Jackson Zen 3.0 Large Review

The new Zen 3.0 comes at an interesting time in kayak development.

Every company has it's race inspired boat now. The Pyranha 9R, Dagger Phantom, Jackson Nirvana. The thing about these race boats though is that they're developed by great paddlers, who nail their lines spot on, and want to put the hammer down and slam fast through their timed runs like a boss and then chill in a hot tub while they wait to see if their competition can put down a better time.

That is not how most paddlers day goes on the river.

Most paddlers are imprefect. Their/your plan and what actually happens are often two different things, but need to have the same result.

This is where the pro-bro push for race ready boats hasn't done kayaking any favors. In other sports, pro level equipment is not what you get when you buy "pro" models. In snowboarding, even a pretty advanced resort rider would fall on their face trying to ride a pro model. It's not because they aren't actually that good, it's because the configuration you put into an actual pro model isn't conduscive to the environment and fashion in which a resort rider resides, and the demands are significantly different. That differentiation though is not a luxury the kayak industry has, as boat production is an ordeal, while making a pro snowboard with different specs and materials is a days endeavor at most.

So how does this relate to the new Jackson kayak Zen 3.0?

The Jackson Zen 3.0 wasn't designed to win races.

Jackson kayak, already having the Nirvana, has their race winning boat. This what makes the Zen 3.0 one of just a few boats in a category all of it's own: the everyman's boat. Most other companies don't have the budget to develop multiple boats, and so they funnel their money into the race boat that will also double as their all around bigger volume boat and beginners will just have to figure them out. Jackson even tried this a bit with their marketing on the Nirvana, and with it's release they removed the very forgiving river sofa, the Jackson Karma, from their lineup. In my opinion this was a mistake.

The reality is, the new Zen is the everymans (and womans) boat.

It's built for beginners. It's built for intermediates. Heck it's even built for advaned boaters who sometimes just make human mistakes or have hangovers. It won't wow you with it's top speed, it won't be sitting on very many podiums... but it will be occupying many a roof rack on shuttles, get many a boater safely down through challenging and dynamic water, get lots of boaters into boating, and in general it will the boat kayakers actually need and want.

I'll have my full detailed ongoing review over time of the boat in here, but in general, this boat is a winner and I endorse it. It'll likely be my preference to instruct students in, it'll be my preference to run rivers in when I want to be high and dry, and it's in general a winner of a boat. Nice job Jackson Kayak!

Only negative I've found:

Jackson boats are traditionally very easy to roll. I find this to be result of a low cockpit height that is also quite wide and open towards the back allowing you to really roll towards the back of the boat and get a full hip snap in without the boat contacting your body. The new Zen does not have this luxury though as with an increase in rocker and volume... that volume all had to go somewhere on the boat, and that's higher up. Some won't encounter this, as those with lengthier torsos will find themselves above the boat. For myself and others with stockier builds however (despite me being 5'10") they may encounter that the boat contacts them in the ribs or side mid way through their hip snap, depriving them of it's full potential.

This would be one of the harder Jackson boats to roll that I've encountered.