By Eric Jackson
2014-15- In 2014 we created the 2015 Rock Star for the Garberator World Championships. This freestyle kayak is our best overall package to date, and we are sitting on this design right now as it is just about as perfect as we can make it at the moment. Fast, easy to throw down in flatwater or in a hole, and it goes big, all while being light and comfortable. We won Men’s, women’s classes at the World champioships on Garberator wave, with Emily and Dane taking the top spots again. Dane is the first person other than me to win in the Men’s Kayak class more than one time. I have 4 wins, giving me at least another 4 years before he can catch me if he wins the next 2. Emily has 2 World Championships wins and so does Claire, so they are both tied for the most wins in women’s freestyle. (Claire also has squirt boat wins, Dane has C1 wins, Oc1 wins, etc., Emily has junior win, but they are not the same category as the classes are small and non-competitive in comparison) That was a little off topic from boats, sorry! We did our next niche kayak in 2014, the Karma Unlimited and Karma RG (same mold different outfitting).
More races were adding a long boat class to it and everyone who paddles Jackson kayak was asking when we would make a long boat to compete against the Green Boat and Stinger. The Karma was the perfect boat to base the long boat off of, with a planing hull. We went for an easier to paddle, easier to control, fast down river racer that didn’t take as much “getting used to” to paddle it well. The RG version has a hatch, rigging, etc.. and it popular among Rock Gardening paddlers in the ocean, and some whitewater paddlers who do overnighters out of it as well. The sales of a long boat are limited, as it is a specialty boat, but it doesn’t need a redesign any time soon making it a good long term investment in our customers, team, and the brand.
We also created our latest generation of the Fun Series which hit a sweet spot for many. It is a tad bigger and more volume for better river running, but with the latest generation hull. The previous Fun was more towards playboating and didn’t do as well for us in the marketplace. Moving that scale around to hit the right spot is not easy. For every one person who wants to move it towards playboating, somebody else wants it to be more river running. Our job is to give as many people the boat of their dreams as I can. By changing the balance point of the boats between sizing, river running or play, etc.. we can bridge the gap in different generations. While we hope that every customer will buy every generation, we know that isn’t going to be the case. The most active paddlers will stay current (about 10% of the paddlers), while 40% of the paddlers will wait a year to get a new design after they see it is what everyone else likes and they don’t feel they are taking a risk with that boat. The other 50% are beginners getting a new boat, or those getting a second of that model, or finally getting their first one. That is another story, the story about kayak companies, kayak schools, dealers, and customers not seeing their own trends how they evolve their thinking and how the boats begin to fit new categories, even though the boats are the same…. (for another day) Dane and I paddled the Fun on some of the best big water in the world- the Zambezi. Not as a challenge, but because that is one place where it excels. It is nimble, light, and stable. It surfs well and plays well, but it will get you down the hardest big water rapids on the planet. Nick, Joel, and I also chose the Funs for running Niagara Gorge for the same reason. Awesome boat that will never go out of style.
2015- 2016 New Zen- Another game changer as we up our ante in creek boat design. Based on the original Zen hull, but adding rocker, and volume to bring this design into the full on creek boat realm, this Zen became the Go To for most of our team right away. Fast, nimble, fun to paddle, it wins races, while it takes care of the beginner paddler down their first class 3. This boat added some great sales horsepower to the already successful Karma, helping Jackson Kayak finally become the best selling river running brand in our 10th year of business. It took three years for people to really start buying our playboats and 9-10 years to really start buying our river running and creekboats. We also added our third generation cross-over boat, the Traverse to our mix. I didn’t really talk about them because we never really thought of them as whitewater boats before. We always categorized them as recreational kayaks. The Traverse, however, is an amazing whitewater boat/creekboat, that is great on expeditions, or for a beginner kayaker that will do mostly flatwater, but delve into a little whitewater from time to time. The crossover market was dominated by Liquid Logic for many years with the Remix XP, and Dagger and Pyranha also had good boats in this category. The Traverse is our first boat in this category (we had the All-Water and the Rogue before) that is the boat to beat in the category.
Marty on Grand Canyon with Traverse
2016-2017 – This week we are launching our new Antix, which is another game changer for Jackson Kayak. The latest trend is “old is new” in the market-place, especially in the Southeast and starting on the Ocoee River. Most of the kayakers today have never paddled boats from the 80s and 90s and even early 2000s What is familiar and “been there, done that” to me, or to Clay, for example is “wow, this is amazing” and brand new to those who haven’t been active kayakers for the past 20-30 years, or simply want to get back to what they once knew. The RPM, the 1996 Dagger freestyle kayak that came with a disclaimer back then- “warning, park and play machine, not for river running” goes in and out of style, and for some has been their go to boat for years. The Braap came out, the Mullet, and many old school boats are now seen as new again. Many paddlers want a new way to paddle, something to try that is fun, but different. This trend is a FAST moving target, and designing a boat for the exact point in the trend means that it is long past before the boat is finished. Like the evolution of the kayak in the 90′s the trend is following that evolution nearly exactly. It was first a boat that could squirt, but river run nicely. Then it was a much shorter boat, that could squirt easier and in shallower water. Then, low and behold… a boat that you can squirt the BOW and Stern…. (X boat), and so it continued. Each of the boats have characteristics that are enjoyable, but they have things that can be improved. Ultimately we ended up with a 2015 Rock Star as the pinnacle of a playboat. Yes, the RPM is a playboat. Jackson Kayak has done our best to be at the right place in this second round of the evolution with the Antix. It has a full planing hull, making it a modern day surfer, that can front surf easier but also spin nicely on waves or in holes. It is shorter than the RPM, or Braap, etc.. offering a lighter weight package (35.9 pounds!) at 7’7” long, and it has plenty of rocker, and a high parting line, for creek boating. I can’t tell you how excited Team JK is about this boat. Dane is beside himself, as is Stephen Wright, Nick, and more. Squirting, splatting, free wheels, etc.. But this boat is perfect for the older paddler, who doesn’t want to take a Rock Star down the river anymore, but is bored with a creekboat. The Antix is a light weight option, that will make them feel comfortable on the water, while giving them something to look forward to on the eddylines, waves, holes, etc.. This boat is a worthy boat for anyone ready for a change. The Antix starts shipping to a dealer near you on Black Friday, 2016!
What is next? Ha- stay tuned for our next boat, another game changer, due out the spring of 2017!!!
Enjoy the photo gallery below as well:
Kayaking; Caney Fork
Rock Island, TN
Kayaking; Caney Fork
Rock Island, TN
Kayaking; Caney Fork
Rock Island, TN