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Karma Review:

The high pitched patter of the rain turns to a lower, rumbling thunder that just keeps rolling along until it’s drowned out by the splash of the gutter’s overflow against the backdoor. So much for sleep tonight. As you scroll down the gage pages waiting for dawn’s opportunities, the last thing you want to worry about is what boat to paddle. How’s your Karma?

Karma Sunshine Left with Clay Wright by Curtis England

As someone who’s been paddling a Hero, Super-hero since I’m a little ‘in between’ sizes, Villain S and Zen 75 since I want a planing hull but also like a full on creek boat, I’m ready for a single boat to travel with that does a little bit of everything so I can obsess more on where I paddle than what.

My size: 165 lbs, 5’9”, 30” inseam, size 11 shoe

Testing Grounds: Russel Fork 7x, Green River Narrows 5x, Mill Creek WV 5x (12”, 10”, 5”), Mann’s Creek WV 0”, South suck 2x, Suck Creek 5x, Great Falls Rock Island 3x

I’ll compare primarily to the Villain S – which the Karma is most like:
Strengths: speed: acceleration, cruising, and top end; carving, plane-over distances, hole punching, imperviousness to boils and seams, bow rocker, surfability (front and side).

Far left line is new, and fun!

Karma boofing left of Warm Hole Falls, Great Falls Rock Island TN 8000

Weaknesses – lower knee position so if you like to sit up on a Sweet Cheeks 200 it’s a tighter fit

The Karma’s been challenging me to find it’s weaknesses – which I’m normally really good at – so I’ve continued to paddle it for 2 months to write a more balanced review. Yet after all these paddling trips I continue to be impressed condition after condition at this boats perfect balance of a fast, floaty planing hull that refuses to trip me up in the mank and impacts landings somewhere between the Villain S and Hero. You feel the speed from the first stroke – as well as the top end, yet it’s almost as easy to boof as the Villain and so easy to keep the bow up no matter what your angle of descent.

The primary stability is on par with the S yet the secondary stability approaches that of the Hero. Part of that is the increased volume and size… Karma Medium is a bigger, longer boat than the Villain S despite the cockpit rim feeling about the same ‘fit’. This slightly larger platform feels even larger in turbulent waters as the flatter hull just ignores crazy water like below 2nd Drop of Triple Drop on Russel Fork, letting you paddle across seams and boils instead of getting pushed in circles. That amazing strength of the Zen comes through despite the narrower hull and taller deck. Thankfully, the Karma planes without the usual drawbacks.

Soft landings off Mill Creek Falls by Dena Smith

Some planing hull river-runners ‘tripped up” in the manky sections and landings can be brutal. So I deliberately chose some mankier sections to paddle: Mill at 5” and South Suck at LOW flow. While the hull can ”grip” the flat bedrock more easily than a round hull, it also rides a bit higher than the Villain S and never tripped me up. I think the quicker spinnability helped me hit most trip-up rocks straight and put me into the hundreds of slots of Mann’s Creek despite the extra speed I carried into them.
Mill Creek Falls and Rock Island’s 20’er gave me some waterfall testing grounds and the Karma outperformed expectations. I could plug deep with a 70 degree tuck or stomp down at 60 for a 3’ deep bottom turn on par with the Villain. Only surprising because of how much more surface-oriented the Karma is than the Villain on slopers or when coming down with some forward speed. Coming down hot, the Karma turns the speed of descent into downstream momentum, accelerating across holes or pools and keeping you high and dry above it. So much easier to avoid the ‘stern dip to stall” landing profile of most kayaks dropping in at a 45 degree angle, allowing you to punch stiffer holes or choose shallower landing zones once you figure out how it works.

Surfing: It’s no Zen … I won’t be hitting Helix’s or clean-spinning Garb but front-surfing and side surfing are much more stable and fun in more places than either the Villain or the Hero designs.

Karma sub 5 minutes, Clay Wright Green Race 2012 by Tyson Bevirt

Sizing: I paddled the Karma Lg whenever my Md was being demo’d as it’s still a pretty fun, easy to paddle boat despite it’s size. This is a big difference from the Villain or Mega-rocker! While I predict heavier paddlers will still love it, you no longer have to have a 36” inseam to grip the thigh braces or put the boat on edge. Since I’m not a fan of longer boats, I think I would choose the Md for all conditions over the Lg – even racing or single overnights – as I just don’t feel my weight translates that extra length into speed and the Md is plenty floaty for my 165 lbs. While I put 175 as near max for full-on creeking a Villain S, I would go near 190 in the Karma Md.

Overall – combines the floaty, hard-carving, instantly correctable benefits of a planing hull (without the drawbacks) and adds turbo-power acceleration boost and extra top-end speed. Then provides a funner surfing experience to boot.

EJ n Nick South Suck-cess, smooth runs through the mank in Karma