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When I found out Jackson Kayak was doing a high-rockered modern twist on my favorite boat ever, the Nirvana, I was stoked! Once I tried it out, I was not disappointed. Since I sit in a critical weight range, at 168 lbs (76 kg), I wanted to hop into my new medium Gnarvana and also compare it to Emily’s small. Like many other who looked at the specs first, the numbers threw me off a bit. I thought all that volume and all that width would just be too much for me. The thing is, they just don’t tell the whole story, and to many people’s surprise, seat position really matters. Most of the width and volume is in the bow, which is very much out of the way if you’re positioned well. The Gnarvana is nimble, fast, and easy to paddle. With every maneuver I just skipped away in control and only seemed to pick up speed. Edge transitions were effortless and automatic. Even landing on edge didn’t seem to slow it down… but what about sizing?

Here’s the thing, many people have this old engrained tendency to crank the seat forward when they get in a new boat. It’s a bad habit though, and doesn’t really work for most modern designs. If you sit forward in it, it’ll likely feel too big or too wide. Moving forward lifts the stern out more, but also makes this boat and others like it feel more squirrelly… and can make them ‘seek’ where the bow picks directions for you. Scooting forward also doesn’t help with speed as it increases drag and typically makes it feel sluggish. Like most modern creekers, the Gnarvana will go better and be easier to control if you scoot the seat back a notch, instead of forward. If you want it to be a spicier ride and loosened up though, centered works great… but not forward.

If you want a bomb shelter for rapids that scare you and a predictable, easy, but extremely fast ride then follow the specs or size up if you’re in between. If you want to spice up your local dam release and carve up a class IV+ run and feel more engaged and “on” without dulling it down or losing speed, then size down if you’re in between. If you’re in the middle though… no choice necessary. This boat is sick! You can trust the medium is a true medium and the small is a true small, no question. Don’t let the numbers scare you, and don’t scare yourself off by sitting too far forward… the hype is real.

Video Cover Photo by Rob Giersch Photography