First Impression and review of the Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0

I picked up my brand spanking new Yellow Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 from Next Adventure, and right away the skepticism began. The shop employees and even myself had our doubts. Look at that big rocker with a big fat flat planing surface, won't that just push water? Why does it look like a diesel in the rear? Dear god this is a huge boat. Myself and the others all had our doubts, but shop talk rarely translates to how a boat actually handles on the water, so onward I went.

My hopes going into this were that the Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 would handle like a hybrid of the Jackson Kayak Nirvana and the Karma, but with some additional rocker and a reduced edge length. I love the stability and forgiveness of the Karma, but it's a slow behemouth with meh rocker. Still the Karma has good compliace as it has very soft edges for it's whole edge length in the water. I love the Nirvana as well, but it's not terribly compliant and just wants to drive where it's pointed. The Nirvana also has more rocker than the Karma and a shorter edge length in the water because of this, but the edge is notably sharper so it actually winds up being less compliant in my opinion as compliance = edge length * edginess. A long soft edge and a short very sharp edge will often introduce the same resistance to line adjustment. Another hope for the new Zen was that this boat would take some influence from the Waka OG, a very high volume boat with TONS of rocker making it a dream to handle as it is compliant, all while constantly begging to boof everything in sight. The Waka OG however has such a reduced waterline and a high seat height that edging feels awkward and non-intuitive, as you often have to edge far alter than you would on any other boat you've likely paddled before it.

Please note that I don't mention taking anything from the previous zen. The previous medium zen was pretty good by nearly all accounts. The previous large zen however is practically a case study in what happens when you just take a boat and stretch it to float fat kids versus actually working ot have it retain some of the characteristics that make the primary boat design good.

A good chunk of rain and low elevation snow brought one of my favorite local runs in, the Washougall river. There's a bunch of sections and tributaries of the Washougall river you can run, but my main jam is just a fun class 3 section with a few play features i can goof around in to get a good feel for a boat. It's also very close to me, so I can hit it and still do other things with my day. Lastly, and most importantly to me since I love boating with others, is that it's very inclusive. The river gets progressively easier the further down you go, so we just put lesser skilled boaters at lower down put ins and meet them on the way.

Carrying the boat around and getting it down to the put in really showcases that this is a big boat. It's just a behemouth, coming in at 103 gallons of volume. That places the new Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 large at the exact same published volume as the Karma Large, which is a longer boat as well with less rocker. Carying the boat, it's just a big heavy creeker and such is the reality of that much plastic. Nothing new there and eveyons big boy creeker seems to run right at 50lbs. Some advertise less, actually weight more, and you'd never be able to tell the difference anyways. Toss in a break down paddle, a small handsaw, ropes, pin kit, generic first aid kit... it's going to be heavy. I also noticed while trying to cross the road that there was no damn way I was going to see around this boat with it on my shoulder. Standard Creeker affair really I suppose!

Getting into the boat, the outfitting is standard Jackson amazing. I felt comfortable right away, adjustments were easy, the seating position felt great, it was excellent. If you preferred the wide and low knee postion of the previous Zen, that's gone in favor of the much wider and higher knee position of the previous large karma.

Initial river maneuvering and a quick test roll at the put in were positive. I nearly always hate a new large boat, and I always take time to transition back to large boats after spending all summer in a small playboat. Playboats are very compliant, and you can easily place them exactly where you want to aim. The Jackson kayak Zen 3.0 though was immediately impressive for it's compliance and conformity, making tha normally frustrating transition back to a larger boat far quicker than normal. At no point was the boat getting away from me and requiring shoulder and core wrenching muscling back onto line. It was just friendly right out of the gate. Rolling was also a breeze, although novice to intermediate rollers may be put off by the girth of the boat. Note I say skill level of rolling, not paddling. I know a lot of boaters pushing Class 4/5 with shit rolls, and I know plenty of boaters with amazing rolls who are happy boating class 3/4 fun runs. There's a few sandbaggers as well sticking to class 2 club runs trying to impress beginners. Those guys... ignore them!

Initial river manuevering through my first rapid proved positive. The bridge rapid just below MP 7 on Washougall is a favorite of mine as there's a fun class 4 maneuver in there. I like to put aspiring boaters through this manuever to either see that they've got it, or humble them up in a relatively safe environment. A few eddy hops puts you into a good sized eddy, where you need to pop out and make a ferry out RIGHT above a pretty good sized hole and through some dynamic currents. Generally speaking you can abandon the manuever early and bring your boat around in time to boof the hole and have no issues, hence it's not actually class 4... but that actual tangible feature to maneuver above puts some realism into it all. Plus a lot of aspiring class 4 boaters will attempt the move, fail while not giving up, and discover what being sideways into a large hydraulic feels like!

The Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 performed admirably here. It acted as I'd expect, it soaked up and was friendly about the fact I'm out of practice in a big boat having playboated all summer, and was just in general a breeze through this section.

Speaking of holes, the Zen 3.0 is sticky. Just below the bridge rapid is a little wave/hole feature I enjoy playing in. It's a very friendly feature that is great for working on spins, side surfing, and some low angle cartwheels in a playboat. It's simply too shallow to get really rowdy with, and as the water level comes up the feature goes away instead of getting deeper.

In the past, I'd spun around in the large Zen 2.0 and large Karma in that hole with great success. Holes just love a larger higher volume boat. You stay higher in the hydraluic and get more of that upstream current, versus sinking into the downstream current and pushing through the upstream current. I could spin for days here in my Jackson Karma, while in my Rockstar I've got to be a bit more specific with my edge placement and what not. In the Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0, it was stickier than ever to spin in, and I hit many back to back spins.

Later a short ways down the river we come accross another hole that likes to show up at low water. I've never been able during the summer to get back into that section of the river to see what forms the hole exactly. It's right in the middle of a slight turn with the water, that is immediately followed by very swirly water. Whatever the case, for fun I floated sidways into it, and was immediately very very stuck. It became quite apparent to me that this boat will be all about the hydraulics!

General river manuevers were fine on the way down, with the edges being quite friendly. The Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 looks edgy, as does the Waka OG, but ultimately the reduced water line and massive volume more than make up for this and make the boat quite forgiving. The edge is more present than the karma, but just as forgiving. It's also less edgy than the zen, as the reduced waterline (because the increased rocker) means that while the edge is sharper, there's less of it in the water, so the overall effect of water on the boat is brought back into line with less edgy but lower rocker boats.

There were a few minor things that I didn't like but am not sure about just yet. One longer rapid with an easy wave train had me plowing bow down through all of the waves, which is odd. You would think the rocker up front would let the boat go up and over things better... but with so much volume in the ass of the boat, I don't think it can go up and over things since the rear will sink on a cold day in hell. That said, I came up with this theory after the rapid, and then tried to see if I could reproduce the experience again on subsequent rapids and couldn't. It could have just been a fluke or something specific about those waves, or maybe I just am mediocre. Who is to say...

(This later proved to not be the case, it was just a funky wave train)

Further testing is required, but after my first run, I'd have to say the Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 is my main jam. I've already sold my Large Karma, I sold my Large Nirvana a while back, and I had to sell my Waka OG because it put my legs to sleep (narrow pillars on seat). I'll surely be shredding this boat all winter, and I'll keep updating this entry about the boat!