Over the years of creating new designs with David Knight and paddling them, I learned that there are two phases for any review. First phase is initial review, usually after a week or two in the boat. This review gets most of the initial design/performance features on the table, and gives anyone considering buying the boat a good feel of what they can expect to experience themselves. The second phase is after a few months of intensive paddling, where it no longer feels brand new. In this phase, the boat is fully understood, and the advantages and disadvantages are exposed. Most importantly, the new performance levels of the boat can be exploited and techniques are being developed to fully take advantage of those features. This is the phase I am at now. This review will discuss the technique changes/evolutions that are a result of the Rock Star design.
Hole Riding: The past 2 world championships were on waves (Buseater and Thun- 2007-2009) but this one is in a hole. Awesome! Freestyle in a good hole is like acrobatics. It is a great combination of balance, explosive “jumps” and “twists”, and awareness of where you are in the hole, where the rocks are, if any, and just what you can get away with, without flushing. (often in mid-move determining whether to link another move to it or not) It is a much more physical ride than the equivalent on a wave and conditioning and strength is more important. This year, in Plattling, Germany, 35-50 countries will send their best freestyle athletes to compete for the title of World Champion. Each paddler will have selected their boat of choice for this event. Mine is the Rock Star M. Here is why… (this is the hole surfing section for the review of the Rock Star)
Plattling is a fairly deep hole but if you plug hard in for loop moves you can slam a rock hard and it can stop your momentum and flush you out of the hole in a front ender position. For this reason, the shorter your boat is and the higher volume it is, and the better the bow shape is for sliding over the rocks if it hits, the less likely the rocks will be an issue. The Rock Star is the SHORTEST freestyle kayak of all time. The Medium is only 5’8.5″ long. There are several main advantages I have found in practice over the past 4 months of training in it for being short and high volume.
1. I can play in much shallower spots than any previous boat with much less interference from the bottom. This means I can loop bigger (plug hard and not hit), and throw moves with confidence, instead of stressing about hitting bottom.
2. Rock Star combines light weight with short- Rotational speed is amazing. This simply means that when I throw a move the boat rotates with little energy and faster than any previous boat. The plastic Rock Star is only 29 pounds for the M and 26 pounds for the S, and 32 pounds for the L! This is the lightest weight on the market and you can feel it every time you go to rotate the boat (which in freestyle is all of the time)
3. Super Slicey! I heard somebody make the comment (who was in another brand of kayak) that the Rock Star isn’t a slicey boat and is too “blunt”. The boat they were in was about 4″ longer and a composite boat. What they were missing is that the only slicey part of their boat was the extra 4″ of boat. Nothing is slicier than the part of the boat that isn’t there! For easy cartwheels, and rotating the boat through the water, the shorter boat is much easier to push through the water with much less water resistance. After only a little bit of paddling the boat (my first flatwater cartwheel) I realized just how slicey we made the Rock Star. It flatwater cartwheels much easier and the extension to that is easier phonix monkies, McNasties, tricky woos, lunar orbits, and cartwheel moves. The higher volume design also floats you higher when vertical which also means less boat in the water to resist the rotations you want to do. This really comes into play when you are trying to link moves together and are less likely to have all of your angles and positions perfect. It is much more retentive for that reason, too…
4. Retentiveness is unparalleled! Higher volume and short means that there is less surface area for the green water to grap and more volume to keep you up in the foam pile away from the green water. Retentive is an understatement. The beauty of the Rock Star is that you can throw much harder, faster, and aggressively without flushing than ever before. This is allowing us to push the envelope of hole riding once again. Clearly the World Championships is a great place to push the envelope and having the right boat for that is key. There are two main design improvements that make the boat more retentive than the most retentive boat (All-Star). First is the volume placement. There is 2 more gallons in the stern than the All-Star. When you land front moves (like phonix, mcnasty, loops, etc.. on your stern it stops the down-water movement through the foam much quicker exposing much less stern into the greenwater and it “launches” you back up into the hole. The feeling is “catcher’s mitt and a quick throw back into the hole” verses a mush backwards and a paddle back in. The shortness of the stern plays a big part of this too, as less surface area is hitting the greenwater under the foam pushing you downstream. We are doing a ton of moves linked out of the loop moves now, instead of stopping and starting over. This is very exciting and fun!! Loop to phonix, loop to space godzilla, Mcnasty to phonix, etc.. ! SWEET!
This feature applies to all moves, landing on bow or stern.
5. Moves go Huge/bigger than ever before- The higher volume design simply launches your body/boat weight up higher. The wedge shaped bow and stern are perfectly suited for going huge. There is 1 more gallon in the bow than the All-Star but 1″ shorter. It has much more Pop. The stern is .5″ shorter and has 2 more gallons and that makes the kick in the pants when you are doing a back loop much stronger, providing much more air. This was an obvious goal of this design, but the trick was making is slicier and easier to throw around in the hole at the same time. seemingly mutually exclusive goals, achieved at the same time was the goal here.
Another feature of the Rock Star that took some getting used to and I am still learning to capitalize on is the rocker profile. Dane has fully capitalized on it already (kids these days!). The rocker starts earlier and more towards the middle. This allows the boat to “reel up” more and easier front or backwards. This allows for bigger and easier McNasty, Phonix Monkey, and Lunar Orbits (and all of the wave moves, of course). Dane has converted this new rocker/sidewall/parting line design into ridiculously massively huge McNasties in particular (and wave moves). This is a perfect example of how a boat design can spur a technique that works for that boat. Evolution of freestyle techniques are as much of the evolution of the sport as the boats. However the boat comes first and then the techniques follow. We will be breaking free from our own self-imposed restrictions for some time in the Rock Star. People tend to (all people, including me who knows better) try to use the boats exactly how they used the last boat they paddled and see how their existing technique works with the new boat. This is fine, but only when you are willing to try new things do you begin to explore the possibilities of the new design. That is the stage we are in with the Rock Star now.
Seat position is higher: We raised the standard seat position by over 1″ which increases your leverage over the boat making it easier to throw the boat around, get vertical, get air, etc..
When you throw the boat over your head with a higher seat, you are literally throwing it that much higher, plus the boat “cambers” up and over and the momentum is further away from your body and throws faster. This allows you to get extra air out of a hard “throw”. Since McNasties require air to count in the World Championships, this is very helpful when you are throwing fast and gives you a much higher chance of succeeding.
Composite and Plastic options: It is funny to me how the new “craze” is composite freestyle kayaks, seeing that composites are not new. If I could only have one boat, I would choose the plastic boat every-time simply because rocks are my friend and a composite kayak requires being careful if you don’t want to be fixing it. However, having a composite and a plastic version of the Rock Star is the best of both worlds for sure! If you want to compete in and paddle a composite lightweight kayak and also have a lightweight plastic version for when it is shallow or you are river running and want to get in and out of the boat on the rocks, do rock spins, etc.. then having both versions of the Rock Star give that option. It is the perfect freestyle paddler’s quiver. Rock Star in composite and plastic. The composite version is clearly more expensive but if you can afford it, you won’t regret it. I prefer to paddle the plastic version unless it is deep enough to stay off the bottom. Luckily our Rock Stars are made by Galasport the most experienced whitewater manufacturer of composite boats. They have made more Olympic and World Championship kayaks than anyone in the world for slalom. As we have seen from past companies who have brought out a composite boat that was made by people without this level of whitewater kayak manufacturing experience, anyone can make a “pretty boat” out of carbon and kevlar. However, to make a structurally sound boat with all of the right materials in the right places for the stresses we put on the boat from body weight (backband, seat area, cockpit rim attachment points) and from hitting rocks and bouncing on big waves (seams, bow, stern, under the seat, sidewalls, certain deck areas) this requires experience and skill. Galasport worked directly with me to create the formula for a lightweight, stiff construction that will wear well and be as low maintenance as possible. Foam core in the right areas of the hull, sidewalls, and deck provide a rock solid feel not normally found in other composite boats. With that said, if you hit the boat hard enough you’ll have to get familiar with epoxy and kevlar, carbon, or glass! I have managed to keep my 80’s Rock Star looking like new so far. Seal launching off rocks, but only with a towel on the rock to keep me from scratching up my sweet checkered hull, etc.. Yes, I am babying my boat, but it is paying off so far! I’ll be in Reno paddling with Stephen Wright and his blue/yellow composite boat. (I finally got the Rock Star stickers for the bow of these boats! so if you want a sticker for yours… or your car, we have them and they’ll be online on our new store in a couple of days.)
Wave Surfing and what we have learned about the Rock Star:
Most of our big wave surfing experience was from Africa, but there has also been some dries of the New, and tons of smaller wave surfing time. I will list out in bullet form the performance feature and how it is affecting our rides and techniques
1. Fast- fast- FAST! The speed of the Rock Star is the first thing people comment on when they try it. I am used to it now. The rock profile, volume, and shortness are all contributing factors to the speed (yes, short is fast)- My technique changes come in two forms. first is on steep waves- the Rock Star drops from the top of the wave to the bottom quickly. This means that once you get to the top you have to be ready to throw. Otherwise you’ll be at the bottom again saying, “how did I get here so fast?” . This takes some getting used to if you are coming out of any other freestyle kayak which will be quite a bit slower. The upside to this is that you get bigger air because when you do throw, you have more momentum from the peak of the wave over the trough. You will fly further and get over the trough more which gives you more air. The main benefit of it being so fast is that you stick your moves easier. when you land the Rock Star wants to run back down the face of the wave again.
2. Loose! The Rock Star spins with about 50% of the drag of the All-Star. This allows you to stick your moves easier as it slides down the face instead of wanting to drag off the wave when landing sideways. ‘Also spin into anything” meaning you can easily spin endlessly into other moves. For small waves it allows a beginner to spin way more successfully during the learning curve. We have had to increase our expectation of what is possible on smaller waves. Helix, air screws, flip turns, super clean spins, clean blunts, etc. are all way easier in the Rock Star and we have to remember that where it was not possible before, it is now. I have a new rule for doing my first rides on any wave. Always try the hardest moves first, this helps me try what I think isn’t possible and realize that it is.
3. Launches huge- David Knight and I focused really hard on making sure we could get off the water easier and bigger than before. The rocker, drop chine, sidewalls, length, and shape of the bow/stern allow for much easier jump off the water on small or big waves. clean blunts are now possible just about anywhere- just watch Stephen Wright as he reminds me to try them on the smallest waves that you can barely do anything on. It is another situation where you have to “believe to achieve” otherwise you’ll never try it. The speed, looseness, and takeoff ability of the Rock Star combine to allow you rush forward and lift the boat off the water with an edge to edge transfer, and a lift/stomp of the legs (ollie). Clean blunt/clean mcnasty combos on the corner of super hole, for example is something I was able to do relatively easily where I have not ever before.
I know this review sounds like a sales piece and ‘where is the negative?’ of the boat. I have been blessed to have four designs in a row with David that have improved in almost every way each time. One of the main reasons for that is “evolution” verses creation from scratch. We are starting from a great design and with the almost daily input from the gold, silver, bronze in men’s k1, and gold/silver in women’s and gold/silver in junior mens, etc. and one of those people being myself paddling the boats daily, I simply have alot of great input to make improvements to an already great design. We are careful to improve as much as we can, without risking a setback by changing too much too fast. This is quite similar to the evolution of technology in computers, and software, etc..
Here is the negative I can think of of the Rock Star in plastic:
1. Higher seating position requires some time to get acquainted with. Rolling is a little more difficult and when you drop an edge the feeling is different and you will tend to over lean in the beginning and have to brace more often at first.
2. Requires learning your balance point again for bow stalls, loops, and cartwheels.
1. Harder to adjust the backband due to the way it runs through the tube or over the carbon.
2. Can break where the plastic one wouldn’t.
check out these videos of the Rock Star in action….
There are a few other ones, but this will do the trick to get the idea.
World Championships preview? I know I am fired up to be in the Rock Star, that is all I am saying!!