By Eric Jackson
Meanwhile- we created another monster seller on the heels of the 2010 All-Star, in the play boat category, our first Rock Star in 2011. High seating position, wider, shorter, faster, bigger volume, it kept the evolution moving quickly and set the stage for another big year of play boat sales. Sweet Cheeks 200,300, and even 400 were created to jack anyone wanting big leverage over their boat up higher than ever before. We also redesigned the new Hero in 2011, another short boat, but this time with more Rocker and really creek boat ready. It did pretty well in the market-place, but the longer boats and creek racing were becoming more of a focus in the market-place, and our third generation Hero didn’t do as well from a sales point of view. It was OK, but not great. It had a bit of a cult following, however, as there are plenty of people who prefer shorter, more nimble kayaks.
It was time for a fast boat, river runner, and full planing hull again… The Zen and Fun Runner. In 2011 David and I were working on a boat, the Fun Runner. After getting the first CAD Design done, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that this wasn’t going to be the boat we need to really become a leader in the river running/creek market. I wanted to win creek races, so did Dane and Nick who were getting older and motivated to race, as well as others on our team. I had not done as many racing events since the kids got big enough to paddle with me and were focused on freestyle events. I was spending much of my time with them kayaking where they wanted to go. The Fun Runner would be a great boat for some people, wanting a bigger longer, Fun, but I wanted a race winning machine that was also super fun on creeks and rivers. Not a “detuned hull” creeker like everyone, including Jackson Kayak, was making. David and I created the Zen design and I had a great feeling about this boat. This would be my race boat, but it would really change the feeling and performance on river runs, with a much zippier, carving, planing hulled boat. We launched it along side of the Fun Runner that year. We only intended on making one boat, but I am so glad we decided to make both models. The Fun Runner was successful in many kayak schools and had its own following, but the Zen put Jackson Kayak on the map with a river runner/creeker that had performance characteristics that couldn’t be ignored. We started the season off with the Alseseca Race where Dane and I tied for first place in our new Zens. The way this boat flew out of drops was amazing and the ease of control was a game changer. It didn’t have enough bow rocker to paddle dry without effort, nor enough volume to give it a ton of margin for error on your edges, but the hull performance was unmatched. I went on to win the South St Vrain Race in Lyons (Dane was 2nd in his Zen), and it was fun to be back in the racing game and have a boat advantage. We knew we were onto something with this hull and it would be the platform for more boats to come.
2013 Karma, 2013 All-Star- 2013 Marks the first year where Jackson Kayak was a true player in the Creekboat market. No longer playing second fiddle, we outsold our competitors, and our expeditions, waterfalls, races, etc.. all came together to change us from a “Playboat company” to an all around whitewater kayak manufacturer in the public eye. We always made boats for every type of water, but the new Karma hit a raw nerve with creekboaters and it is still the top selling creek boat today in its 4th season.
The Karma got a planing hull, like the Zen, but without as wide of a hull, or as much of a drop chine. High parting line, plenty of rocker, high volume, and fast, the Karma was also a racing machine, but also had the next generation of high adrenaline creek boaters running it on the hardest stuff and breaking new ground. Dane was traveling on his own and running big stuff, like 120+ foot falls in Mexico, and tons of first descents. Nick, Rafa, Ben, Chris, and more all around the globe were taking the Karma to new heights. The Karma quickly became known as the boat that would keep you safe. It was a survival tool, but a fun one. Lots of room for overnighters, but still light enough for day creeking. Races were being won in the Karma one weekend, and then big waterfalls being run the next. Jackson Kayak in its 9th year in business, was now a “respectable creek boat brand”, thanks to the Karma.
Meanwhile- I wanted to test the waters on a freestyle kayak that was 1/2 size bigger than our others and add a little length and volume- the 2013 All-Star. This was also testing a new Hull theory for speed and agility. We hit the nail on the head with it, creating the fastest surfing boat on the water and it was amazing as a wave boat. It was our one shot at giving people a mid-sized boat, in between our normal sizes as well as we were already planning our 2014 Rock Star for the 2013 World Championships at NOC. Dane and Claire took the gold medals in the 2013 World Championships, as well as Junior men, junior women. The 2014 Rock Star was another step in the evolution, which included making composite versions that Dane and Claire paddled.