Several Weeks ago I picked up my new 2007 Rocker and drove it back to Memphis just in time to fly with it to Costa Rica! Meeting up with team members Ben Stookesberry, Brad Sutton, and Mario Vargas I got to put the Rocker through some serious testing in a lot of different situations. Here's what I've found:
weight: 150 lbs
feet: size 8.5
When I hopped into the first 07 production Rocker, I found fitting in instantly easier than years before. This is something I didn't think would be possible. The new elastic cord holds the footbraces in place great! so cutting down the footbraces is no longer a science. It's quick and easy and the foam won't fall out. This made the footbrace outfitting super easy to setup. In the 2006 Rocker I used 10 shims to even feel like I had hip pads... this made keeping the shims together, even when glued, a bit of a problem. So for 2007 the hip pads come with a pocket for holding shims. I was a bit skeptical about them because I didn't think I would be able to fit enough shims into each pocket to fit. I was wrong. The shims fit in great, I only needed 6, and the hip pads felt a lot more stable. The newly redesigned backband feels a bit more comfortable... I was particularly impressed with the use of the O- rings instead of small biners. The O- rings allow a lot more force to be safety applied to the backband... not to mention, WAY more wear & tear resistant.
River Running Performance:
My first day in Costa Rica using the Rocker was in the upper gorge of the Pozo Azul. I immediately noticed that the new Rocker floats WAY higher and will go over just about anything. It boofs like a charm but is easy to control... not an easy combination. The first couple of rapids were pretty technical boulder gardens and the Rocker worked like a charm. The first waterfall we came to posed an interesting challenge. It was high enough that boofing may have hurt a bit, but a shallow rock blocked the lip. Two rock shelves converged onto the line and defined where we had to make it off the lip. So We decided to drive fast over the shallow rock for a boof and drop over the lip into a soft vertical landing. Normally, I would have been concerned about making it over the rock at the lip... I think most boats would have bottomed out on it, but the rocker floated over it so well that I didn't loose any speed going off the lip... I didn't even notice that rock shelf! Trying to compensate for my extra speed, I pitched a bit off the lip... but found the Rocker super easy to correct in mid-freefall. I simply tucked a little faster, bring the bow back up and tucked with a perfect pencil. The entry was smooth and the transition was smoother. I scooped out nicely underwater into forward speed and a GREAT, upright resurface. The resurfacing capabilities of the Rocker are AMAZING! All that just to say: The waterfalls capabilties of the Rocker have definitely improved! This boat is a waterfall machine! Hole punching was a breeze. When the Rio Patria juiced up with an extra 2 feet of water from overnight rains, the holes beefed up to say the least. A few times I found myself wondering if I could make the gap across the hole, but I found that the new Rocker just keeps going...straight through. It went over and under holes with ease, fully loaded down with 3 nights of expediiton gear. and when all else failed or all hell broke loose, it punched through HUGE holes and boils and seams without being thrown off line.
Big Water Performance:
Typically, a full on creeker isn't what you want in a big water environment. Playboats and other lower volume boats are nice for slicing under holes that are too big to boof over or punch through... going deep is many times a good thing. At first thought, the high volume Rocker wouldn't seem to handle stout flows very well. But after heavy rains on the Rio Patria brought the river up an extra 2 feet I got to put the Rocker through it's paces again, fully loaded with expedition gear and camra stuff, in a tight, technical, FULL-on environment where the moves really mattered and the water was really BIG. Amazingly enough, the Rocker handled it great, staying on line through huge holes and tremendous boils while floating right over everything that would normally throw a boat off line. Occasionally I found myself with momentum in the wrong direction where fast correction was needed to avoid a bad boulder choke or huge sieve. With the stakes set high in a must make environment, the Rocker adjusted pretty quickly with it's own momentum and I had no problems changing or correcting my line. When the already high volume of the Rio Patria finally met with the big flowin' Rio Sucio, the tight big water creeking gave way to BIG waves and munchy holes, just high volume, wide open big water. The Rocker handled the waves and holes great, punching through hole after hole with little notice... But the downstream speed of the Rocker didn't prevent it from being maneuverable, it still handled with ease. At times, HUGE boulders were just too close together or large holes were just too stacked and melting a steep, turbulent seam was the only way through the chaotic, chundering water. The Rocker stayed incredibly stable in those seams, maintaining it's forward speed like it didn't even notice. This was a very pleasant suprise. A few times for sure I thought I was about to get worked like you wouldn't believe, but instead I barely took a stroke and didn't get my head wet, and this was with a fully loaded boat!
The backband drops down with ease and no matter how tired I was from the day, getting out my gear was never a problem! I simply popped down the backband and pulled whatever I needed out of the stern. Loading my stern was just as easy! The bow is super accessible now, with the hinged footbraces allowing easy reach for your sandles or other gear. The Rocker is actually very light for a creeker so when it was loaded down with my overnight gear, rescue kit, and camra, it was very managable on hikes and portages... except when I couldn't even carry myself, but that wasn't the Rocker's fault ;-) When fully loaded, the Rocker floated me high and paddled just as well as it did without the gear. It tracked well with great forward momentum, but turned just as well for fast corrections in tricky spots where timing and details mattered. On my trip to Costa Rica, I was on two multi-day trips in a row, 3 days each with only one night inbetween....all class V and better. Those two trips lead me through tight, bouldery rapids similar to Upper Big Creek in NC, a locked in canyon with class V and V+ rapids stacked one after the other with little escape, through the shallow manky section of the upper part of the Rio Patria, and through the BIG water brawl of the post-rain lower Patria and Sucio. What I found was that no matter what environment I was in, the Rocker pulled me through and outperformed any boat I have ever paddled, even while fully loaded. It was nice to focus on the rapids and adventure without having to worry about the boat.
The Rio Patria gave me the opportunity to fully test the piton system. With rock flakes hidden behind waves and holes, sudden impacts were almost impossible to avoid. The good news is that my body never had to deal with the blow. The footbracing is the best I've tried at absorbing shock, preventing the ankle injuries common to kayakers. The outfitting is solid so you never have to worry about it failing at a bad time. The cockpit is large and the Rocker is stable so exiting with one or no hands free was never a problem. Most importantly, the Rocker is super easy to roll even in crazy boils and big water while fully loaded down with expedition gear.
I absolutely love this boat and stand behind it 300% as a high quality full on Creeker. I knew the new Rocker would be good throughout the design process, but it took this trip to show me how good it really is. I think Jackson Kayak has finally come through on a FULL-on HIGH quality creeker for the mid-sized paddler. Jackson Kayak has truly gone above and beyond on this one. This boat is going to rock the season!