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Independent Review: Jackson Kayak Rocker

Jackson Kayak Rocker Review

Independent Playak Boat Review: Jackson Kayak Rocker.

Intro

The Rocker is Jackson Kayak's first offering in the creeking category, and it's a very competent entry- this should come as no surprise to Jackson fans. This boat features some truly innovative features while retaining classic lines. For me, its biggest standout is in the realm of outfitting- the seat features plastic-and-foam layering which provides a remarkable amount of butt-protection and hull stiffness, the outfitting uses ropes and cleats where other manufacturers use straps and ratchet-bands.

Jackson Kayak Rocker ReviewJackson Kayaks Rocker Review

Hype and specs

Official JK Hype: "The Rocker is a gift to creekers, making the lines easier, runs more predictable, and the river safer. The best way to characterize the Rocker is with “Wow, I'm ready, this boat doesn't take any real getting used to, it is easy to paddle.” The smooth lines, flaired sidewalls, ample stability, and low draft keep you right side up and in control without being pushed around. Add a really fast hull shape and length at 8' long, and you have the ultimate creeking kayak."

Jackson Kayak Rocker Review

Specs (see also the Playak Database):

Weight:

41.5 lbs (19 kg)

Length:

8'0" (244 cm)

Width:

25.5 inches (65 cm)

Height:

13.0 inches (34 cm)

Volume:

74.0 gallons (280 L)

Max Inseam:

40.0 inches (102 cm)

Max Foot:

Size 16.0 (mens)

Optimum Creeking Weight:

140-210 lbs

Cockpit Dimensions in inches:

21 x 36

Jackson Kayak Rocker Review

Expectations

For me, this boat was full of surprises- I expected something quite different.

I figured that from a boat called the rocker… that there would be more hull rocker, to be honest. Instead, the boat has a long waterline, low-deck sort of feel- this is a boat designed to track where you point it, carry speed, and punch through whatever's there.

Features

  • Crosslink, which is good solid plastic
  • Huuuge, open-feeling cockpit
  • Simple/innovative outfitting
  • Rope-and-cleat backband, bulkhead
  • No holes through the boat anywhere but the cockpit and the drain plug
  • Easy-to-grab handles

First look

The cockpit is wide-open, generous: very easy to get knees in and out, access to the rear is open, and getting in and out of this boat is simplicity itself. Sitting in the boat is quite comfortable as well: the seat is cush , the backband supportive. There's a rounded-out spot in the deck to either side of the cockpit (a little reminiscent of the Topo) to accommodate your knees, making thigh-hooks a redundant idea.

Jackson Kayak Rocker ReviewJackson Kayaks Rocker Review

The cockpit rim, and indeed, the whole top deck, is lower than comparable creekboats- the cockpit rim at the side of the seat is pretty close to even with the top of my hip bones, and the rocker profile also contributes to this- unlike other boats where the bow and stern are high, the decks of the rocker are low and ‘out of the way' feeling. It doesn't at all feel like it's a 74-gallon boat. In fact, it didn't feel like there was much bow out there in front of me. The generous cockpit and low deck profile made everything I did in terms of torso articulation incredibly free and uninhibited- I'd need a slinky for a spine to hit my ribs against the cockpit rim in this boat.

Jackson Kayak Rocker ReviewJackson Kayak Rocker Review

Looking at the rest of the boat, I was immediately struck by the sort of safety-oriented design I like to see in a creeker:

  • ample grab-loops in easy-to-grab pockets,
  • wide-open cockpit for easy egress
  • rounded bow and stern that won't ‘key' into bad spots.
  • A hull-supporting seat and pillar combination

On the water

The rocker drives a bit old-school for its size- it rewards intentional drive and goes where you point it. It tracks wide turns and doesn't particularly change in behavior when rolled on edge- it'll keep on tracking that same wide turn. To snap this boat into tight eddies, drive in early and get your weight forward. Negative points: without speed, you are flotsam, perhaps more so than most boats in this length class. Positive points: it's easy to carry speed.

My own paddling style and this boat were not the best match; I started paddling when boats started having edges and my first instinct in any boat is to use my rails to grab water and make turns or release my grab on a particular piece of water. The rocker, which doesn't have the sort of edges I crave, calls for an entirely different, tho equally fun, mode of operation- for best results, carry speed and use that speed to engage the long rail on oncoming water. The advantage to this rounded profile is pretty clear- you can rail off of just about any feature you like, you don't have grabby corners to manage.

As one might expect stability-wise, the rocker, with its progressively round hull profile, is all about secondary stability: as the boat heels over, more and more volume engages, resisting being on edge. It is, as you might expect, light in the primary stability department. This boat is ridiculously easy to roll. The round edges also provide stable tracking when the boat is at speed.

The Rocker is a smooth customer, a ‘driver's boat' in the vein of an old-school boat that goes where you point it, carries speed well, doesn't veer especially or do much in the way of auto-piloting for you. It's got a crisp, rigid and lively feel as it punches through/over oncoming water, and left to its own devices, will cut wide, open turns deep into eddies. I found that cutting tight-radius snap-turns into micro eddies required either perfect finesse, or brute force- If I had one complaint to register about this boat's handling, that would be it.

Given its long rocker profile and short length, boofing the rocker isn't automatic, but isn't particularly difficult either. While straight-off boofing is slightly more work than with a comparably-long boat, the rocker excels at boofing off of features by virtue of it's hard/slick feeling plastic, shallow draft, and agreeably round edges. These combine for a relatively shallow draft- you'll squeak over rocks others hit- and because the plastic is crosslink (crosslink is harder and stiffer than most plastics), the rocks you do hit you'll slide off pretty cleanly.

Jackson Kayak Rocker

Outfitting

The Rocker's outfitting is the revenge of lo-tech- it's simple, solid, brilliant. Where other designers have borrowed from snowboarding or surfing, Jackson takes a page from the sailboater's book- rope and cleats are simple, solid, failsafe, and damn, I wish I'd thought of that. There's nothing fiddly- pull the rope, set the cleat, and there you have it. Don't trust the cleat? Tie a knot. (I didn't experience any slippage, with or without the knot).

The range of adjustability vis-à-vis the backband and foot bulkhead is remarkable, perhaps too much so: it is pretty easy to set yourself up too far forward or aft by mistake. I did this, and ended up paddling a few rapids trimmed too far back in the boat, then I over-compensated and paddled a few more sitting too far forward before finding the sweet spot where the magic happened. With the outfitting too far forward, the boat felt tough to turn; with it too far back, I suffered in the speed department and the stern felt grabby. In the middle, speed and agility both improve dramatically.

Jackson Kayaks Rocker

The backband itself is another marvel of simple engineering; it employs the same principle as the z-drag does, meaning it's easy to get it snug.

The Rocker's seat may be unique among whitewater boat manufacturers; it is a sandwich made up of several layers of stiff plastic and foam. Although I didn't test it in any sort of scientific manner against a traditional molded seat for fail-safety or strength, it felt solid and is certainly innovative thinking.

Construction

  • Seat: foam on top of multi-layered plastic
  • Bulkhead on rails
  • Solid pillar
  • No holes through the hull (except for the one you want - the drain plug). Everywhere you see a screw on the outside, on the inside there's a nub of plastic, into which the screw is set.

The boat is remarkably light and stiff; at first blush, when picking the rocker up, I was a little surprised and skeptical- is this boat for real? Will it be strong enough? The short answer is: yes.

For all its generous structure, the shell remains somewhat flexy in places - particularly in the center between the seat and the pillar, where I observed a minimal amount of oil-canning.

Summary

‘Elegant' is the one-word summary of the Rocker. It combines clean lines, simple failsafe engineering, innovative thinking, and unobtrusive engineering all into a remarkably light and predictable-handling package.

Pro

  • Simple, elegant engineering
  • Great safety design:
  • Open cockpit
  • Easy-to-grab handles
  • Tracks and carries speed well
  • Crosslink- although not the most environmentally friendly of stuff, crosslink is great plastic to make boats out of.

Con

  • Handles like it's longer than it is
  • Less rocker than the name would suggest

For Playak,
Chris Joosse

About the test pilot

I'm 6'1”, tip the scales at 185lbs, and primarily paddle class V. I live in Seattle, WA and paddle there year-round. I am the product of new-school training and old-school mentoring; I like boats with chines and paddling with groups of tight buddies. I had to put on my ‘old school' hat to get the most fun out of this boat, but that was juust fine. For folks who want this style of boat, the Rocker is a treat.

See full product details in the Playak Buyers Guide

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