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2013 Jackson Kayak All Star Review

- Tuesday September 25, 2012
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So I've been a pretty big fan of Jackson Kayak playboats for a while and have owned several including a 2011 Superstar, 2012 Rockstar M, 2011 Rockstar Large, 2011 Rockstar Small and I've paddled a 2008 Superstar. What I'm getting at is that I've been around. That being said at 6'1", 175 lbs and a 32" inseam... they never really felt like they fit me just right. A little too big for the Mediums and too small for the Larges. Woe is me right? Anyway, needless to say I was super stoked about trying out the new, slightly larger, 2013 All Star. For you bigger guys/gals, Mike did a quick review on the new 2013 Super Star here. 

The new All Star is part of the revamping of the hugely popular and successful Star Series that Eric Jackson and company introduced back in 2004. The series has undergone a couple of great changes since then with the last one being in 2010. The jist of that is that a revision of the Star Series is a big deal for the Jacksons and their customers.

Some of the differences between the 2010+ Stars and the new 2013 lineup being touted are slightly larger, looser, faster and more user friendly. The emphasis on being the most user friendly playboat they've come out with comes from their introduction of the Rockstar in 2011. This is a fantastic boat and successful playboat that they are still selling but a little more experience is needed to feel comfortable in one. Anyway, brief history lesson over. For more info about the current product offerings, check out

Now a few weeks ago I had told Wesley Bradley, who runs the Jackson Action Wagon (J.A.W.) demo fleet that I wanted first dibs on a demo of the new All Star. Wesley is the Tri-Cities World Kayak Ambassador & on Team Jackson Kayak. That was then, but this particular weekend I was taking it easy. Well, I woke up Saturday morning to a message from Wesley saying that a brand spanking new All Star was available for me at the Ocoee on Sunday if I wanted to give it a go. My answer: /sigh Hell yeah, let's do this! So my wife, our dog Willow and I jumped in the car EARLY Sunday morning and headed to the Ocoee!

Upon arriving at the Ocoee put-in, I looked around and spied the bright orange color scheme from halfway across the parking lot. We did a lot of posts about the recent 2012 ICF World Cup and I was very familiar with their team color. Upon closer inspection, I finally see what they are refering to when they say it is sexy. It really kinda is with it's slightly longer shape and smooth curves. The whole boat looks longer and flater when compared to a Rockstar or older All Star. The numbers back up that with the new All Star coming in at 1.5 additional gallons and 1.5 inches longer than the Rockstar M I have been paddling. The integrated GoPro mount on the bow is pretty neat as well and I'm sure it will be being used for some cool shots soon.

For the outfitting, Jackson has gone back to foam for the bow like they have the 2012 Rockstars. The foam is on layers on a cord and just take off layers until you get to the right fit. In my particular case and being tall with only a few minutes to adjust the outfitting (and it is a demo boat, not mine), I just took out the foam and threw in a small Happy Feet that I had with me. For the seat, there was a Happy Seat 200 in it. I could tell immediately that it was a tight fit and I cursed to myself that I didn't bring a 100 size seat with me. Oh well, I would deal with it.

Now for the knee position, if you are used to the previous Star Series and Rockstars, it is going to take a bit to get used to. The knee position has been lowered a bit, more like it was in the 2007-2009 models. Not quite as low but definitely a noticeable difference from their current playboats. I've never been in a Jackson Kayak Fun Runner, but Wesley told me that the knee position was similar so it's all about what you're used to. Give it a few sessions regardless and you will feel right at home.

The other main part of the Jackson outfitting is the back band. I'm sure most of you Rockstar owners will wence a bit when I mention the side burn. You know what I'm talking about. The Rockstar back band cords will eventually rub you a bit raw on the side if you're not careful but I'm happy to report that it has been fixed. In fact everything about the newer backband felt better. More comfortable, more supportive, all good. I left the seat position at neutral since I hadn't had it on the water yet and was ready to go.

I know you're probably thinking by now, my god man, get to how it did on the water. I'll go ahead and forewarn you that this is going to be a bit more biased towards the river running aspect of it because I had only one kinda bomb run on the Middle Ocoee and didn't get to play a lot. That being said, spins were had, Hell Hole was surfed, etc. So read along.

We put in and I immeditaely headed towards the White Face boof rock above Grumpy's rapid. I personally like to boof my playboats as it feels great to get some good air. I immediately noticed how well the new All Star tracks and cuts through the water. Definitely made keeping on target in the swirly water much easier than my medium Rockstar. The boat also felt very stable despite my slight uneasiness about my current lackluster outfitting and Sweet Cheeks 200 squishing me in.

Things went well until I started to play some at Staging Eddy. I threw the nose down, went for a wavewheel/cartwheel and ended up upside down. This was my first roll attempt and when I went for it, bam, my leg came out of the thigh hook. I was looking at a possible swim at Staging Eddy. STAGING EDDY. For those of you familiar with the Ocoee, you can feel my pain. Swimming out of the brand new playboat I was testing was not part of my plan. Thankfully I managed to kinda get my leg back in and roll up. Immediately I paddled to the side, took out the Happy Seat and shoved it in the stern. That new larger stern is good for swallowing up gear (or float bags if you're smart/part of the swim team). I spoke with Jen, Wesley's wife who was paddling the Star and she had the exact same problem. I ended up just sitting on a spare hydroskin shirt I had brought along and wow, I felt better. Clearly the Sweet Cheeks 200 is not a good thing to package along with the Star and I am definitely in favor of a normal seat pad or at very least, a Sweet Cheeks 100. I understand this is still being discussed at the Jackson Factory and hopefully they will come to the same conclusion as we and other Jackson team members have when the Stars go on sale in retail outlets.

Now that I was somewhat comfortable, things were much better. Despite the Jackson Kayak thigh hooks always being smaller than I prefer, I felt much more locked in. I do wish that they would put adjustable ones in there but I am told it is a safety concious thing. I say leave that to the user to decide, but oh well.

After running through a few of the bigger rapids on the Ocoee and taking a creeky line after Broken Nose because of a fallen tree, I really noticed how much better of a river runner the All Star is compared to the older Star Series and especially the Rockstar, which is more of a park and play boat. That little bit of extra length and volume in the stern makes it SO much better at river running. I barely had to brace all the way down the Ocoee. The higher parting line on the boat allows for a large margin of error when on edge. Bow stalls and stern stalls felt more balanced as well and the ends come around with ease. The boat just feels like it is perfectly balanced.

We stopped at Hell Hole for a few surfing sessions. I can definitely confirm that this boat is FAST. My first time out, I carved straight out of the side of the wave because of the speed. Once I figured out it was on tap, it was a blast. The looseness and release of the boat is pretty incredible as well. It could spin very easily and just jumps out of the water. Bounces in the hole literally felt like they were twice as high as in my Rockstar. Blunts, air blunts and more if you're a better playboater than I, are easily accessbile. Again, despite the larger stern, I never felt like it was in the way or that there was too much of it. I even managed to back loop it on my first try, which should tell you something.

So what is my conclusion? The new All Star is a fantastic boat and great addition/revision to the Jackson fleet and the Star Series family. If you want a strictly park and play boat and can fit well in a Rockstar, you might consider one of those. If you like to be able to run the river, play along the way AND compete toe to toe with the Rockstars and other playboats at the park and play spots, the new All Star is your boat. Matter of fact the Jackson Team athletes just did awesome in the World Cup and that is competing with special composite boats from Europe. Of course Dane Jackson is a kayaking ninja but he came in second place overall in his new Star. Don't think any other creditionals are necessary. If you are in the market for a playboat, get to a dealer and try one out. You will not be dissapointed. 

Stay tuned for some more thoughts about it's hole-playing ability and video soon!



- Very loose on a wave.

- Very fast on the wave and a bit faster than other models on flatwater.

- Quick release. Really helps you get off the water even on smaller waves.

- Serious upgrade on river running ability if coming from a Rockstar and even better than the older Star Series.

- More user-friendly and confidence inspiring.

- Backband is better all around and no more raw sides.


- Seat padding is up in the air at the moment. I'm hoping that they package a normal seat pad like is in a Jackson Hero or at least a Sweet Cheeks 100. Sweet Cheeks 200 is a no go

- This is not a con per say but the cockpit rim and seat position is lower than 2010+ models and Rockstars so will take a few sessions to get used to. It's fine once you're used to it and some people prefer it. Similar but not quite as low as 2007-2009 Star Series models.

- My personal preference is for more thigh hook. It's a personal thing and you can always outfit a bit for more of a hook if you feel you need it. Not necessary by any means.

For more information about the new 2013 Jackson All Star, check out the promo video  and EJ's review below. 


- Eric Jackson reviews the new All Star

- Check out for even more info.

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