Rockstar models, and comes in 3 wide range sizes. If you are not familiar with playboats, they are one of the best things you can purchase for the overall growth of your paddling.

In whitewater, it can be really hard to learn how to push yourself in a safe and controlled way. Playboating really does that for you – you can be in flatwater and still challenge yourself.

On class II-III water you can see the river from a whole new lens. Eddies, eddy lines, and other features all become more apparent. While pushing yourself to try  new things, you will get a great (semi)intentional roll practice.

In comparison to other playboats, it is one of our most user friendly designs.

To wrap things up, what’s your dream river to pair with the RSV?

Emily: Really any run where I get to goof around with friends, but I love playboating in any of the whitewater parks in Colorado.

I look forward to taking the new Rockstar V to Uganda for some BIG warm water, the Ottawa, the Gauley, the Arkansas, the list continues. Basically any puddle and I’ll be there!

Dane: The Ottawa River! Big macho moves on the way down, big loops, and big airscrews all down the river.

The Rockstar V is now available for limited pre-orders. Jackson is releasing the Rockstar V in the limited edition Cotton Candy color for Fall of 2021, and the standard colors of Flame, Watermelon, and Red will be available through the 2022 model year.

Rockstar V Available Colors

Watermelon Flame Red Cotton Candy

Rockstar V Specs and Sizing

Size S M L
Length 5’4” 5’8” 5’11”
Width 24 ¾” 26 1/8” 27 ½”
Height 14” 14 7/8” 15 ½”
Volume 50 gal 59 gal 69 gal
Weight 26.5 lbs 29 lbs 34 lbs
Optimum Paddler Weight 100-160 lbs 140-200 lbs 180-240 lbs


For more info, check out this walkthrough with Dane Jackson

Click here to Order the Jackson Rockstar 5.0 Playboat

Jackson Rockstar

Click here to Order the Jackson Rockstar V Kayak

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