Jackson Kayak Hero Kayak Review with Boyd Ruppelt

Note: Is this review biased because it was written by a Team JK athelete? Of course! Is it factual, full of quality information and entertaining? You betchya’!

Intro – The first date:
In the past, Jackson Kayak’s river runner had been more geared toward playboating, but this time the idea was quite different. We wanted the ultimate creeking, river running, expedition, and teaching machine that is more geared toward safety, volume, and fun on harder rivers. At the same time we wanted a kayak that new kayakers could fall in love with and without feeling limited. The funny thing is that the Hero turned out different than anyone really expected because of all the input from Team Jackson Kayak. So I’ve been putting this boat to the test ever sense, trying to figure out exactly what it is that I love so much about it and how we can improve it for the next round. So I’m writing about my experience in it as objective as I can, but I must admit my Hero quickly became my favorite kayak and it’s hard to hide the love.


Little Hero

  • Length: 85” (or 7’ 1”)
  • Width: 24”
  • Height: 14.0”
  • Weight: 34 pounds
  • Weight range: 90-150 pounds

SIDE KICK- for Kids and VERY small adults

  • Length:79” (or 6’ 7”)
  • Width:22.25”
  • Height:13.0”
  • Volume:50 gallons
  • Weight:27 pounds
  • Legs: 20”-32”
  • Feet: kids-men’s 9
  • Weight range: 40-120 pounds

HERO- for medium sized women and adults

  • Length: 90” (or 7’ 6”)
  • Width: 25.5”
  • Height: 15.0”
  • Volume: 75 gallons
  • Weight: 42 pounds
  • Legs: 26”-37”
  • Feet: up to men’s 14
  • Weight range: 115-190 pounds

2008 SUPER HERO- larger adults

  • Length: 95” (or 7’ 11”)
  • Width: 26.5”
  • Height: 15.5”
  • Volume: 87 gallons
  • Weight: 47 pounds
  • Legs: 28”-40”
  • Feet: up to men’s 16
  • Weight range: 155-280 pounds

Pros – the love story
The first thing you’ll notice when you get in a Hero is that it feels SO stable. It’s a wide boat so it easily begins to feel like your “bomb shelter” whether you’re creeking or it’s you first time ever on moving water. My girlfriend’s first time paddling her Hero was on a class IV/V creek in Colorado and she immediately felt safe and secure once in the water. I also put a friend, Phil, in my Hero with minimal instruction and led him down a class II-III stretch in Alabama… He did great, ran everything, and felt comfortable the whole way down. So one would think that such a wide, stable boat would be difficult to roll. What I’ve found is that it’s very easy to roll, like every Jackson Kayak I’ve ever paddled. Just to remove my person bias, I put beginners in my boats that I was teaching to roll and some of them in our “class” boats. They all learned how to roll in equal time (quite quickly)and none of them thought the Hero was any more difficult. The planning hull allows for easy surfing for such a large boat and the cockpit and deck design are those of a full on creeker. The Hero is Cross-Linked plastic which is more difficult to mold into kayaks, but it’s stronger, can be molded lighter, and has a lot more flex before it breaks. I stopped breaking boats when I switched to Cross-linked plastic. It’s of course possible, but you’ve gotta love a strong boat that can take years of abuse. A far as Creeking and River running, What I love about this boat is that I can have camera gear and rescue gear weighing it down and at 5’8″ and 155 lbs I can wavewheel it vertically and then punch a huge hole or run a series of steep tongues and waterfalls without any problem. I was a big skeptic in years past with planning hulls and creeking. Personally I never liked them but I must admit the Hero seems like the perfect balance. I boofed a 30’er and landed flat to see how it reacted (I was wearing a back support/spine guard) and it bled off the preasure much easier and quicker than I would expect from a planning hull design. I never suggest trying that yourself, but it’s nice to know you have some forgiveness. It’s accelerates easy and peals out great even in the most turbulent places. Even with a planning hull it will boof anything and stay high and dry through the most turbulent and intimidating stretches. It runs waterfalls very well and handles flooded creeks (that should be too high) and big water runs with ease. In fact it seems to excel more on fast paced, higher volume creeks. So you can see why I’m in love with it.

Cons – After the Honeymoon:
Not every relationship is happy all the time and we’ve yet to creat the “perfect” boat for all whitewater. Sometimes you have to search long and hard but there’s always an area for improvement and this is where I have to be completely objective and fill you in on how to make this awesome boat work for you. Some of our own team got in this boat for the first time on the Cheoah in NC. A couple of them hated their first trip in it. When asked why they said it kept turning and trying to follow tongues without them. So upon further inspection we discovered their seats were ALL the way forward, the way they liked it in their Rockers. So they tried it again with the seat toward the back (all the way back in some cases) and after another run through the lower section and Bear Creek Rapid, they were in love too. Being too forward in the Hero seems to dig in the hull a bit, forcing the edges to take over into a turn upon even the most tiny weight shifts. Well, being positioned toward the back leads to the most incredible feeling ever because it lifts the bow, floats over everything without losing speed, and carves or spins beautiful turns at will… so you may have to dial your boat in to find what best works with your paddling abilities. It may look like hole-bait, but I can tell you that it’s not. I have one friend that was used to paddling long, fast boat designs take it down Johnnies Creek in Alabama (IV/V) and he hasn’t quite figured out how to boof a hole instead of directly taking it on. He got a few surfs out of the deal but told me at the bottom that he actually loved the edges for carving out. He felt very comfortable in a surf with it and had no trouble working his way out. Is it hole-bait? no, but it does behave differently than long boats. My girlfriend (really my fiance’) is 5’7″ and 125 lbs (but looks like 110). She wears an XXS waist in snap dragon sprayskirts but has a 30″ inseam and she’s always inbetween designs. She completely fell in love with the Hero in Colorado, but still felt like it was too wide. To compensate she added padding under her seat to give herself some leverage, but now she’s rockin’ a boat that fits – the Little Hero! The only real con I’ve personally found is that the edges can catch on bouldery, rock-pile style runs where constant rock-boat contact can cause the edges to catch… for those you may prefer a Rocker.

Verdict – long happy mariage or divorce?
I’m in LOVE with this boat. The “cons” are easily fixable but come with their own rewards. The wide design makes it stable and the planning hull and edges make it more fun to paddle in a majority of situations. It carves turns great, spins on a dime, catches eddies on autopilot, and handles the biggest gnarliest rapids without issue. At the same time it’s a safe design that’s easy to roll, friendly for beginners, and wavewheels amazingly well. It quickly became my favorite boat ever and if I could only choose one kayak to keep, this would be it. It’s the most fun all round boat that I have ever paddled. I’ve tried to stay objective but my verdict is the same. She’s a sexy beast and I’ll love her long-time…

Additional Hero Photos and Information:

The JK Hero series comes with the Uni-Shock bulk head, which works like a big piton shock absorber. For more information on it check out the YouTube video below.


Look Familiar? The hull looks a lot like the Star and Fun Series. This is a great transition boat for river runners that have previously paddled Jackson play boats.

Comfort and safety are two key features of the JK Hero cockpit. Sweet Cheeks, hip pads and JK backband come standard as well as the Uni Shock bulkhead.

The Hero's very roomy inside. Lots of volume in the back too for storage and confidence in squirilley water.

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