The Jackson Kayak Rock Star does indeed “live up to the legend.” From what I can tell, there are currently two designers in the industry producing solid freestyle boats, boats that keep raising the bar and making more tricks and bigger air possible. Eric Jackson (and his co-designer David Knight) has been in that position for years now (the other one, in my opinion, is Robert Peerson, designer of the Project X and much-anticipated Pyranha Jed). EJ has designed a few duds over the years, but ever since the Star series first came out, he’s been on a roll.
The Rock Star does it all- massive loops and airwheels, McNasties, Phonix Monkeys, air screws, clean blunts…. you name it. It has been my freestyle and competition boat of choice since it came out. There’s a reason so many of the best paddle the Rock Star- it’s an incredible boat.
Compared to the All Star, the Rock Star is a bit shorter, with a bit more volume in the stern. One of the first things you might notice hopping in the Rock Star is that your center of gravity is higher. This is no mistake. EJ intentionally made the stock seat for the rock star higher off the hull of the boat. For folks not used to it, it can make the boat feel a little tippy and harder to roll. BUT, if you are after maximum freestyle performance a higher center of gravity is super important!
I have been adding height to my seat for years now. Basically ever since air loops and their variations (McNasties, Space Godzillas, etc) became freestyle’s bread and butter, it’s been crucial to choose a hole boat with enough volume to offer maximum “pop.” Back when cartwheels won rodeos, it was all about squeezing into little boats. Now that amplitude wins rodeos, it’s usually the opposite. A huge part of why Stephen Wright is known for going so big (aside from being an amazing paddler) is that he’s a little guy in a big boat…. and guess what, he’s got an incredible amount of height added to his seat (maybe 10 inches??).
Choosing the properly sized freestyle boat is super important, and it’s not always easy. It’s great to have three sizes of Rock Star to choose from (Small, Medium and Large), but there are still lots of paddler weights that fall in between. For my size (155 lbs, 5’8″, 30-inch inseam, size 9 feet), the Medium Rock Star is a good size. It’s always a trade off- being light in the boat means huge airs, but it also means hard cartwheels and reduced wave performance. I typically prefer a smaller, narrower boat for waves, but the Medium Rock Star works well for me on a wave as well. But if you were maybe 135 lbs, you might enjoy the Medium for huge air in a hole but prefer the Small on a wave.
The other thing to keep in mind is that other freestyle designs, like the Project X, scale differently. Even though their specs are similar, I really found the Project X 56 (the mid size) to paddle bigger than the Medium. So if you hop in the Medium Rock Star and it feels a little too small, definitely try out the Project X 56.
-It’s the boat that many freestyle champions choose, for good reason
-Higher seat means higher performance and better leverage across the board
-Huge air in the holes, but still slicey
-Great outfitting. Much more easily customized than the Project X. No tools required to move the seat, and no holes in the hull, so this thing paddles dry!
-Some paddlers have a hard time adjusting to the higher seat, finding the boat tippy and harder to roll. If this is you, check out the Jackson Kayak Star Series, an incredible freestyle design in its own right
-Certain paddler weights may not have access to the maximum aerial potential of this boat, being to heavy for one size and too light for the next size up. This is of course true of any freestyle design these days.
Certainly on my “top three freestyle boats in the industry” list*. If you are looking for top freestyle performance, it would be a mistake not to seriously consider the Rock Star. Hop in this boat and take your freestyling to the next level.
*I’m guessing the top three for 2012 will be the Rock Star, Project X and Pyranha Jed, but I’ve got plenty of testing to do. I’m looking forward to trying them all side by side to see how I think they stack up against one another.