By Kira M. Lang ~
Paddlesports has quickly become a favorite pastime for many. Kayaking in particular offers a broad spectrum of ways to enjoy time on the water. In Shark River, we enjoy mostly recreation kayaking, but there is a big world of kayaking out there!
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Eric Jackson, founder and designer of the well-known brand of kayaks, Jackson Kayak. He is a world champion freestyle and slalom kayaker. His company has various designs for a variety of styles of kayaking, such as whitewater, kids and youth, exploration and recreation, and fishing kayaks.
A chat with EJ:
KL: Have you ever fished in saltwater from a kayak?
EJ: I fish for redfish in the bayou sometimes and have competed in the World Adventure Kayak Fishing Championships down there (2nd place). I use my Jackson Kayak “Kraken” for that. Super fun!! I am also paddling from Florida to the Bahamas in my fishing kayak with a friend of mine next summer and will be fishing a variety of styles along the way and then when I arrive in the islands.
KL: When you are paddling, do you find there is a spiritual element for you?
EJ: Always have found that when on the water I am a zone that can’t be duplicated easily any other way. I am focused on the moment, in tune with my surroundings, and life outside of the kayak disappears.
KL: When you were in the beginning stages of planning and developing your kayak business, did you envision it becoming what it is today?
Not really, and yes….I had a strong vision of how the whitewater kayak part of my business would go, but the fishing kayak side has taken a much stronger part of the business than I expected and this is a very welcome, positive thing. I LOVE fishing and am using this part of the business to expand my personal athletics from kayaking to fishing, something I am very fired up on!
KL: For every idea you have for a kayak improvement, on average, how many prototypes does it take before you reach your vision?
For whitewater kayaks, rarely do I do prototypes. I know what I want and my design partner, David Knight and I usually nail it on the first try. For fishing kayaks, we have an expanded design team that will make up to 7 prototypes if necessary and really focus on tweaking the little things. Different process, but same outcome, we are happy with the final result and they tend to get the real enthusiasts fired up too.
KL: I read Jessie Stone’s blog post about her 15th year of leading summer camp for kids at Graham Windham School in NYC. What an incredible opportunity for kids who would otherwise never have the chance to kayak! Do you envision expanding this philanthropic endeavor?
EJ: This is a very intense week of instruction that I do with Jessie each year. The offer by this particular School is to make it a three-week program for more kids. I don’t have time to pull that off, and neither does Jessie. We plan on keeping it like it is right now- 1 week/year. It would be awesome to find a way to expand it, however, but it isn’t scalable the way we do it. It really needs very high-level instructors/leaders to manage the kids, teach them to swim, then kayak, and keep them in line and safe. Jessie scaled her clinic in Uganda successfully, however, and treated over 30,000 patients last year!