Getting the Jackson Zen 3.0 out in some class 4, Nirvana picture comparison

As luck would have it, the same river I'd gotten to run the boat on first came in again with even more water. this opened up the opportunity for me to go higher on the river and run through a pretty fun class 4 rapid, called "Big Eddy". This would be a good chance to test this boat in some interesting water, while also running the same section as the week before with significantly more water in it.

Sidenote: Everything on the Washougall is named after what is immediately near it. Church wave, oh that's by a church. Big eddy has a big eddy above it. Bridge rapid, you guessed it there's a bridge. Cougar Creek? That's where Cougar Creek comes in. The Wall has a wall, and Island has an island. This is the least creative river ever... and I aim to someday fix that.

Our trip the Big Eddy was a fun one. We'd watched a group prior mostly sneak line the rapid, and the one fellow who ran it ran it pretty much sideways bracing and with little semblance of control. There's a few lines available as options as well through there. Run the goal post, boof the edge, or start left of ledge, book it hard right to miss the hole that makes up the river right side of the goal post. I've run most of the combinations, and I personally found the most challenging and engaging manuever to be the left to right S turn. The left side goal post is a surprisingly easy move, as long as things aren't going wrong. The right side ledge move is also an easy move, although you don't want to mess up the eldge since being upside down after it is punishing. The S turn though is very engaging. You enter through the meat of the wave train going in, you have to keep an eye on your markers as they come and go while you travel through the wave train, and at just the right moment you gotta be pointing the right way and put the hammer down to make your way accross the rapid. This is the move I love to make.

The Jackson Zen 3.0 nailed the most challenging class 4 move I can piece together in that rapid. I'd previously mentioned concerns about how this boat would do through wave trains with the big rocker up front and huge butt in the rear, but was proven wrong. It held it's own in the waves and was very stable. I was able to quickly adjust my direction mid rapid to begin the manuever, and was able to hammer my way through it. That's a move I'd dread in the Zen to downright not make, and in the Karma I'd make it but I'd have to muscle the boat around.

The only area I noticed the new Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 was rough, was that it's very high volume (both in amount, and in placement) made the boat very sticky with any hydraulics. While the manuever I make gets you across the river right above the large hole in the feature, many other smaller hydraulics and crashing waves make up the rest of this rapid, and everyone attempted to grab onto the Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 for a very brief moment before letting it pass. I wasn't at risk of getting stuck in anything, but I felt every hydraluic's effect on the boat as I passed through. Other boats, you do not get this quite as much.

The rest of the run was a breeze, to downright relaxing. This will surely be my dry hair boat for very cold days, my first descent boat for when I run a new river that may have challenging features on it, and it will be my main jam on more engaging water, and definitely a favorite for hucking waterfalls!

Boat Comparison Information.

The Jackson Zen 3.0 beats the Karma in every regard, and demolishes the old Large Zen.

I hate the old Large Zen. It was a very very crappy boat in my opinion. The Medium Zen Jackson nailed pretty good for it's time, but when they scaled the medium up they just stretched it out, which just gave it so much more water line and no additional rocker. In general compared to most the current boats as well the prior Jackson Zen had very little rocker, giving the now stretched Large Zen a massive water line with a sharper edge to boot. The prior zen was very non-compliant given all that water line and the sharper edge, making mid rapid adjustments a shoulder wrenching endeavor in futility. There was also such a long water line on the old Jackson Zen that it's nose and tail would often trip you up on things as it would begin to engage while you still had 7 feet of boat in the eddy. To me and the other boaters I regularly run fun and challenging water on, the old zen just didn't feel very natural as a boat and took a lot of adapting to. The only people I knew who continued to boat it simply were not able to afford something new, and never demo'd anything different. They, to me at least it would seem, just didn't know there was something else out there.

I found the Large Karma to be a vastly superior boat to the old Zen, but it still wasn't quite there yet. It had much softer edges, which gave it compliance, but also gave it a bit of "numbness" to it in some regards. Other instructors I worked with hated it as they saw many boaters get out on more challenging water with not a lot of edge awareness. I personally liked the Karma though for a beginner boat to instruct students in as it's confidence inspiring and forgiving nature would let me get students progressing faster and with increased happiness doing so. I like the say the edge would politely remind you that you were doing something wrong, while edgier boats would flip you. That said, a lot of people have gotten the Karma, and ignored the polite reminders, and just never progressed until they exceeded the polite reminder point.

The new Zen 3.0 however really checks all the right boxes. It has the natural feel NAILED, as edging in, around and out of dynamic currents is intuitive. The Jackson Zen 3.0 edges engages ight around your feet or so and an equivelant amount behind you, resulting in the boat reacting to contrasting currents at natural feeling times. Almost never would I be on my way through a combination of moves to suddenly find the nose engaging far sooner than expected... or wose the nose beginning to engage while the tail is still engaged with a different current!

The boat has enough edge to provide good feedback, but the right waterline length to make it reasonably forgiving. Plus with all that volume, when the boat does get into the secondary stability, you've got an aircraft carriers worth of it!

Another boater on our trip was in a too aggressive slicey boat, and I swapped them into my Zen 3.0 half way down. This worked for me as I both got to get into a slicey boat now that all the challenging rapids had passed, and I also could collect the feedback of a beginner who was most recently paddling a large Jackson Karma as their primary boat.

They found the boat to be the same as I have found pretty much entirely. More compliant / spins better, easy to manuever, comfortable and ungoldy stable, with a great rocker profile and an intuitive feel. They did lament that they felt the Zen 3.0 was "tankier" than their Jackson Karma and slower to accelerate, but I would wager strongly that this opinion was influence by the contrast between the Zen and the slicey boat they had just been in.

Lastly, Rolling the Jackson Zen 3.0 is a breeze. I'm generally not the best judge for how easy a boat is to roll. I instruct rolling and have for several years. I can roll sit on top kayaks, I can roll a boat full of water, I can even start outside of a boat full of water re-enter it and then roll it. To me, rolling is pretty straight forward, and the nothing about the Jackson Zen 3.0 felt funny to me.

A better example of how well it rolled would be my friend who jumped in the boat who had been struggling in the slicey boat. They have a surprisingly effective roll for how muscled it is. A good friend described them as "Pure heart and balls", and it shows in said friends rolling. They get up through sheer determination and desire.

Said example friend had been struggling to make rolls in their slicey boat, which is a bit of an indicator of how their roll is since generally a low volume stern is super easy to work with. They got in my new Jackson Zen 3.0 and immediately wondered if they could roll... to which I immediately peer pressured them into doing on right away, with the pointer that it looks to be rolled slower and smoother. They took my advice, and had the smoothest and easiet roll up of the whole day. They did immediately exclaim "Oh WOW Yeah this is a tank!" but... to me my hypothesis was right. It's a big boat, roll it slow and smooth, reap the reward of it's stability.

Visual Comparison of The Jackson Zen 3.0 to the Nirvana

So as much as I talk about the old Zen and the Karma in comparison to this boat, the reality is that ship has sailed. They don't make them anymore, and all I'm doing is holding onto the past to discuss them. The reality is, the Nirvan aand the Zen are the boats for you to choose from. So if you're looking at a new boat, or even a recently made boat, these are likely the two boats you will be comparing.

The picture below showcases the bow rocker difference quite well:

The Nirvana has substantially more Rocker than the old Zen, and the new Zen has it's own interesting rocker profile. The zen is shorter by a good chunk, and it's rocker happens far more abruptly, and sooner along the length of the boat (IE: Less distance from cockpit to start of rocker). The bow rocker also ends higher up on the boat, as the waterline of the zen is higher as well. Overall, a higher rocker profile, not that the Nirvana is exactly lacking in this department either.

The Jackson Zen 3.0 Stern Rocker Continues the trend of having increased relative to the Nirvana.

Here you can see that the zen's final stern position is higher, with notably more volume placed between the cockpint and the end of the stern as well. The rocker is also steeper and earlier in the length of the boat, resulting in the reduced waterline I discuss while also having more rocker.

Both of these pictures and the differences aren't exactly a surprise. The Nirvana needs to go faster, the increased waterline spreads your weight out over the water and reduces drag. The Nirvana has still got plenty of rocker to get you through things, and the tail is sleeker to not be as grabby. There is also 10 less gallons of volume between the Jackson Zen 3.0 and the Nirvana, which makes sense as with a race boat you can trade some of that forgiving secondary stability in favor of having the boat not want to stick around in holes as much, especially given the strong hydraulics in many of these creek boat races.

The Jackson Zen 3.0 is aimed to be more forgiving, so it has the additional volume, the reduced edgeline in the water, and the massive tail and nose rocker and volume to ensure that you get through things fine, and if you're getting pushed around the boat wants to stay under you. It can give up speed in favor of forgiveness and friendliness, hence the reduced engaged edge.