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I have been waiting a while to give a review of the Jackson Kayak Karma L (Large Size).  I have had my new white limon Karma L since late Oct 2012.  I have made multiple runs in the Karma on: Upper Russell Fork River, Russell Fork Gorge, Upper Green River, Green River Narrows, Ledges Section of the Tellico River, Suicide Section & Upper Two of the Little River Canyon, Wilson Creek Gorge, Doe River Gorge, high water Pigeon River Gorge, Beaverdam Creek, Whitetop Laurel Creek, Nolichucky River Gorge & my favorite, Watauga River Gorge!  I am 6’4” and 230lbs with size 12 shoes and a 36” inseam.  The Karma L specs are:


Weight: 50 lbs

Length: 9′

Width: 28”

Height: 15”

Volume: 103 gal

IdealWeightRange: 165-300 lbs

Cockpit Dimensions: 36.5” x 21.5″


I have been creeking in the Jackson Kayak Villain for almost 3 years and loving it!  My initial reaction when I heard JK was coming out with a new creek boat was it that was going to take something special to make me change my mind about the Villain being my primary creek boat!  Then I found out the new creek boat was going to be a planing hull boat and I became very wary. Call me a bit old school, but I learned to kayak in a displacement hull boat back in the 90’s and I learned to creek boat in a Mega Rocker.  I am not a fan of edges at all on a creek boat.  I love the forgiveness factor of a round hull when dealing with cross currents and rocks as well as the ease of boofing.  So I started paddling the new Karma with a very skeptical attitude.  I truly was looking for reasons to not like the new Karma, so I could stay in my Villain. Well, as usual, Jackson Kayak has found a way to raise the bar again with their 4th generation creek boat and I can not find a reason to not love the new Karma!! 


The first thing you notice when you look at the Karma L is the sheer size.  This boat looks BIG and the boat specs seem a bit intimidating at first glance.  Don’t let the size stop you from trying this boat out if you are in the ideal weight range.  This boat paddles like a smaller boat with respect to performance and maneuvering.  I feel like I am just below the middle of the weight range of this boat with trim and float line in the water.  This is a great feeling for me, because at my extra large size I am used to being above the middle to upper end of the weight range for boats.


The next thing you will notice when you sit in the boat is the lower knee position compared to that of the Super Hero and Villain.  I find this to be very comfortable and a much better position to stomp boofs!


Once you pull on a paddle blade in the water you are quickly going to realize that the Karma isFAST!!  It’s no long boat, but I’m talking about flat out raw speed like you have never seen in boats around this same length.  I am sure you will see this is true by checking race results in the coming year.  I can’t wait to see what some of the JK Team can post at the Sickline Race this year with the speed of this boat!!  Not to mention that Dane Jackson has already won the 2012 Whitewater Grand Prix inChilewith the Karma and Team JK took the top 5 spots in the Karma at the Alseseca Race inMexicothis past January!  The speed of the Karma really helps to get through features cleanly and confidently!!


The Karma has some very interesting stability characteristics that may take a couple of runs to get use to.  Even though the boat design is a planing hull, you don’t realize you have edges underneath you in cross currents and hard ferries.  Overall, I think the Villain & Karma are on par with each other in stability.  Both boats have tremendous secondary stability when put on edge!  You can lean the Karma over 45 degrees without having to brace in flat water!  The Karma has little initial stability, but I find that handy to engage edging quicker for turning faster.  If you are big on initial stability for confidence, stay with the Super Hero.  It is the creek boat with the most initial stability in the JK lineup.  However, good luck with trying to keep up with your friends who have Karmas on quick after work runs!


The next feature you will notice while heading down stream is the high riding bow of the Karma.  The bow does not like to go under water at all in holes and waves.  If some how you find a way to get the bow under water the deck sheds the water fast and the bow rises to the surface faster than the Flying Dutchman!  The progressive rocker and chamfered edges of this planing hull keep you riding high and dry in typical whitewater features.


This boat carves turns like a freshly tuned set of skis on a powder day!  All you have to do to turn the Karma is edge the boat in the direction you want to turn and the boat will take care of the rest.  The more you edge the faster you turn!  You don’t have to worry about edging either, because the secondary stability is extremely secure!  The edges also make for better tracking and ease of changing lines in current.  This carving ability makes the Karma handle much better in bigger water and higher volume rivers too.  I find all these features in the Karma to be much finer compared to the Villain’s carving ability.


Boofing in the Karma is a beautiful thing!  I was a bit worried at first about the flatter hull making for harder landings, but the progressive rocker helps to soak up the initial impact of a good boof.  The speed of the boat and shape of the stern also lets you power away from a drop with authority upon landing.  I still think the Villain boofs with a bit more ease, but the Karma really lets you stomp it down!  I sent a boof offStatelineFallsthe other day that was so big, if I had wings I could’ve landed at the takeout of Watauga Gorge!!  Yeah, it made me feel that good!!!  I also find that I can control a 45 degree entry from larger drops and slides with ease for an even smoother landing and clean resurface.


So after boating in the Karma L for 4 months on various different runs, I have found that it out performs the Villain in almost every aspect (speed, tracking, changing lines, ferrying, catching eddys, etc…).  I’m still going to keep my Villain for a back up for certain creeking applications, but I truly do love my Karma as my new primary creek boat!  Hope to see you on the creek and may your spring be full of boof!!

Photos by: Cheryl Killman & Jeremy Gass