Friday, August 15, 2014

Jackson Karma RG (Rock Garden) - Review by JF Marleau

A huge thanks to JF Marleau for taking the time to get out in the Karma RG on the West Coast of Vancouver Island near his home in Ucluelet and providing this review.  JF is a kayaking guide, an instructor and a co-owner of SKILS (Sea Kayak Instruction and Leadership Systems).  He is also a member of the Kokatat Regional Team.

The first day I was surfing the Karma RG was with whales around the surf zone. Unfortunately, the photos are not great of the Karma RG and the gray whales.

Coming from a sea kayak surf kayaking background, this kayak is a new paradigm. I had some very fun surf sessions with this ultra maneuverable kayak.


I felt extremely comfortable in the Karma RG. I am 6.1 and 220 pounds. I love the easy and quick adjustments for a tight but comfortable fit provided with the Karma RG. Furthermore, I like how the foot rest absorbs the shock while I am vertical facing downward.

I like a lot the low back deck that makes rolling very easy.

A female friend of mine, 5.5 and 145 pounds tried the Karma RG and it was too big for her despite all the adjustments possible and the addition of extra padding. At this point JK is not planning to offer a smaller version of the Karma RG to cater to smaller people. I have a feeling that this kayak will be successful among kayakers and consequently this could possibly change.

Form and Performance

The shape of the kayak makes it ultra maneuverable. The speed of this kayak is slow when compared to a regular sea kayak but faster than some other whitewater kayaks.

It does track well and hold a line very well in the surf. Sea kayakers surfing long kayaks will need to adapt their wave selection as the Karma RG’s length and capability to catch small waves is different.

The heavy duty Go Pro mount is very reliable and solid. You can rely on them. This is refreshing as I have seen many failures of Go Pro Mounts in rough waters.

The whirlpool handles are so handy in assisted rescues or in case you swim with your kayak. This feature is great. I also have this feature on my sea kayaks. I recommend to anybody with a sea kayak to get whirlpool handles ,it makes rescues easier and save your fingers and hands from possible injuries.

Jackson Kayak has improved the tightness of the hatch cover from their first prototype for the mass production of the Karma RG. Despite having good hatches covers, it is recommended to ensure you have proper floatation in your hatch (s). The Karma RG has only a rear hatch. My experience over the years tells me nothing in kayaking is dry if you challenge rough enough conditions.

Like other whitewater kayaks, it has a drain plug. When I was emptying it in the hard sand, the drain plug hole was buried. This is not a big deal. Ideally for my needs I wish the drain plug was 1 or 2 inches higher.

This kayak has a lot of metal safety brackets. I was impressed to see so many of them. This feature makes it easy to lock your kayak where it's likely to be stolen.

The handles to carry the kayak were comfortable which makes long distance carry much more enjoyable.


I only used the kayak during 3 sessions in the surf due to my busy work schedule. Unfortunately the surf was not great. I wish I had time to use it for rock gardening. This Ocean Play Boat is very versatile for surfing, rock gardening and also for the river or overnight trip. I have to admit the very large stern hatch provides a substantial amount of storage for overnight camping on the ocean or the river. If I was guiding, teaching or acting as safety kayaker, I would love to use this kayak to carry extra safety equipment. Furthermore, the large stern hatch allows for typical sea kayak rescues like the T-Rescue.

Calling it RG (for rock garden) might influence people to think it’s only for rock gardening. Believe me, this ocean play boat is very versatile. I truly enjoyed playing with it.


  1. Funny, I just read about this boat in Adventure Kayak magazine and there's JF doing this review! I'm doing a 4 day trip on the Kootenay River using my Diesel 6 as an escort boat for a bunch of canoes. Class 2 and 3. I thought this might be the perfect kayak for that trip!

    Steve Crevier
    Kayak guide and teacher

  2. Steve, we may have our demo (the one in the review) for sale by the end of September, beginning of October.


Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin