Reviewed by Bill Vonnegut and Lily Kelsey

By Bill Vonnegut

Instead of just writing only my thoughts on this boat, I asked my friend Lily Kelsey to take it for a spin while we were paddling on the coast of Marin Ca so I could get her thoughts too.  For this review, we were doing coastal paddling and rock gardening. We have not had a chance to go surf it yet.


For a great Neptune’s Rangers video featuring a bunch of Karma RG’s in Mendocino Ca. Check out this link. Neptune’s Madness

Here are our thoughts about the Jackson Karma RG.

Another boat for me, I thought I had enough boats until I was able to check out the new Jackson Karma. I really enjoy kayak surfing long and short boats, but my real passion is rock gardening. So, I have been searching and trying many boats over the years that will not only, play well deep in the rocks, but be able to be paddled up and down the coast and have fun in any wave or feature that I may come across. My last two rock garden boats have been the Pyranha Fusion, witch was stolen, and my P&H Hammer, which I still have. These boats have done me well for the last few years and have been closer to the performance I am looking for in a coastal play and rock boat. But there were still some tweaks that needed to be made.


Photo by Cass Kalinski

What do you know, here comes the Jackson Karma! Honestly, my first thoughts about this boat were “seems like they took the small things that I did not like about my other boats and made them all go away, leaving the Karma with nothing left to change.”

  • It tracks well without the skeg and better with.
  • It has plenty of speed to get myself up or down the coast to the rock garden of my choice.
  • Low cockpit so I can lie back if I want.
  • Easily adjustable and comfortable outfitting.
  • Very stable in chaotic white water, not grabby at all
  • Plenty of stern volume to keep the boat from doing a backflip while exiting a pour over.
  • Leaning slightly forward on a pour over, the boat exits wonderfully as is shoots away staying on top of the cushy foam pile
  • Holds a line, but still easy to recover if you get off  line while doing a run over or through a feature
  • Rolls easily
Photo by Morris Ho

Photo by Morris Ho

I really love the way the Hammer surfs and think it still stands out as one of the best surfing sea kayaks out there. However, the nice sharp stern edges combined with lots of rocker that make the Hammer surf so well, causes the boat to grab and turn sideways as a wave approaches from behind. This tends to be a problem when trying to run a narrow slot or a pour over or even catch a breaking wave. The Karma’s stern is much less affected by white water hitting it, making it more user friendly and easier to control in these conditions, which is a major concern, especially in rock gardening.

Though it does not come stock with deck lines (to help with rescues), the hardware is there. I just rerouted the front bungee through one of the holes in the front fitting and looped a line through all six fittings.  Jackson is actually putting out an ocean kit with deck lines and such that will be available soon.

Photo by Morris Ho

Photo by Morris Ho

P.S. after some more paddle time:
The day the above photo was taken we had 5 Karma RG’s and a variety of sea kayaks out for a paddle on the coast. Winds were 20k plus and some good size surf a Rodeo beach. We headed a couple miles north into the wind and the Karmas had no problem keeping up with the sea kayaks, in fact I think we had much more fun every time we approached a rocky play spot.

Took the boat out in SF Bay on a windy day and decided to paddle up wind a few hundred yards and see how the Karma surfed wind waves. Going into the waves was fun, the Karma acted as a torpedo and just blasted through the waves with water exploding off the bow. Once I turned around, I found myself catching wave after wave and being able to stay on them long enough to surf/run down the wave at an angle. The whole time thinking that these would be to small to catch anything more than a quick pulse forward in my sea kayak. With the shorter boat and planing hull, the boat accelerates down and can maneuver on wind waves because the bow does not dig into the wave in front of you and slow the boat down.

And now I have had the chance to surf the Karma!!
Fun!! would sum it up. The boat has the speed to get the drop on any wave and enough edge to be able to control the direction and run up and down the face.

So far I have not found anything this boat will not do well!!

By Lily Kelsey

I’ve had a major challenge when it comes to finding boats that fit right for my needs. I’ve been trying out many of the “hot” boats lately in hopes of finding a boat that has a good fit with minimal adjustment. Cue in Jackson and their fantastic outfitting along with a boat designed for rock play and you have something that stands out as a “I must try this”.


I am about 5’4 and Bill is significantly taller than me, no problem, the seat quickly slides forward or backward by taking off one thumbscrew, then just pull a few strings and the bulk head moves forward providing a fully customizable and perfect fit for my feet (something I’ve struggled with for boats with locking pegs where my legs have either been in too tight but when backed off a notch they are a bit too far down). I was absolutely overjoyed to be able to custom fit the boat to myself in less than a minute with no screwdrivers, wonky body positions, or cuts on my hands.

Hopped on the water through small surf and the next thing that came to mind was control of the boat. As a long boat paddler, it took me a bit to figure out my stroke technique. I was paddling a slightly longer short boat before stealing Bill’s Karma RG for the rest of the day which allowed me to take a stroke very similar to what I do in my long boat. The karma required me to take multiple short power strokes much like other white water boats I’ve used to accelerate, once you’re moving forward the Karma RG holds speed and paddles through the water wonderfully. I needed to use a lot of skeg to keep myself tracking on the longer passages we made, but as my butt time increased, I started getting in a rhythm.



A big thing in the kayaking world seems to be boat width. The Karma RG is wide. For a short legged person, upon taking a seat, there was some concern about not having control or comfort with the width of the boat. That slight concern was proved null and void when I hit the water and did some paddling. The deck is lower so I had no problem reaching the thigh braces. The width surprised me as it provided me with leg positioning that allowed for control as well as stability. With my own Karma RG, I think I would stick in a bit of foam on the sides to give myself some better contact points, otherwise, I was very happy with the width with exception of the front of the boat. I did find that my 205 cm paddle was nearly too short to get a good stroke in because the bow is significantly wider than I had expected.




Ok, now on to the fun part, riding the pour overs and playing in the rocks. I had an absolute blast taking this boat over pour overs, if I had the time, I would probably still be out on the same rock feature today. I had multiple opportunities to take the pour over from different angles, experience good rides, not having enough water, rides with barely enough water, and everything in between. This boat handled everything amazingly. Having to back off a pour over was something that always made me nervous as longer boats tend to be less stable heading backwards in chaotic waters while in contact with uneven rock surfaces. The Karma handled backing off a pour over and riding the surge back out or having the pour over dry out superbly. I felt stable and in control with water, without water, and while the next set was hitting me and pushing me over. The karma does a lot of things well, but once you get it into the rocks, you can tell it’s in its element and is ready to perform. I had one moment where I was certain I was heading off sideways and would have to make a pretty significant brace to keep myself up, nope, the karma surprised me with her ability to stay on top of the water and flow gracefully over whatever it was given.



Needless to say, I really enjoyed taking this boat for a spin and would love to spend some more time playing in it. Overall, it has been born for rock play and gets you too and from the rocks with significant success and if you end up having a challenging surf landing, this boat side surfed like a dream. I was lying completely on my side at one point and found I was able to upright myself with minimal effort. Hopefully, next time we head out I’ll be fastest to the beach and can swipe Bill’s Karma again before he has a chance to hop in.