The Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 Large on the EFL (Class 4, Waterfalls)

The EFL is a "classic" run in the PNW, with the definition of Classic being just a good staple everyone at a certain skill level should run and be able to really enjoy. The EFL is a pretty friendly (in my opinion) class 4 run with two waterfalls, relatively mundane consequences when wood isn't present, and just in general a really damn good time. I've personally run it several dozen times now, mostly in a Jackson Antix (slicey boat for the few unfamiliar) but have in the past run it in my Large Jackson Karma, and a Waka OG, so I have several points of comparison for reviewing the Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 large.

We began our run at the Sandy Beach section, which adds about 2 miles of fun and friendly class 2-3 creek feeling water above Sunset. It's got a decent amount of manuevering going on, the water is doing some interesting stuff, and it has a bunch of awesome ledges to boof off of that I love. Right away I felt at home in the Zen and began working my way down the river with our group. While most of my run through the Sandy Beach section was excellent, I did start to notice some shortcomings of the boat. It's big, really big. It's more compliant/agile than the Karma and Nirvana... but it's still a big boat and you feel it in the more confined spaces of a creeky feeling section. The only big boat i know of that doesn't have that feel is the Waka OG, but what it gains it loses elsewhere. As I worked my way down I linked up various moves, and for the most part nailed nearly everything I wanted. A few places I did not exactly get where desired, but a good chunk of that was not being used to how much a high volume (both in number, and in placement) boat such as this interacts with some hydraulics. For example the second to last rapid above Sunset falls has a strong lateral that is a bit retentive which will drive you river left into a hole. Normally I drive ontop of that lateral and over it, boofing into the eddy behind it, because it's a rad feeling. I went for that in the Zen however and did not account for just how much this boat stomps ontop of features like this instead of piercing onto them. All that volume just wants to float up, and given a hydraulic... it floats up.

Next up was Sunset Falls. Sunset falls is a fun waterfall of about... 14-16' feet or so. There are three lines: A left line which is a delayed boof with a guard hole above it (not my favorite), a middle line that's pretty damn friendly tongue into a left side boof, and a right line that is a drop that runs perpendiculer to the main line of the river, then turns and runs down a gentle slide. My favorite as I'm sure you could gather is the middle line, and in the Zen it did not dissapoint. Without issue I took the mild amount of boof needed to get the angle I wanted, and it landed with a nice splash-down that was controllable and predictable. Even with the mild boof stroke I took (more to control angle, less to get as flat as possible) I still felt the boats volume when I hit the bottom. It barely submerged at all and was quickly right back on the surface providing stability.

From there our run went pretty standard as we worked our way down to Horseshoe falls. The boat handled great through Skypilot, we portaged Screaming Left (I personally have run it many times, but it's never made me happy, so I just portage it now), I had a good time on Dragon's Back, and John's swimming hole I wound up on the left side of it all, which had people joking about how I went there to show off but I know in my heart of hearts that an early on Hydraulic stole my drive, so instead of driving left to right to boof into th eddy I used the hole to redirect myself and make the move left most miss. Hardly bad ass, and more a function of just how retentive this boat is.

I did have a flip and subsequent combat roll at one point. I found myself going down the left side of a rapid, a direction I had never taken. I misread a feature, and my nose went right into a curling wave with my weight leaning away from it, not into it. The nose submerged into the feature, and at that point the river had all that flotation to work with and flipped me over. So that just goes to show you that while this boat wants to float, when applied wrong, it will take all that great floatiness and turn it right into flip-i-ness.

Horseshoe falls was also a breeze. It is one of the friendliest falls I know of, and I wish it were more accessible for people to go over as a first falls. You enter a small slot (Door #2, with door #1 being death door, and you can't enter it accidentally)which slides you ontop of a mushroom bell shaped feature, which you then just give yourself a slight angle, as you run off the edge of the "Mushroom bell" that forms the lip of this line on the falls. You then fall 14 or so feet down to the water. The trick with this waterfall is to NOT boof and get forward EARLY. The way this Mushroom bell works, it wants to put you far too flat for the height that you are dropping, so getting forward early is critical for ocmfort on your back, and for getting the boat angle just right. Boofing will guarantee you land perfectly flat to too far back, which will cause discomfort. Two boaters in our group that day landed too far flat and were grumbling about back discomfort from the landing.

Overall impression on some classic and fun class 4: The Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0 Large holds up favorably compared to previous boats. It's better than the Karma in nearly all regards, it definitely smokes the old zen large which in my opinion was an atrocity only those who don't know and/or can't afford anything else suffered. It compares favorably to the Nirvana, although I think the Nirvana being less "sticky" and a bit more of a driving boat may make it a better choice for some intermediate boaters, who would prefer to sacrifice forgiveness (which is worth a lot) and stability (which is worth less than you think) for drive (which is worth a fair bit).