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For the past three winters, Rock Island has been my first paddling destination of the New Year. Traveling to the middle of Tennessee has always seemed to get the year started with the right stroke and is quickly becoming a yearly tradition. The first week of 2011 was no exception, with 5,600 cfs spilling at Rock Island and a whole bunch on new Jackson Kayaks in the works. 2011 will be one for the memory book with the short and sweet Hero series and a new playboat to rock your socks off; the Rock Star!
Stopping by the Jackson factory is always a fun experience. Seeing isles upon isles of fresh kayaks, all wrapped and ready to hit the water will put a smile on my face every time. The girls out front are great as well, and Tara is always as helpful as possible. As Chris walked me around behind the scenes, the excitement in the air was palpable, a very real reminder of the new kayaks to come. With a Villain S, All Star, and Fun loaded up on the truck, I headed toward Rock Island for my first taste of the 2011 Hero!
For the numerous times that I have been to Rock Island, I had yet to paddle the waterfalls upstream of the hole and Sieve City. EJ, Emily, Clay, and Owen were all ready to go, and I found myself in the seat of a prototype Hero, working my way down the left bank and toward Triple Drop. First impression: STABLE! The Hero’s hull design for 2011 creates a very stable, very responsive craft. A soft edge can be easily engaged and the Hero will whip in and out of eddies and ferry across current with ease.
Going over the bigger of the first drops shone a light on another perk of the 2011 Hero; it resurfaces flat and fast. Upright is always the best way to be, and this kayak will keep you that way.
Moving to the other side of the river kept the fun coming; we were rewarded with sunshine and a sweet double drop boof called the Warm Hole. With the short stern and ample rocker, the Hero boofs like a champ!
With a great day at the falls under the belt, it was time to head downstream to the hole…boat of choice: Rock Star. Clay, Stephen, and EJ were more than willing to let me paddle one. Sitting in the Rock Star you immediately feel a change in the knees and the additional volume in the stern. The boat is stable and balanced, making cartwheels much easier. I sat slightly higher in the Rock Star as well, making me feel more in control of this freestyle machine. On the waves and in the hole the increased amount of control is undeniable. The Rock Star makes lightning fast carves and is truly amazing when in the hands of the Rock Island locals.
With these two amazing boats slated for the spring of 2011, the New Year is looking promising indeed. If paddling the sickest boats is part of your New Year’s Resolution, by all means try the new Jackson’s…you won’t be disappointed.

Justin Kleberg