By Eric Jackson
My first 3 seconds in the new Mega Rocker
Evolution of our own designs: 2007 When I started Jackson Kayak, my plan was to redesign our key boats every three years. A three year lifecycle and then make a new version. We brought an entirely new concept to the kayak industry- evolution of a design. While our competitors were also designing new boats, they started from scratch and made a new model, new name and were often going from one concept to another, but rarely fine tuning a concept/design. I looked at the auto industry, the computer industry, phones, etc. and it seemed to me that it is easier to evolve than to recreate yourself every time you want to make something new. Today it is a common occurrence (iPhone 3,4,5,6 7 etc.) (Ford F 150- 2004, 2009, 2015, etc.) Well, in 2007, David and I redesigned the Fun Series, the Star Series, and the Rocker Series. This was a major breakthrough year for Jackson Kayak. The new All-Star, besides Ruth, Emily, and I winning the World Championships in them on Buseater Wave on the Ottawa and silencing the “EJ and Jackson Kayak are for holes” crowd, took the play boat to the next level. We also added the “Shooting Star” to the mix, for Dane, keeping him in a current model for his size kayak as he was outgrowing the Fun 1.
EJ on Silencio
We launched the Rocker Series and the Mega-Rocker, the biggest creek boat yet, was the first out of the mold and just in time for one of the most productive creek expeditions in recent times, the Alseseca River Expedition in Mexico lead by Ben Stookesberry. Nick Troutman and I flew to Mexico with Mega Rockers and I brought one for Jesse Coombs as well. Jesse dislocated his shoulder on “S-Turn” rapid on day 1. The other paddlers spent the remainder of the trip trying to get dibs on his MegaRocker. This boat flew over holes that other creek boats were getting stuff in. It was high water on this first descent of the Alseseca and we were carrying lots of gear, including overnight stuff, and a 200′ climbing rope. It was obvious that the Mega Rocker handled the big water, and the terrible holes that loomed at the bottom of so many drops. By the time we completed the first full descent of the Alseseca, opening up what is now one of the most popular creeking sections anywhere, the “Big Banana” and multiple other popular sections, as well as sections that nobody really wants to revisit, like the “Cave section”, the Mega Rocker got a great kick off and was truly put to the test. The 2007 Fun Series was also a huge hit. I won USA Team Trials on Garberator Wave in the 2007 Fun, a testament to its wave surfing ability. With each of these redesigns of existing models, we improved what our team and customers were hoping we could, and the result was that our brand catapulted forwards in the market-place as well. Suddenly it was not unusual to see Jackson Kayaks on the rivers of the world. When you went to kayaking competitions, you saw an eager, motivated team of athletes up early training, and out late. First on the water, last off. Consequently, dominating, winning, and often sweeping events become the norm. Emily had a full season where she was undefeated. I won most of the events I competed in, and Dane won the junior events and in 2007 placed 3rd in the Teva Mountain Games against the seniors. Stephen Wright went from being called the “Dark Horse” in 2005, to being a podium finisher in most events. Clay, after years of only making the finals occasionally, was making them regularly and back on the USA Team. It was a new age in competitions with a new brand shaking up the status quo. The second generation boats really set us apart.
New Hero, Dynamic Duo- 2008- We changed direction some on the Hero series in 2008 by going back to a full planing hull, shortening it up, and focusing on a short creeker/river runner, versus a racing boat. This was at the same time other brands were going longer. The Hero hit a mark and was our best selling river runner, beating out the new Rockers. We created 4 sizes of this model, again, setting an industry first for a creek boat. Side Kick, Little Hero, Hero, and Super Hero. It really got a following among many, but the longer boats by Liquid Logic (Remix), Burn, Dagger Mamba had more marketshare than our Hero in the larger sizes. However, we were alone in that short market, and the Hero really did it well. The Topo-Duo by Eskimo, one of my favorite boats of all time growing up, simply because two can paddle it, instead of one, was rumored to be going out of production. David and I decided that we would make our own tandem kayak, based on the 2008 Hero. We would put a large, Super Hero sized cockpit in the back, and a 2 Fun sized cockpit in the front. Since having the larger boater in the back is best for performance anyhow, it would also allow parents to take kids without them swimming in the front. While you can fit a 6′ tall, 240 pounder in the front, it was designed for them in the back. The Duo was another way for Jackson Kayak to distinguish ourselves from the pack of companies that seemed complacent to just design normal boats for the middle of the road paddler. To this day it finds new fans who discover the joy of taking a family member or friend kayaking for the first time down their local river, or turning a standard run into something different. It is also used to take kids kayaking down rivers they can do by themselves yet.
2009-2010 the “2010 All-Star” and Villain are launched. At a time when Big Wave Surfing was at its peak of popularity, everyone was saying “longer, faster” was the way to go on boat design for the next freestyle kayak. David and I threw the paddlers and the industry for a loop with the new, way shorter, 2010 All-Star. It was kept under wraps, with no prototyping, no previews, until the production mold arrived right before the Teva Mountain Games. We figured out how to both increase the speed substantially with a shorter boat (5’9” versus 6’1”) and our big focus was increasing rotational speed. I did a lot of math to figure out just how much more rotation you could get in the air with the shorter boat. My calculations determined that you could get as much as an extra 1/4 rotation (90 degrees) on short axis rotations (helix, loops, blunt type moves), and 45 degrees on long axis rotations (airscrew type moves), assuming you were not 100% straight. The boat looped bigger, by a lot, blunted easier, and did just about everything easier straight away. We swept the Teva Games 1st-5th in the finals, and tore up Glenwood Wave. It was a runaway success right away with the team and customers flocking to the boat. At the 2009 World Championships in Thun, Switzerland, we even had an employee of a competitor that made composite boats ask it he could use one of our spare All-Stars for the competition. He was the lowest ranked of the French paddlers, but ended up 4th in the Championships, behind Nick Troutman, myself, and Stephen Wright. We got top 5 in the men’s class, 1st-2nd in women’s, and 1st-2nd in junior mens. This boat finally gave Jackson Kayak the street credibility we wanted and no longer were our competitors trying to ridicule us for it… they saved that for our creekboats.
Villain- our Villain was a big step forwards for our creek boats over the Rocker Series. However, it still lacked the breakaway design features that would overcome an entire industry that was focusing their efforts on river running and creeking designs and had all but given up on the play boat category. While we had lots of things to talk about in playboating and plenty to talk about in creeking, our play boat messaging overpowered our creek boat messaging and gave our competitors the ammo they needed to discredit our creek boats and team in the creeking realm. Meanwhile- Ben Stookesberry, Chris Korbulic, and team were going from one major expedition to the next all year long, documenting more first descents, and more difficult ones (even hitting countries like Pakistan ), Jackson Kayak wasn’t getting much love in the creek boating category. “They are just a play boat company” became the calling card for our major competitors and it trickled down to the average paddlers over the next few years. The Villain was a fairly good creek racing boat, but not the fastest, it was a great all around creekboat, and an amazing waterfall boat, but the look of it was not turning heads, and the rhetoric at the time of our competitors and their followers was keeping it from going far. Our team liked it, and the sales of the boat at retail were respectable, but we were not winning in the creek boat market. Dagger, Liquid Logic, and Pyranha were were the market leaders with creek boats. We likely had an 80% marketshare in playboats and a 20% marketshare in creekboats.
Check out the 2007 Jackson Kayak Promo Video! good memories!