By Thomas ‘Riv’ Lyons
Diamonds are formed from pressure, steel is formed in the furnace, and Jackson Kayaks are formed from a blend of cross-linked HDPE plastic material.
Of course, it’s not so simple, Jackson Kayak sales representative Rob Yager told Zoar recently.
Yager, who’s toured the Tennessee factory site, says the to-be boats first arrive in huge “barrels of sand-looking product in custom colors.” The plastic is heated and poured into $100,000 cast aluminum molds before entering a “roto-molding” (“rotisserie-chicken-style-molding,” Yager clarifies) process that heats and cools the boat until solid formation.
This HDPE plastic, though pricier, is stronger and more durable than other types; still, there’s a five minute window in the rotisserie that, if missed, can under or over cook the boat’s plastic, the company website reports.
Then, engineers test the kayak for uniform thickness using a special, ultrasound laser device. After this doctor’s-office-meets-boat-exacting process, the kayak heads to the initial cutting and trimming stage for further modifications.
At assembly, employees add seats and brackets at different stations for whitewater and fishing boats. The company has grown immensely from it’s start in 2003, and now employs over 150 people at the factory, the company website says.
Yager estimates tens of thousands of kayaks are produced this way at the Sparta, TN site by some of the best minds in kayak design craft. Yager says engineer Tommy Lee shapes kayaks with blocks of foam — “like Michaelangelo’s Statue of David.” Whereas engineer David Knight prefers an approach based in modern computer imaging.
From imagination to prototype, employees and guest kayakers test the completed fiberglass models, Yager reported. All this work and continued checks are vitally important to the brand.
“Build it like it’s yours,” reads the company motto in the factory.
“Every boat is more comfortable than the previous generation,” Yager said. The recent Gnarvana series, for example, added rockers and a bluntness to the boat’s front, leaving the back more triangular for better stability. The boat boasts the highest shock absorbing system on the market, yet is still highly maneuverable. Pair it with a Lucky Charm Sprayskirt and a Werner paddle, and you’re ready to command your own adventure.
Yager describes his position as that of a “private investigator, communicating with shops and imagining the possible desired functions of a new boat.”
From his perspective as an intermediary between outfitters and Jackson, Yager said demand climbed during the pandemic as more and more people discovered kayaking as a socially distant way to enjoy outdoor fun with others.
Yager works with outfitters from West Virginia to Nova Scotia, Delaware to Alberta, and says Jackson has distributors in as far away waters as Costa Rica, Spain, and Japan.
But you don’t have to travel overseas to get one of these unique crafts. Zoar sells many Jackson Kayaks in our outfitter shop. In addition to the Gnarvana series mentioned above, Zoar offers sales on the 2022 Antix 2.0 series, the Gnarvana’s predecessor Nirvana 2022, and the Zen 3 line. The Zen 3 was one of Jackson’s first introductions of the Bees Knees Thigh Hook System, which gives kayakers a better knee fit and secure feel.
Jackson also just released the Rockstar 5.0, perfect for freestyling and playboating. It’s got double rails, a looser hull for spins, increased foot room and knee space, and all of the shock-absorbing, seat-adjusting, and backband-locking Jackson is known for. Kayaks can be ordered from the outfitters store online, or come down to Charlemont and try them on for size!
If you’re at the start of your kayaking journey, many guests enjoy our paddlesport clinics with the kayaking team. Or, if you’re already an instructor or wish to become one, Zoar also offers ACA certification and recertification courses — the “gold standard” of American whitewater kayaking.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with any Jackson model. Come out to the Berkshires, and find your way to the advanced Dryway section, or the more beginner-friendly Fife Brook section. Book a paddlesport clinic or swing by the outfitter’s shop — we’ll be more than happy to help you find a boat that was built like it was our own.