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Comparison + Initial pool review -- 2016 Jackson Rockstar (3.0) and the new Jackson Rockstar 4.0

Our most excellent local Jackson Kayak dealer, Alder Creek Canoe & Kayak does a pretty good job of keeping Jackson demo boats in stock. It's no secret thought that we're often the LAST stop from Tenesee when it comes to shipping boats out, and Alder doesn't seem to have the budget to get shipment of the demo boats outside of their regular orders... so we rarely get the chance to demo them early.

I was able to coordinate getting a Jackson Rockstar 4.0 in medium and large to try out at my local pool session. My primary playboat is a 2016 Jackson Rockstar Large, which I'm a big fan of. I also paddle a mixmaster, but comparing these two boats would largely be pointless.

Here's a comparison of a few key specs for people to consider between the two generations of rockstars, with volume being in gallon and all measurements being in inches. I also added in the 4-fun as the comparison will later be a talking point, as will the Monstar which I've added as well. Taken from jacksonkayak.com, not measured by myself.

BoatVolumeHeightWidthLength
2016 Rockstar Medium5513.5275'8"
Rockstar 4.0 Medium61.415.5265'10"
2016 Rockstar Large6515.5276'1"
Rockstar 4.0 Large69.416.25276'1"
Jackson 4 fun (2018)6714.5"26.57'2"
Jackson Monstar7315"286'3"

Some things you might notice about the specs... the Rockstars all got more volume. They got a bit narrower in the medium and a bit longer. The large looks similar, but I assure you, after it is paddling it is anything but similar.

Here are some comparison pictures of the Rockstar 4.0 medium and large with the 2016 Large:

Initial Sizing Comparison Thoughts

So right off the bat, the sizing difference of the boats is obvious. The new medium looks just like the 2016 large, and the new large looks downright massive. There is a lot more volume in the knees on the new Rockstar. The Rockstar 4.0 medium and the 2016 rockstar look to be the exact same length as well when put side by side, but the volume placement has surely changed to be a bit higher up and closer to the paddler, with even less volume in the nose.

It's been said that the Rockstar changes every two years to reflect what boat will compete the best in that years Worlds. Entertaining this as truth: the previous generation's World competition was on a wave, and the boat was longer, sleeker, and had less volume for loop tricks. The Rockstar 4.0 will be taking place on more of a hole feature. Loops and air are essential. Seems to make sense to me that this boat would get a big boost of volume.

Initial Comparison to Paddling Characteristics in the Pool

I should start by saying... I'm a good sized dude. I'm generally weight between 225-240lbs and am 5'10". Alright we'll go with fat/chunky/husky, whatever term works for you. I mountain bike a lot, I do Krav Maga a ton, I can bust out pushups on command, even on my knuckles. I'm built, and chubby, which all at once comes together for my total weight. Oh yeah and I've got a Titanium rod for a femur, for what weight that adds.

Abother important pre-review detail to share is happy feet, seat, sweet cheeks, all that non-sense is junk. Very few paddlers keep it, even fewer paddlers like it consistently, and the vast majority of peole I know remove it unless it happens to be the perfect foot size for your boat without inflating Prior to this I was able to paddle a Rockstar 4.0 medium without any of the happy junk in there, which will help shape my writeup. Jackson would do well to divest from that garbage and instead invest in a better modular foam system. I doubt we'll ever see it though, dude is too busy fishing all of a sudden.

End rant on that though.

So on to actuall padling the boats. I started by hopping in my tried and true 2016 Rockstar large. That boat is the boat that for me, defines a perfect downriver playboat in our little corner of the PNW. It gets on the bow easy, it transitions end to end with relative ease... it's friendly. It's not perfect, and some aspects of it I struggle with for my build.

Knowing I was happy as a clam in the Rockstar I already own, I hopped in the Rockstar 4.0 Medium. Here's the interesting thing... at my weight, this boat should be way too small for me. A small boat can be fun to throw around in the pool, however in the water the trim was good. I floated above the parting line on the boat by a respectable margin (a good indicator of being over the boat's intended weight) and ergonomically it felt good... minus the garbage happy feet and happy seat, which caused some imperfection in fit and definitely just added sloppiness.

In the Rockstar 4.0 medium I was able to bow stall better than I can in the 2016 Rockstar large. I attribute this though to my personal ergonomics, as the boat is a bit shorter, I can get into a stall and hold it better, while the 2016 large is just a bit long for my build, resulting in me generally barely being able to hold it and then flopping over the bow. In the Rockstar 4.0 though I was able to hold it there, and when switching ends stall there Squirting the boat up onto the stern was easy, and doing switch cartwheels was easy.

I can't comment on loops. Fat kids don't flip... or at least this one does not just yet!

The Rockstar 4.0 medium didn't roll as well as the 2016 Rockstar, but it wasn't exactly any different than most playboats to roll so not a lot to be said there. I just generally roll a longer boat better, espescially as I favor sweep rollling out and over the back of the boat. Say what you will about the roll technique, I teach it to great success with many whitewater kayakers and I get them combat rolling far sooner. I could write a novel on that alone.

Then I hopped in the Rockstar 4.0 Large. This boat in theory should be my jam right? Well, not quite. This boat is a monster, and in many dimensions is larger than the Monstar. The height is insane as it's taller than the old monstar, and even with the stupid Sweet Cheeks boosting my height I couldn't help but hit my paddle on the knees the entire time I boated it. I enjoy the Monstar more personally.

This boat SUCKED in flatwater honestly. It was a struggle I just chose to stop fighting to get vertical on the stern, and this was with me in a nuetral/middle seat position. Putting this boat forward would make getting up on the stern nearly impossible. Incidentally, I was able to cartwheel it but it was very picky end to end as al lthat volume doesn't want to slice through, and it surely wants to pop you over.

I could not stern squirt or double pump this boat up on the stern into a stern stall for the life of me. I couldn't hold a stern squirt when cartwheeling onto the stern. I couldn't double pump the boat either. I couldn't double pump it up paddling backwards. This boat just has too much volume for me.

With my height being 5'10" the Rockstar 4.0 large is probably meant for someone taller than me. At my weight and build, I don't think I've got enough Brute force to make this boat work for flatwater, and downriver play. A 6'2" person with simiar to slightly more bulk than myself might be able to make the Jackson Rockstar 4.0 large work.

The boat is truly massive. It is larger than the 4fun that came before it, and it is nearly as large as the Monstar. How it isn't larger than the monster with it's ultra high knee height, I will never know. The boat is just a brute!

Takeaway from another boater on the medium

My friend Thom hopped in the Rockstar 4.0 Medium. He's 5'8" or so, 160lbs. In theory, the ideal boater for that boat. He paddles a mixmaster, a loki, a Kingpin... he's mostly used to slicier boats. He has paddle the 2016 Rockstar Medium, and before that the 2014 Rockstar Medium.

Thom really struggled with the Rockstar 4.0 medium. He found it difficult to get on end, as the boat's volume relative to his size just didn't work out. He likes to do bow stalls along the pools edge to bounce a boat and get a feel for it, and there with his full weight on the boat he was so far out of the water he couldn't reasonably bow stall it or really bounce it with much effectiveness.

Overall thoughts on first impressions in the pool

The Rockstars have sized up. They require not just a heavier or more built boater to flatwater shred them, they require a taller boater than in the past. It would seem most boaters can size down in these boats.

I'm not sure just who the Rockstar 4.0 large was made for. This is a common thought for me with Jackson and their large boats though. They seem more like an after thought derived from a good idea rather than an intentional design in itself. If you're a tall brute though, the boat should treat you great.

At my height and build, the Rockstar 4.0 definitely has caught my attention. I expect to order one from Jackson and outfit it properly, with a seat pad, and foam up front. No one should have to suffer through happy feet and sweet cheeks.

One consideration not discussed: These boats are meant for retentiveness.

So one thing I haven't mentioned, is the boats likely intent, and my thoughts on how they meet that. This boats are likely meant for shredding retentive features (holes). My casual observation from boating is that the larger the volume of the boat relative to your weight, the more retentive it will be in features. I can't stay in a feature for crap in my mixmaster, and I don't stay as well as others do in my 2016 Rockstar Large. A girl I was with back in the day couldn't get OUT of features in her 2014 rockstar medium, which was rad for her and made me a bit jealous honestly.

I would expect these boats to STICK on a feature. The Rockstar 4.0 large especially with me in it would likely stick like butter, and while I struggle to initiate flatwater tricks, I bet it would let me stay in features that normally flush me.

Unfortunately for us, there really aren't any such features in the region. The Bend Whitewater park used to have such features, but they hired a chode surf bro to run the thing, and hey all the whitewater features blow and aren't friendly anymore. A friend likes to goad me by saying he sees people loop it all the time, but I ask if anyone can even hold a sidesurf and the answer is no. Dudes are just plugging fast moving water, woohoo....

I will continue to try and take the boats out to review them. Hopefully some on river time switching between the Rockstar 4.0 Medium and the 2016 Rockstar Large will yield some interesting results.