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Boat Review:  Zen 65 and Zen 75


top view Zen 75



















Me:  170 lbs, 5’9”, 31” inseam,  size 11 feet.


Test Conditions:  Rock Island Falls, Sieve City, and play waves from 3200 – 7200 cfs,  Caney Fork Gorge, Bear Creek GA,  Cane Creek (FCF) TN


Comfort: In 65 – instant happy fit, perfect.   In the 75, very comfortable and secure for such a big boat but added a second seat pad.   Knees feel lower than most Creekers but comfortable .



With size eleven big creeking shoes my heels rest on the wall and my toes point down the bulkhead in the 65, both feet fit flat on the bulkhead in the Large.    Taller people who want to wear bulky shoes will have their heels out from bulkhead or cut a groove into the wall for optimum comfort.   This ‘fit’ is more like other boats in other brands, just lower deck than Villain / Hero / Rockers.


Seat:  The 65 feels slightly more snug than Hero / Villain S or Rockstar, the 75 feels narrower than Villain / Super-hero / Rockstar L. … 3 hip pad shims a side is a good, thigh fit for me.



Strengths:   buttery smooth gliding and carving.. longer radius turns but also a great combo of loose hull and directionality.

Rolling:  Easy!  I know all JK boats roll easy but the 75 rolls even easier than a Super-hero or Rockstar M for sure… not a second thought to paddle tosses on the wave or even off the falls (without handpaddles).   Lower deck means less to reach around.


Boofing – harder to boof than Hero / Villain at slow speeds on grabby rock,  but the extra speed makes it work well in most places and the bow seems to fall slower, making the most of your efforts.    Great boofing where there is water or you can take speed into the shallow part for your pop.


Landing – the bow goes under faster than a creek boat because it’s thinner and there is less volume in it… which can be unnerving at first, but it carves up and carries it’s speed nicely .  I found it softened the impact of landing a good bit just by ‘piercing’ more than most creekers.   Landing flat can be a big hit,  luckily it’s easy to avoid and just a little angle goes a long way.


Surfing:  very loose and fast for a creeker!   More like a long playboat with less rocker.   No blunts yet but grinding and 360s and roundhouses even on a green wave I can’t even surf in the Rockstar.   Loves long flat green waves or carving across small curlers on ferries…   Idaho will love this boat.


River Running:

Easy, fast, stable as expected.   Cuts through curlers easier than high volume creekers but the wide flat hull skitters across boils and seams like they don’t exist.  Loves to charge the lines.  I found myself charging S-turns through eddies and looking for rocks to slalom between… it’s gonna be so fun on the Upper Yough!   Feels stable and smooth side surfing if you do end up in a hole.   GREAT for the paddle out across the lake is you are used to shorter boats like I am.


Creeking – much better than expected for a boat this flat and this long.   Very forgiving in the mank and while there are edges to trip on, I didn’t.   Less volume in the ends so I like the 75 for creeking while the 65 feels more nimble and agile it’s just lower volume than I’m used to on creeks lately.    Both are surprisingly agile and forgiving even in low volume steeps.. definitely NOT an old-schoolish round-feeling boat that tracks even when you are off line, these are way more forgiving despite the speed.



these longer, lower profile, very surfy river running designs excel on bigger volume runs where surfing and speed and curler punching are available yet are no slouch on low volume steeps either.    Choose a larger size if creeks, hard lines and speed is your goal, choose the correct size if you want some play in your river running experience.


What in the market do they most compare to?


Remember the H-2 Zone?  Fast like a Remix or Nomad, looser and easier to turn like a Burn, stable like a Mamba, looser than any of these on a wave.


Cons:  Foot-room not as ample as JK creekers are used to, deck a bit lower than other JK boats,  less volume for the weight range so when you plunge you go a bit deeper than in the Hero / Villain series.


Pros:   easy first stroke acceleration, light feeling and carrying,  slick and forgiving  both when surfing or just when crossing boils and funky water,  hard edge when you want to use it, soft and forgiving when you don’t.   Likes to be paddled aggressively yet drifts like a champ.


Overall:   This is a perfect boat design for what most kayakers do on most rivers – from new paddlers to us really aggressive ones – in a wide variety of whitewater conditions.   A super-surfy fast river runner that creeks well enough to run most anything.