Alright, let’s get this out of the way. Since the release of the the new Jackson Gnarvana, there’s been a lot of chatter online about how unsexy it is. Sure, it has a big wide bow that may not be as visually appealing as say the deck lines of the Scorch. Sure, a few more sculpted deck lines on the bow would have been cool, but would it have changed how well the Gnarvana paddles? Probably not. We recently held the Gnarvana launch party at the annual Baileyfest in Bailey Colorado on the N.F. South Platte River. I spent the next day paddling the Gnarvana in the Class III-V rapids on this 10.5 mile canyon, flow was 520cfs.
The first thing you notice (after the bow) is that this boat has a ton of rocker. I found it to boof easily and ride up and over every hole I pointed it at, and as this was a test run, I aimed at almost every hole out there. I have really been enjoying the latest crop of creek boats with this type of high rockered bows, it keeps the boat on top of the water and in doing so keeps the boat from being affected by the underwater currents, which in turn, keeps you right side up and in control. The high rockered ends also allow quick changes to the boats angle and direction. It is not like a lot of the 9’ race type creekers out there that once locked on a line can be hard to adjust at the last minute. I am not a fast paddler and struggled a bit with the go-fast type creekers like the Phantom that need to be driven to perform as they were meant to. I like a boat that is easy to turn and can get up to speed in a few strokes, the Gnarvana did this very well, which was great because it had been a couple years since my last Bailey lap and I definitely did not remember all the lines.
The hull on the Gnarvana has a very different feel to it than the Nirvana it replaces. Gone are the stepped and raised chines of the old boat, the is now a nice sharp chine that runs under the central part of the hull and softens at the ends, keeping it from being grabby in swirlies, but making it snap quickly in and out of eddies. The secondary stability of this design is fantastic, I was able to lean the hell out of the Gnarvana without it going over, it was really impressive. I believe this is due to the flared sidewall design of the hull. The narrower stern design, paired with the awesome secondary stability, really allows you to keep the hull dry and riding up and over features when on edge.
A few things of note. The cockpit has a textured feel to it to help keep skirts from imploding, nice touch. Bees knees are standard and a simple, but effective way to feel locked in. Seat/backband/bulkhead are classic Jackson, people tend to either love it or hate it, I personally love it, and there is no denying that anyone can outfit the boat in about 2 minutes without using any tools. The drain plug has a large recessed area that makes it very easy the thread on and off. The grab handles are large, aluminum and well placed. There is a molded in section just behind the seat that locks in the rear pilar which is a great safety feature. It would have been cool to see this in the bow as well, it might have even added some appeal to the front lines. As it is the bow pilar is secured by a front plastic beam as it was on the Nirvana, a solid set up.
At the end of the day, does it really matter what your boat looks like, or is it actually about how it performs? Because this boat definitely performs; it was a fun and confidence inspiring kayak that certainly holds its own against the competition. I kept my head dry all weekend, including my runs on the big rapid, Super Max. I look forward to spending more time in the Gnarvana really dialing it in.