Villain S next to the Karma SHowever, the M was large for me and I had visions that if I were ever to get chundered it might be so large as to rag-doll me right out of any custom fitting I’d accomplished. Regardless, with the “M” I discovered just how great the Karma’s design is. But, being accustomed to smaller boats, I decided I might fit and still be confident in the smaller Karma “S”, which is 14 gallons smaller. So, I called the experts down at Four Corners River Sports for another purchase. They have the most awesome store and know boating better than any others. It’s generally considered ideal to be more in the low to middle of a boat’s weight range, but I went into the Karma S purchase knowing that I would be at the top end of the weight range, that I would weigh it down in the water deeper, and that I might likely face a different kind of challenge with outfitting it for my size. I read the JK website that suggested trying the two furthest back seat positions for starters. After all, that was the correct position for me in the M. However, upon trying the seat in the back two positions on my first few bitterly cold days boating with it, I was feeling stern heavy, less stable than in the M, and a bit confined and tense. I began to wonder if I was too big for the S. So, I went about having fun with my customizing ideas. Here’s what I’ve done to my boat. I removed the nearly 3/4 inch thick seat pad and replaced it with a 1/8th inch pad, lowering my center of gravity and giving me more leg room. I sculpted my own hip pads and thigh hooks and installed them (I now have the original seat cushion and hip pads in brand new condition to reinstall if I ever choose to sell the boat). I also reduced the thickness of the knee pockets padding down from a ½ inch to 1/8th inch. In all I gained about an inch of height room inside for my legs to be at a more powerful and comfortable angle for my size. Remember, I am at the very top end of the size range for this 72 gallon boat. The fit is excellent for me now. Even though I’m at the top end of its recommended weight range, I love its comfort and performance.
Ken’s custom outfittingNaturally, the smaller boat has made me feel more agile compared to the massive M size that I had superbly enjoyed previously. But, I was challenged with the task of identifying the ideal seat position for me in the S. It turned out that all the way forward is the best location for my weight in the S. Anyone in the bottom or middle of the recommended weight range will find the seat near the rear ideal (like it was for me in the M), because of the substantial volume in the stern of these boats. I was able to confirm this seat position theory one day when a petite gal, who had been demoing a Mamba that day, asked to try out my boat. I suspected my forward seat position was not going to be appropriate for her 117 pound stature and I wanted to adjust it before she got in, but she insisted I not bother since we were the same height. Sure enough, within her short test drive it was evident that she was fighting to steer it, looked and felt frustratingly unstable, and nervously wanted out. I had anticipated this and apologized for allowing her to prove me right. I then convinced her to let me move the seat to the rear (which requires no tools and only takes about thirty seconds to adjust) and give it another chance. She got back in and … Shazaam! An instant smile came upon her face as she felt naturally stable and confidently paddled up towards the top of the eddy, tracked a ferry across the river with ease, arced beautiful and effortless turns in and out of an eddy, and darted back across to where I stood observing. She was relaxed, smiling, and expressed that she wanted to buy a Karma S then. Again, it proved just how critical seat placement is, especially in these high-performance Jackson boats. So, time now for some bottom line comparisons. There is a big jump in size from the Karma S to the M … Fourteen gallons! That leaves a guy like me deciding between being at the bottom end of a recommended weight range or being at the very top end. As you may know, the smaller Jackson team guys, which probably paddle 300+ days a year and make everything seem easy, generally choose the M size for their big water preference. Naturally, because the M is longer, wider, and taller, it’s going to be even more stable than the smaller S. Nonetheless, after having owned both an M and the S, I have found the S to my preferred liking. For my size, after customizing the outfitting, the S has proven to be perfectly large enough for me, is more secure fitting, is more agile, and is incredibly stable. It will be even more so for anyone smaller than me. The only thing the smaller S size doesn’t afford me (at my 155 lbs.) is the luxury of hauling loads of expedition gear in it. For that I would be better off in the M. The fact is that the Karma series is the top boat design. Choosing the appropriate size is the only question. As far as offering size recommendations, it’s obvious to go to the next larger size if you already weigh near the top end of a recommended range and intend to usually haul much additional gear weight. Otherwise choose the smaller if you are in the low to middle of the weight range, or not intending to boat with much additional gear weight. Regardless of which size selected, you should know that all of the Karma boats actually drive like they’re smaller. Their performance is smooth, accurate, delightful, and super stable … providing fun and confidence. My conclusion: I confess that I like the Karma even more than my very much loved Villain S or any of the other kayaks that I’ve experienced during the past 34 years of boat designs. Jackson has designed in the absolute best performance with the Karma. To fully appreciate their top performance, I’ve enjoyed doing custom outfitting and gained great insight into dialing in the boat’s sweet spot. It is without a doubt that when I look at boats like the Shiva, Burn, and Recon … while all good boats … I find the Karma’s asymmetrical shape, perfect rocker and sidewall profile, light weight, and superior performance to be the complete best design out there. Jackson has put it all together better than the others. In my opinion, the Karma can provide river runners and creek boaters the highest level of confidence and success. The boat is the best! My advice is to visit Four Corners River Sports to buy a Karma and then go enjoy the rivers with greater confidence and fun. Boat early, boat often, and enjoy good Karma. See you on the river. Ken Vanatta Click here to shop now!