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Nirvana Review

After a full five months paddling the Nirvana in all kinds of situations I finally feel ready to write a review of this boat.

My first time ever paddling the Nirvana was on the North Fork of the Payette five days before the infamous North Fork Championships. However this NFC was going to be different. The North Fork was high, 6,000 CFS pumping down 15 miles of continuous class V whitewater. I admit I was a little on edge driving up to do a top to bottom with the boys my first morning there. To make it even more interesting I would be paddling a new boat I had never paddled before, the Jackson Nirvana. I could tell by looking at the lines this boat was going to be good, how good, I would soon find out.

I charged out ahead of the crew and dropped into ‘Steepness’ eager to get the anticipation over with. Huge whitewater flew towards me from all sides, my vision often obscured in total whiteout. A smile slowly spread from ear to ear. The boat was riding the whitewater incredibly, cat walking down the river as the boat’s bow kicked into the air off the crests of the crashing waves. It’s accelerated on dime, flew through the air, and kept it’s bow up even when i didn’t tell it to. I could take hits from all angles and carve lines down the river as if i was surfing. I could tell this was a boat that had my back and was more fun to paddle than anything I had ever been in before. It was love from here on out. I immediately bought the boat and haven’t ever looked back. I also just bought the Large Nirvana which I cant wait to get on the water, I’ll post a review of this boat too once I put it through the paces.

The things I love about this boat here they are:


A good line is a fast line. While racing may be the original intent of this boat, it has clearly become so much more than that. Props to the creators of the 9R for creating a new genre of boat and congrats to the designers of the Nirvana for improving on it! It turns out that the faster you are on the river, the better your lines and the more command you have over any given situation (minus running a waterfall). With speed you can boof, punch holes, and carve lines so much better. It also enables you to have more fun flying higher and adding a very dynamic element to your lines. I’ve also thought of another reason why speed also helps your paddling and finally 15 years after learning Algebra I finally have a use for it. Speed = Fun. Fun = Better Paddling. Therefore Speed = Better Paddling!


I often say the most important quality of a river running kayaker is how well they can recover. It’s a given that ALL kayakers will eventually find themselves off line, upside-down, deep in that tricky situation. Quick reflexes and quick thinking are a must but it’s often overlooked how the performance of a boat helps dramatically in these situations. Ease of roll, good secondary stability, fast hull to get back up to speed sooner, good rocker profile to keep your bow up even without commanding it to, being able to turn and boof on the same stroke. All things the Nirvana excels at.

Secondary Stability

So important it’s worth mentioning twice! Rarely when running hard whitewater are you ever sitting flat and paddling straight. As the art of kayaking progresses so does the art of using our edges. Being able to weight an edge without the worrying about the boat flipping over or having to lean on a blade to keep the boat upright makes you a better paddler. Weather you’re playing with dynamic leans or just working on getting down the rapid upright having good secondary stability is clutch.

Rocker Profile:

It’s amazing how the simple concept of rocker has revolutionized the sport of kayaking. Look at old school boats, what are they missing? And it’s not just rocker but where that rocker is placed and how it carries towards the bow of the boat that makes it either good or great. The Nirvana has the best rocker profile of any boat I have paddled. It stays on the surface like a dream, boofs with incredible ease, and, it also plugs and surfaces well!


Ah, the boof. Back in my early days it seemed like a far away concept. Taking a well planted stroke to make the boat fly through the air and land flat, who had heard of such a thing? Then I plugged a dropped and got recirculated until unconsciousness. Now I get it! What a fantastic thing to be able to do. From that day forward I grew fond of the move which has saved my hide many a time. Happily, the Nirvana boofs like a dream with the perfect combination of speed and rocker profile.


Many times staying of the surface is not exactly what you want to do, or in the case you blew it, it’s what happens anyway. Once submerged you want to your boat to be as balanced and stable underwater as it is on the surface. Good volume distribution and deck profile are the key elements to this. Luckily the Nirvana is far from EJ’s first rodeo and both of these are well thought out. Get ready to rocket to the surface with a smile on your face!

Paddling weighted:

I’m not going to lie about my physique. I am tall and skinny with toned rippling muscles underneath (just a bit) of subcutaneous fat. I weigh in between 195 – 200 even though my fighting weight is more like 190. I like to keep some survival rations on hand in just in case I might have to miss a meal someday. While I might envy how high in the water some of my small boned friends sit I am amazed at the range of which the medium Nirvana performs. I don’t feel like I am paddling a boat too small for me at all and they don’t feel like they are in a bathtub. I knew this was going to get put to the test when I loaded up my boat with a few days of gear and headed for my first multi day in this boat. With ample volume in the stern the gear slid in easily and I could tell I was going to have a fighting chance. I put on the river and while I could certainly tell I had some gear with me it wasn’t even close to what I was thinking it would be like. It performed equally as well and had even more of a tendency to keep the bow up, a mighty fine quality for the river I was on. I was stoked. The stern of the Nirvana could handle some junk in the trunk!

Hull lines:

Aside from sex appeal, which the Nirvana certainly has a lot of, the hull lines do so much to bring the performance of this boat into the realm of what I would call cutting edge. I look at this boat and love to see a little bit of the magic sprinkled into the batter when this thing was baked up. The boat kicks back at speed engaging the stern of the boat, keeping the bow high and gaining speed off the stern. The edges are well placed but not overpowering allowing the boat to carve down the river and the secondary edge gives that extra bit of love as you put the boat on it’s rails.


While I wish I could further understand the intricacies of this boat I am happy just to know it exists, performs incredibly well, and is undoubtedly the best creek boat I have ever paddled. I contribute this to genuine evolution of creek boat design, not just from Jackson’s previous boats but from other manufacturers pushing the bar higher and higher. This boat was prototyped extensively and all the hard work by the team and design team has turned this into the the new standard by which I believe all other future creek boats will be judged.