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The Zen is quite possibly one of my favorite boat designs ever. I know that is a strong statement but I only say it because it is true!


The Zen was designed as a “pure” river runner, not a creek boat. Here are some facts:

– It is sleek and fast, with plenty of speed to run rivers, and make tough moves.

– It doesn’t have any extra volume, which keeps it from getting pushed around in bigger volume.

– It has plenty of length, which gives it tons of speed, but also keeps it extremely stable horizontally.

– Though probably my favorite aspect of the boat is its hull. It is a planing hull, with several advantages. First off it adds even more speed to the equation, though it also opens up the possibility for surfing on your way down the river. Though the flat planing hull teamed up with some amazing edges gives the boat an amazing “zippy” carving feel.

– Those are the features of the boat, but man, it is something else once you actually get it on the water.


From Jackson Kayak point of view this boat this boat was going to help them get into the river-running market, alongside the Hero and Villain series. The Villain series has always been my favorite. I loved the easy boofing, soft landing, and general ease it brought me to steep creeking. Honestly I thought the Zen looked good, but I never would have guessed in a million years it would replace my Villian. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first day I paddled it was down the Section 4 of the South Carolina. It was a fun boat to paddle right of the get go. Its speed was the most noticeable difference. I could make eddies or ferries, or attainments that I never thought I could.


After day 1 the boat had caught my attention. Dane and I then took a couple Zens to Bear Creek in Alabama. Bear is a class 5 steep creek run, with plenty of boofs, slides and drops. I knew this would be a good testing ground for me. It was amazing, the speed alone was so much fun on the creek. I could do all sorts of new moves just because of this newfound speed, it made the run so much better. I was sold on the boat, but for the sake of filming the promo video, we headed over to a neighboring creek in Chattanooga, Suck creek.


Suck creek is a steep but short run. The run drops lots of gradient consisting mainly of steep rapids, the tallest drop being only 8 feet tall.  If you rally the river (which we were) you can do a lap in just over 15 minutes. This river just widened my existing smile, being the boat was yet again amazing, but just a ton of fun to paddle. I went home and sold my Villain S (my favorite creek boat, just three days prior).


I was sold that even though the boat was designed as a ‘river runner’ and not a creek boat, it still was a ton of fun, and very much creekable. I chose to purchase the Zen75, because I feel the boats are a touch on the small side, and I like bigger boats. It is also faster and more stable, which are all positives for me.


Dane and I were so confident in the boat that we only brought the Zens on tour when we drove across country. The next big creek trip was to California with Dane and Ben Stookesberry. We hit up three of the best runs in California, Yuba Gap, Dinkey Creek and Fantasy Falls. The boat was amazing, along with these three new runs for me. It was Fantasy Fall, which made me fall in love with this boat so much. We put on the river at one of the highest known flows (big water, steep creek), and it was with the high water I could really experience the carving potential that boat had to offer. I experienced something new for me in kayaking, carving down a rapid instead of just in or out of eddy lines. It was like the first time I switched from a sled to a snowboard, I could finally REALLY carve down the mountain. With the Zen, I could drop an edge and actually carve down the rapids.


Some things became more apparent in California: one, the lightweight build was amazing for the hiking in California, though, the lightweight build was not designed to hold up to the same beatings as Jackson Kayak’s full on creek boats. I didn’t have much of an issue with this, but Dane had a couple good ol’ pitons on “Show my your tits” on Fantasy Falls. Luckily it isn’t a big deal, being the boat is obviously outfitted with the Uni-Shock bulkhead, the Jackson shock absorbing bulkhead system.


From California I took the Zen to Colorado for some creek racing. I knew it was going to be fast, I just didn’t realize how fast it would be in a race. I won my first race on fish creek in Steamboat Springs. Though it was really apparent when both Dane and I placed 1st and 2nd, in front of New Zealand’s Olympic Slalom racer, Mike Dawson. We then took the Zen to Teva Mountain Game’s Homesteak Creek Race. My previous years best result had been a 16 place. Though with the Zen I pulled out a 4th place, and Dane a 2nd in front of 2x Creek Race World Champion, Sam Sutton.

People were starting to notice that this boat meant business. There were 3 Zens in the top 5 at Homesteak Creek Race. The next weekend the Zen took the top 4 places at the St. Vrain Creek Race in Lyons. I then used the Zen 75 to race in the Great Falls race. I didn’t have a long boat for the long boat class, so I used the Zen, and beat out several Green boats! I then went to the H20 Overdrive boater cross and used a Zen 65 to beat out an RPM in a four-minute sprint.


After the competition tour was over I got to head to the Midwest and hit up some American classics for my first time. I got on the Big Timber and the famous North Fork of the Payette.  I would fly out of the drops and slides on Big Timber, adding even more fun to the steep run. The North Fork of the Payette was amazing. The big water feel was no problem for the Zen, punching through hole and staying online in big water felt like another strong point.


I am now in Austria for the Sickline World Championship creek race. EJ, Dane and I will all be racing the Zen. It is apparent that the word is getting out on the speed of the Zen, being that the 2012 Slalom Silver medalist has asked to use it for the Sickline race also.


After doing some river running, some serious steep creeking, big water, and racing all I can say is, go and try one out. The Zen will blow your mind, and might even change your perspective on paddling; it has changed mine.









Here is a link to the Zen Promo video.