2016 Jackson Rockstar Review

I've tried a LOT of playboats. I've hunted high and low trying to find what works best for me. One of the cool things about kayaking is that the equipment does make a notable difference. A lot of egomaniacs will try and go "rah rah rah it's not the boat it's the paddler!" and then promptly not be able to roll over an inflatable kayak because that shit just ain't true! The dynamics of a boat can be notably different.

For me, the ideal kayak is one I can do some flatwater moves in and easily control getting vertical. It will let me play on the river, yet manage to be confidnece inspiring in moving rapids. That's a tall order by nearly all accounts. Add on reasonably easy to roll and capable of taking me up to and through most modern playboat moves and... most people would say the combos I am asking for just don't exist!

I've looked high and low. I've tried the Wavesport Project X, Pyranha Jed, Jackson Superstar, Jackson Superfun, Jackson 4 fun (2014 and 2015), Dagger G-force, Dagger Kingpin, DraggoRossi Thruster, 2012 and 2014 jackson rockstars... I think that's a lot of different boats by darn near anyones account.

So, now knowing just how many different playboats I've personally owned and tried... when I tell you the 2016 Jackson Rockstar is the best damn boat I've paddled to date I hope you fully comprehend just how damn good it is! Add ontop of that I've never bough a full price damn near anything in forever, but was willing to buy this at MSRP... I hope you're catching my drift that Jackson REALLY hit the nail on the head with this boat.

My 2016 Jackson Rockstar Review.

This boat can do flatwater tricks pretty damn good! The only boat I've found easier to initiate is the Dagger Kingpin, which is now almost a decade out of production and sacrificies a lot of river running capabilities to make it so slicey in flatwater. I can cartwheel this boat with relative ease, but it doesn't sacrifice much of anything to get there! It beats all other current boat offersing from other companies (Jed, Jitsu) by a long shot as well, and gives up little to nothing to get there.

Flatwater initiation quickly translates to fun river play. Stern squirts are damn near effortless and even easier to control. I felt so confident with this boat getting vertical I'd pull into a mid rapid eddy, stern squirt the exit and keep running the rapid. It's smooth, controlled, and confidence inspiring. I hit my first non-haphazard wave wheel in this kayak on my first day sitting in it. I can now with regularity hit them, and have had some of my favorite experiences kayaking cartwheeling my way through wave trains. It's a hoot to splat, wheel and boof this boat everywhere!

This boat is fast and agile. I switched out to the 2014 Rockstar my friend Tim had and the difference was readily apparant. It accelerates quicker, and can spin on a dime. This isn't out of control, hard to stay where you want to go agility though, the boat felt telepathic as it was so smooth to transition around on.

The boat surfs and plays in a hole as good as anything else I've dealt with. Sure the 2014 and some other boats are poppier, but they give up a lot to accomplish this. Also for other non-Jackson tubby playboats they roll like shit comparitively. This boat is a dream to roll while still having that modern feel going on.

Outfitting is as good as Jackson has ever done. The redone sweet cheeks are very comfy. it felt so comfy I was almost worried something was wrong. I never had to stop to let me legs relax or hip flexers take a break. The happy feet are still pretty meh but I think that's mostly because I'm not all that tall in this boat, reuslting in the happy feet being more of an inflated volley ball down by my feet.

Plastic quality/durability is to be determined. This is an update based on repated boat beatings on boofs, splats, and general river mayhem. I've got some notable gouges throughout, and a few chunks ripped on the chines. These aren't the old school damn near invincible boats of the past, which is a bit of a letdown. For being a premier price, I expect premier plastic. I'd at least like a premier plastic option (I'd take an extra 3-5lbs of weight for better durability) in this price range. Right now... I'm not so sure how long this boat will last. My friend Tim's 2014 model already has a welded crack in it, and he hasn't even paddled it a year yet. Could be a fluke, could have been re-bar, could be we eat too many burrittos. All I'm saying is... this boat had better last me a while for the price we're paying!

As of right now, this boat simply can't be beat. It's amazing. Jackson really knocked it out of the park with this boat, and I suspect they'll be selling a metric shit ton of these as people get their hands on them. Only real bummer is the MSRP of $1250 is gigantic for such a small boat... but damn is it worth every penny of that!

I'll continue to provide updates as I paddle this boat more.
Don't expect much to change though. This boat is simply the best boat I've paddled to date and I'm not expecting that to change anytime soon! I've now had it since late May and have paddled it 3-5 days a week since. It's amazing.

2014 vs 2016 Jackson Rockstar (Large) Side by side comparison

One advantage to my day demoing the 2016 Jackson Rockstar (which I've since bought) was that my friend Tim came along in his 2014 Jackson Rockstar. We got to compare them side by side. We also have some pictures to show you comparing the two side by side. The yellow boat is the 2014, the red boat is the 2016.


So what are the differences, and can they be felt by average to below average paddlers such as myself and Tim?

The 2014 Rockstar (LARGE) has more volume. This isn't really a difference of actual volume though, it's felt volume as well. The 2014 Rockstar has notably more rocker, the 2016 has less. That means the extra 2 gallons (65 gallons on the 2014, 63 for 2016) is concentrated notably higher up on the boat. This affects a lot of the things we'll describe below, but covers the majority of the differences. Look in the pictures above to see for yourself though. There is more rocker between the years, way higher cockpit height in the 2016... big fat blocky tail on the 2016 (again, rocker putting that volume higher up behind you)... the list really goes on! As far as volume for size of paddler, both myself and Tim Weigh in around 220, and neither of us felt like we pushed the weight of either boat.

The 2014 Rockstar (LARGE) is a somewhat more compotent river runner... ish. The notably higher volume in the stern of the 2014 Rockstar, combined with the rocker placing the volume a lot more around you tends to make this boat a lot more stable in wierd water. However, the 2016 isn't exactly lacking compared to any other playboat out there. I personally feel that the 2016 Rockstar is incredibly confidence inspiring while still being incredibly great for downriver play. The 2014 rockstar is not nearly as easy to initiate vertical moves with in order to gain that extra stability. Personally... if you want more stability than the 2016 Rockstar gives, it's debatable whether you should even be in a playboat to begin with in my humble opinion.

The 2014 Rockstar (LARGE) is harder to initiate stern squirts, but when it's up there it stays up there. Neither myself or Tim had trouble getting either boat vertical on the tail, but the slicier, easier to initiate tail on the 2016 meant that I went for stern squirts a lot more in that boat. The 2014 was harder to get going (and thus for me, not something I tackled mid rapids as much) but surprisingly... once you got it vertical was far easier to keep and stay there. This may be attirbuted to the larger volume stern combined with the additional rocker. Who knows exactly, but both myself and Tim had giant stern stalls in the 2014, longer than we were able to accomplish in the 2016. The 2014 however I'm vertical all over the place, and quickly back with a lot of control. Given I am not looking to go great distances on the stern (although I still can stay stalled out pretty well and have done some big 15 second stalls downriver), the 2016 and it's easier initiation on both the bow and stern was far more what I was looking for personally.

The 2016 Rockstar (LARGE) is slicier and initiates the bow easier. This means the cartwheels come a lot easier and I felt more controlled. Tim can't really cartwheel flatwater, but I could cartwheel both boats. I was a lot more haphazard performing them in the 2014 however, as I often was just barely adequately getting the nose under properly. For me, boats that flatwater cartwheel poorly really don't have much room for error. IE: If you're slightly off, they'll just throw you right over with their pop. I'm sure any of the Jackson pros woudln't mind the difference in these two boats, but for us mere mortals the 2016 is notably better for flatwater and general initiation, and both are still vastly superior to any of the modern competition I've paddled.

2014 vs 2016 Jackson Rockstar (Medium):

While I've been able to compare the 2014 to the 2016 rockstar in size Large, my girlfriend has been able to provide some pretty good insight in the medium sizes of these boats. I'll spoil the ending now by saying she's in a 2014 Rockstar medium and loving it. The following is our take on way.

The 2014 and 2016 rockstar MEDIUM did not change volume. While the large changed notably, perhaps because they realized it was a bit too tubby. the medium stayed mostly the same. No volume change occured (per Jackson specs) with both 2014 and 2016 medium Rockstars sitting at 55 gallons.

What did change? The rocker profile of the boat changed just like it did in the large size, and the shape of the stern changed a minute amount. However, the shape change wasn't as drastic it would appear, and while in the large size Jackon took a tubby voumous boat down a bit in felt size by both reduced volume and rocker, the 2016 medium was already a fine size, and then reduced felt size a bit further through the reduced rocker.

That's a lot to take in, but the jist is simple it would seem: The 2014 Rockstar leg angle is a bit more comfortable in the medium size, at least for my 5'6" girlfriend while sitll maintaing ease of getting vertical and general comfort. Given most dudes in the medium will be over 5'6" tall, the 2014 is actually a more comfortable boat.

Why does that matter? Well a less comfortable boat in turn translated to less confidence, less felt agility to make moves, and... while still a great boat, my girlfriend actually prefered the 2014. That extra comfort and in turn confidence had her running rapids with more confidence, throwing more tricks in various places, more willingness to push herself as she felt better in the boat... in the end the 2014 was a deadringer for her in a medium. Others have reviewed similiarly as well per a discussion over on MountainBuzz (internet forum)

Bear in mind... Danielle isn't a perfect reviewer for playboats. She's still pretty new to playboating. While she's got lots of pool experience, she's been on rivers and play features less than a dozen times. She can stern squirt, stern stall, and back half wheel, but she can't cartwheel yet and thus the ability for us to ascertain that difference between the 2014 and 2016 isn't present.