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The Chattooga River has been the classic whitewater testing ground for 40 years. Watch the Jackson Kayak Zen and Karma duel it out on the river.

Video Link: Dueling on the Chattooga: Jackson Kayak Zen v Karma


The Jackson Kayak Zen and the Jackson Kayak Karma have one very strong trait in common: speed. I am talking speed and acceleration that will zip you in and out of eddies, make quicker corrections, and soar you through the sky. It is true. The only way you will know is if you try one.

Jackson Kayak Zen

Kayaking the Chattooga River in Georgia and South Carolina

Chattooga River / Photo Credit: Wesley Johnson

My first week in the Zen was full of mixed feelings. I had just made it to the North Fork of the Payette from the Pacific Northwest where we were hucking waterfalls and racing down the Little White Salmon. I was at the North Fork to do one thing: go fast! I had just watched Eric Jackson, Dane Jackson, and Nick Troutman blaze down the Teva Mountain Games Steep Creek Challenge race on Homestake Creek in Colorado the month before. I wanted a boat that could cut through the enormous waves on the high-water North Fork of the Payette in Idaho.

I found what I was looking for in the Zen, a very fast boat. I truly attribute my 3rd place finish in the Expert (Qualifier) Race to the fast hull speed and edges of the Jackson Kayak Zen. I was so excited to find this boat. The very next day I found its only short comings on the Class 5+ Jacobs Ladder Slalom Race. I am a little heavy for the boat when it comes to running class V. I love this boat for other things though! The Zen is my favorite boat for river running up to Class -V whitewater.

It is hard to explain how the edges zip you in and out of eddies without referring to a Formula 1 Race Car. If you are looking for a boat that will always respond on a river whenever you ask it to, the Zen is the boat for you. If you are looking to go higher up in the drainage to a creek that requires rock boofs or world-class whitewater, go with the Karma.

My Size for the Zen

Weight: 190lbs
Height: 6’3″
Zen Size: 75
Fit: Tight and upper-end on weight… which makes it responsive.

Jackson Kayak Karma- Large

Jackson Kayak Boofing

Chattooga River / Photo Credit: Ben Williams

The Karma is the most responsive creekboat I have had the pleasure to paddle. It has enough volume to get you over the rocks and through the holes, but also has great carving capabilities when you lean onto secondary stability. This boat is perfect for snaking its way down the Chattooga River transitioning from edge to edge on the very stable secondary stability. Whether you are touching your elbow or your ear to the water on your turns, the Karma has the stability to give you the confidence to do so on the most difficult of rapids.

My Size for the Karma

Weight: 190lbs
Height: 6’3″
Karma Size: Large
Fit: Loose and a little on the light side for weight… which makes it great for big moves and creeks.

Jackson Kayak Karma- Medium

North Fork of the French Broad

Favorite Size: If I am hand-paddling, especially with a cast on my left arm.

Fit: Tight and I am a little heavy at 190lbs*

*Up-side for downsizing is the gained responsiveness. The only down-side I have found is in the creek boating realm when it comes to making big moves.

Jackson Kayak Karma- Small (Kate)

Small Jackson Karma

Kate on the Chattooga River

Kate: I have been paddling a small Karma for the past few months now, and I am loving it! I really think it is a great creek boat for women. As the trend in creekboat design has gone towards larger and larger boats, I have debated over whether to settle for a design that wasn’t really a creeker, sacrificing volume, or paddle a boat that was difficult to control. With the Karma, I don’t have to compromise. It is a larger boat at 72 gallons, which still allows it to resurface and get through holes, but the edges make it fast and maneuverable. I can gain and maintain speed, make precision moves, and punch through river features all while still feeling comfortable and in control. Added bonus: it is really light. Actually the first creekboat I have ever been able to “boat press” (lift over my head and onto my roof racks) all by myself! One less boat for Zach to load.

Kate’s Karma Size:

Weight: 130lbs
Height: 5’7″
Boat Size: Small
Fit: If she was Goldilocks, she’d say “Just Right!”