Taking the Jackson Karma Traverse 9 for a Spin
By: Ethan Boswell
I recently got the chance to take the Jackson Karma Traverse 9 out for a spin on an excellent run that tested its abilities as a so-called crossover kayak, and let me just say that this boat is way more than just a crossover. But before I get into the kayak, let me talk about the run.
Some buddies and I decided to paddle the West Fork of the Hood River as the gauge was reading around 5 feet. We were looking for a good, long day on the water, and decided to run all the way down to Marina near the Columbia River for a total distance of around 18 miles. To add icing to the cake, the forecast called for cold temps and lots of snow. For those not familiar, The West Fork of the Hood River is a classic run with fairly continuous class III-IV rapids, one portage around a fish ladder with some nasty hydraulics, and one class V drop called Punchbowl Falls.
As soon as we started driving to the put-in, the snow began and didn’t let up until we were off of the river and ready to run shuttle. We had a blast crushing out the first few miles of whitewater, just enjoying the scenery and the big, fluffy snowflakes that were absolutely mesmerizing. Once we got to Punchbowl Falls, my buddies decided they were going to portage down river right. I decided that traversing steep and slippery basalt covered in snow was probably more hazardous for my health, so I ran the drop.
Punchbowl Falls itself is pretty simple; an easy wavetrain that travels right of center leads to a 10 foot ledge drop with a fairly deep and retentive hydraulic. I decided to run the drop left of center with a delayed right boof, and I couldn’t have asked for a better line. After Punchbowl, we continued to hammer out the miles till we got to the takeout, with snow falling the entire time.
Now onto the kayak. I’ve been putting off paddling the Karma Traverse for quite some time, since I wasn’t interested in what was being marketed as a crossover kayak designed for paddling both flatwater and whitewater. But since having paddled this kayak multiple times, the first of which being this run on the Hood River, I have fallen in love with this boat. It is not like most other crossover kayaks I have paddled that give up whitewater performance in order to increase flatwater abilities. No, this kayak is a whitewater machine, capable of handling all but the hardest of rapids. In my opinion, it is more of a multi-day/self-support whitewater kayak than a crossover boat.
Due to my small stature, I paddled the Karma Traverse 9, which is the smaller of two sizes. Coming in at 9’8″ long, the kayak was definitely larger than I am used to but wasn’t unmanagable or unwieldly; and considering that so many 9′ long kayaks are being released, the size increase really doesn’t seem like that much. What really appealed to me was that it was 25.5″ wide, and with its swede-form hull, the kayak has a very slender view from the cockpit which makes vertical strokes dreamy. No need to worry about whacking the sides of this kayak with your paddle.
The kayak was wicked fast and tracked very well. Its tracking ability was definitely a double-edged sword, as the boat would occasionally try to spin out and it took a lot of effort to get it back on line, but that’s to be expected for a boat this long and narrow. The primary stability wasn’t excellent (it felt like a narrower kayak), but edge-to-edge transitions were easy and its secondary stability was fairly confidence inspiring. It also had a hatch, so loading it up with a bunch of gear was easy as can be, and the skeg made paddling any flatwater streches way more enjoyable. It is worth noting that this boat doesn’t boof very easy due to its length and moderate rocker, but its ability to stick to a line and maintain momentum far outweighed that aspect in my opinion. When running Punchbowl Falls, the Traverse tracked perfectly and sped through the wavetrain, maintaining momentum over the drop and skipping out with a ton of speed in the pool below.
All-in-all, I am very impressed by the Karma Traverse’s ability to perform in full-on whitewater. I believe that it is far more like a 9’8″ creek boat than it is any sort of crossover kayak. For me, this kayak would fill the role of a multi-day/self-support whitewater kayak, and I am looking forward to being able to paddle it as such.