Boat: Jackson Kayak Rock Star
Classification: Freestyle / Play Boat
Hull Shape: Planing
Size Tested: Medium
Volume: 58 gallons
Length / Width / Height: 5’10’’ / 26.5” / 14.5”
Reviewer: 5’10’’, 170 lbs.
Test Locations: Colorado, Washington, Utah, Grand Canyon
Days Paddled: ~30
To me, the Jackson Kayak Rock Star is the epitome of a modern playboat. It is short, maneuverable, and 100% designed for surfing. Jackson Kayak advertises this kayak for the playboater who is looking for a bit of added leverage, looseness on a wave, and big pop in a hole.
As a bit of a play boating junkie, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this boat when it was released in 2011. Today, the Rock Star (and its carbon version) can still be found on the podium at just about every major freestyle competition.
Given that, I was pretty certain that I would like the boat for park-and-play. But I was curious to see whether this boat would hold up as an “all-purpose” playboat, and how well it would work for less experienced paddlers.
Jackson made some very interesting design decisions on the Rock Star that really separate it from most top freestyle boats out there, like the Pyranha Jed, Wavesport Project X, Dagger Jitsu, and even Jackson’s own All Star series. These design elements have important implications for how the boat paddles overall, so they will come up repeatedly throughout the rest of the review, and are worth mentioning now.
First, the Rock Star is larger volume than the other boats I’ve mentioned. Coming in at 58 gallons, the Rock Star is in a size range that a few years ago would have only been considered a playboat for much larger paddlers, such as my 6’2″, 210-pound “little” brother instead of me, at 5’10”, 170. But while larger, the Rock Star is actually shorter than all of these other designs.
Initially, this combination of big volume plus short length had me a bit worried because I thought the 58 gallon “medium” might be too big. But, in the end, it turns out that the low swing weight of a short boat makes the volume surprisingly manageable for cartwheels and spins.
Second, Jackson put the seat 1.5 inches higher than its cousin, the All Star, and higher than many other play boats. This gives the paddler a lot of leverage while surfing, but also makes the boat very technically demanding while running actual rapids or trying to roll.
Jackson claims that the Rock Star is fast on a wave despite its short length, and my experience has validated that claim; surfing waves with this boat is definitely a blast. Its gradual rocker profile keeps it planing effortlessly, and I’ve had no trouble catching glassy waves that my buddies in longer boats (Liquidlogic Freeride and Jackson Fun) don’t have the speed for.
This speed comes into effect when initiating and sticking tricks such as a blunt or an airscrew. I find that the boat accelerates predictably on the face of a wave, which really helps my timing.
In addition, this is where the increased seat height is really beneficial. One and a half inches may not sound like much, but it makes a huge difference in the leverage that a paddler has when throwing inverted moves.
This is probably one of the biggest points of differentiation between the Rock Star and its competitors; I could definitely feel a difference between inverted tricks in the Rock Star versus the All Star and Project X. In the other boats, I had to be surfing a fairly large wave in order to go upside down and stick it. In the Rock Star, pretty much any old wave would do.
The boat is also “loose” on a wave. Flat spin 360s are effortless because the edges don’t catch easily. And yet, you can still really dig in your edge once you do want to make a carve or pop up for a trick. I feel that the short stern also contributes to the boat’s looseness, making it possible to execute quick pivots and turns without catching your tail.