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Gear Review: Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak - Next Adventure

Gear Review: Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak

In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to paddle Jackson’s newest boat in their lineup, the Gnarvana. As many know, this replaces the long-standing Jackson Nirvana that has been out for over 6 years. The Nirvana was designed as a racing creek boat and was definitely one of the fastest models out there. The Gnarvana on the other hand seems to be designed to handle more challenging whitewater. That’s not to say that I can’t see this kayak winning some races, though looking at the specs alone, it is shorter and wider and has less water line than the Nirvana.

Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak

The first thing to talk about on the Gnarvana is the bow. Don’t let it fool ya! I’ve heard some say it looks pretty plain and bulbous up there, but man the bow on this boat is a total weapon. It is honestly the one feature that stands this boat apart from others on the market. Yes, this boat has a ton or rocker, which is awesome. It allows you to get up and over holes, crush through waves without losing speed, and skip out of drops and plane over the water with speed. Though rocker alone is not the secret to the Gnarvana bow. I’m no boat designer so all I can say is the width, volume, and flare of the bow, combined with the progressive rocker offers an amazing experience. When the bow hits a big hole or goes over a drop, it helps lift the rest of the boat and it feels like you're levitating. Instead of crushing through a hole or piercing it, the boat floats up high giving you the utmost control, preventing your edges from getting locked into the feature. On continuous action-packed whitewater, it has the ability to float up and over features and not get bogged down. It’s as if it was pouring down rain while driving a car but for some reason, you don't need the windshield wipers. Enough said!

In contrast, the stern of the Gnarvana is the narrowest point of the boat. We’ve seen similar designs in recent years, and what this allows is the utmost maneuverability, especially when the boat is way out on edge. It can allow you to “pump” before throwing a late boof stroke, really utilizing all dimensions of the kayak.

Next, I’ll talk about the edge profile and stability. Like most Jackson kayaks, the initial stability is superb. This adds to the confidence-inspiring feel of the boat. When putting it on edge though, it doesn't take long to hit a bit of a bumper where it feels like it wants you to stop leaning. The chine almost feels like it has gutter guards on it like in a bowling alley. I’ve found this to be helpful in dynamic water, yet also it's taken some getting used to because I’m used to leaning very far over to carve. When it comes to carving this boat is not going to feel as sharp as something like a Ripper or a Scorch. It is definitely easy to control, though it doesn't have the snappiness when laid out on its edge that some designs out there are going for. This boat does track really well, especially for a boat with a ton of rocker.

Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak

There are plenty of other features that I like about the boat, though they are true for almost all Jackson Kayaks at this point. They are lightweight compared to most manufacturers. The boats are easy to carry and shoulder down to the river due to the rounded cockpit rim and carry handle near the bulkhead. The outfitting is incredibly easy to adjust! The bulkhead, backband, and seat position can all be adjusted while in your boat or at the put-in. The large metal grab loops on the boat are sturdy and positioned correctly for taking care of a swimmer on the stern.

Overall, the Gnarvana is one of my favorite creek boats on the market right now. This is a huge upgrade from Jackson's last creek boat, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing a bunch of these on a river near you soon. When it comes to creek boats this will be an easy choice as a quiver of one if you're looking for something to give you a confidence-inspiring ride while offering a fun paddling experience and ease of use when it comes to maneuverability.

Jackson Gnarvana Whitewater Kayak

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