Rock stars are all about putting on a show. Many start their careers with high-energy acts, running around on stage with the music cranked to 11. For some that’s as far as it goes, they hit their peak and decades later we wonder where they went.

Jackson Kayak’s 2014 Rockstar
Length: 5’4”/5’9”/5’11”
Width: 25”/26.5”/28”
Height: 14”/14.5”/15.5”
Volume: 48/57/65 GAL
Weight: 27/29.5/33 LBS
Paddler weight: 115–180/ 150–200/170–250 lbs
Cockpit dimensions: 32.5”x19”/34.5”x20”/36”x21”
Price: $1,249
Other stars though, the famous, long-lived favorites, mature with age. They tweak and refine their style. This is the path of the Rockstar from Jackson Kayak, which, with its new design for 2014, proves it is still in its prime.

Sitting beside its predecessor, the new Rockstar has only a few visible differences. It’s an inch shorter, has a slicier bow and a smoother, more continuous rocker profile.

It’s once I’m on a wave that the Rockstar’s refinements become apparent. This kayak’s movement is predictable. At the top of a wave it seems to wait for me to decide what to do. While the original Rockstar was twitchy, reacting to extremely subtle inputs, the newer version is more patient and highly controllable.

It will give you a good dose of air on a straight butt bounce or just as easily lay a nice, speedy carve across a wave face. You can quickly transfer one edge to the other and you’ll whip aerial blunts, cleans and pan ams with ease.

Less volume in the bow and stern and more around the paddler means I can slice ends into the water for easier cartwheels and still retain lots of pop for loops and similar tricks.

With continuous rocker compensating for the boat’s short length, the new Rockstar is as fast as ever on a wave.

As with any maturing rock star, the changes are more than just skin deep—internally, the boat has also evolved. A tighter knee and thigh area keep me in an aggressive, upright paddling position and the back band’s new cut feels secure and moves when I do.


Jackson’s inflatable bean bag Happy Feet fill the bow, and are removable for traditionalists like me who prefer a foam block. The Sweet Cheeks seat forms to a custom fit.

On my first ferry out towards a wave, I quickly realized that I felt really high—not in the way you might expect a rock star to be, but high out of the water— even with the Sweet Cheeks as low as they go. For beginners this extra height may be unnerving, since a higher center of gravity makes you more prone to tipping. Intermediate to advanced paddlers will enjoy that it allows for better visibility downstream and, more importantly for freestylers, more leverage for throwing tricks.

The Rockstar comes in three sizes, and if you’ve paddled an older version of this boat you might find yourself switching sizes. At 190 pounds I’m at the high end of the medium size, which fit perfectly in the original design. Being at the top of the weight range makes the boat easy to throw around while playing, but cumbersome for downriver moves—sizing up would easily solve that problem and help make wave and hole moves bigger too.

Like a lot of veteran rock stars, this updated freestyle design from Jackson is a more refined and polished performer. You can still expect high energy and big-air thrills, but now in a more predictable and controllable package.

This article on introducing friends to whitewater was published in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Rapid magazine.This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Rapid Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.


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