n 1981, I confided in the only person I knew that wouldn’t think I was an egomaniac, that I was going to be the world kayak champion one day. That was Wayne Hockmeyer, over a game of Tron at his Northern Outdoors lodge. Wayne seemed to believe what I was saying and was quite supportive of the idea. I was 17 years old. Well, it took me a long time to get to my first world championships, which were in 1989 in slalom. I had been training to make the USA Slalom team from 1984 to 1989, never quite breaking through the barrier put up by the best slalom racers in the USA until 1989. In that year, after training with Richard Fox in Brazil, I had a breakthrough year and not only made the USA team, I was good enough to win the worlds. Well, my inexperience showed and I ended up 16th making some classic racing mistakes. I went on to compete in the world cup and started to get my act together getting a 7th, 6th, and then a 5th respectively in the last of the World Cup events. It was two years until my next world championships in Tacen Yugaslovia. I still wore my Pro-tec helmet to show the world that I was a playboater racing slalom, not a slalom racer. Slalom racers all wore Ace helmets or small glass ones at the time. In 1991 I had something to prove and although I had the second fastest time in the world championships to Sean Pierce from England, I had two penalties putting me in 14th. I would have been 2nd with no penalties, 4th with one…another two years to prove myself in the world championships.
In 1992 I competed in the Olympics but, again, got 13th, not having the results I wanted.
In 1993, I had the “Mega Plan” where I was going to try to win the Flatwater sprint, Wildwater, slalom and Rodeo worlds. OK, so I am not one that can admit that you can’t do it all at once (I still believe that one thing can feed another if done right, so I always try to do more than most people consider possible or smart). Well, slalom was my strong suit theoretically, but I failed to make the team (the only time I missed it from 89-98.) Flatwater got screwed up and I didn’t even make it to trials, and I was one boat out on the wildwater team. That left me with Rodeo. It was my first rodeo worlds and I must admit that it didn’t occur to me that I could get anything but first in that event. I had always felt I could playboat better than anybody. I arrived at the Ocoee to find that Kent Ford was doing a video (Take the Wild Ride) and was featuring 4 kayakers that he thought had the best chance and I wasn’t one of them. I found out that day that my opinion of my abilities weren’t shared by others. I was also suffering from the classic condition of not feeling that I was given credit for my skills and therefore I was more vocal about my skills making it less likely that anybody will want to give me the credit. This is a condition it took me a number of years to get over.
1993- I competed against my then “nemesis” Scott Shipley who proved a better slalom racer by winning the world cup that year, and I was pitted against him in the head to head semi-finals for the World Freestyle Championships. I put on my best show and bettered his ride which secured my win. My ride against Dan Gavere in the finals was for show since I had enough points from the freestyle through a rapid to win already.
In 1995 I competed in both the freestyle and slalom worlds. In slalom I don’t even know what I got that year, but I got a 50 second penalty on my good run and was again, busted on my goal of winning, which I had been training full time- literally since 1984 for and was the fastest in a straight line, the fastest in almost all practices, but just didn’t have the right focus in competition. (I needed to follow my own path there, the sports psychologists were full of BS in my opinion and really are no better then your local witch doctor when it came to the type of focus that was needed to win in slalom, at least for me).
I hurt my ribs in my first finals run and couldn’t finish the competition- finishing 13th in the World Championships for freestyle in Augsburg, Germany.
In 1997- I had been retired from slalom for a year now, but still made the team without training. I, again, don’t remember the finish position, but it was not top 10. I focused on the Freestyle Worlds on the Ottawa that year. I was coming out of the “Kinetic” and was now paddling the “Stubby”. Ken Whiting was the king of McCoys Chute Hole but by the time the competition hit, I was ready. It was actually quite and exciting event with the final scores just a couple of points apart having Ken in the lead and me in second. This was my second world championships medal in 4 years.
In 1998- I was dominating the pre-world championships and won every round in New Zealand. The finals was a 10 person head to head deal. I got down to the 4 to 3 cut and flushed off of the wave, where you can’t paddle back on and BAM, that was that. I paddled my X and that boat rocked there at that time. Rusty Sage won that one.
In 1999- Things were going really well with my competition until semi-finals where I blow off the wave on my opening move on both rides, getting 9th, that was a crusher for me. Eric Southwick won, followed by Corran and Steve fisher. I paddled my ForPlay, so did Wick.
In 2000- the pre-worlds in Spain- I was on my game and got first, followed by Jimmy Blakeney and then Nico Chassing, and Clay Wright was 4th. I paddled my XXX.
In 2001- I felt that I had the ability to win the worlds every time since 1993 and was unable to put it all together yet. I really focused on dominating and not letting there be a window of opportunity for anybody else. Well, it worked until the final cut from 3 to 2 athletes where Brian Kirk got the bronze and Wick and I were left. Wick beat me on that cut, meaning that I would have to go again, immediately, with thousands of screaming specatators, TV and me still way out of breath from the last run. I took my time hiding under the bleachers for about 2 minutes to catch my breath, then went up to do my entry move and final run. I was back on my game and took it home, feeling very satisfied with my performance and the obstacles I overcame to get on the winner’s podium again, after 8 years.
In 2002- At the Pre-Worlds I paddled really well and set the new world’s record high scoring ride of 869 in Semi-Finals. However in training that morning before the competition, I broke my last paddle and had to borrow one that was 10cm shorter than I usually use. I went for my Tricky Woo three times after getting rejected twice by hitting a new rock that showed up after the water dropped and didn’t even make the first cut finishing 5th. Tao won that one, with Jay Kincaid in second and Yagi from Japan in third, and Roberto from Italy in 4th. Same story- different year- I want to win, and apparently by my first few rounds am in the best position to pull it off, but bringing it home includes more variables than I can always handle and I have to leave it for next year.
In 2003- The world championships was a big deal for a lot of people and I was, again, in pole position winning every round up to finals. Flushing out on my entry move, killed my second finals ride and I was knocked out in 4th place. Jay Kincaid took it home, followed by Andrew Holcomb, and then Steve Fisher, and Billy Harris was 5th. It was heartbreaking for me for about a day, but at this point in my career, I finally discovered that the journey is the ride, and the results good or bad, aren’t what determines my enjoyment in the sport or my success in it, overall.
In 2004- I competed in USA Team trials and didn’t make the team, at Rock Island! I made the classic mistake of treating my home spot, as if I couldn’t possibly lose. Well, I did and it was a big slap in the face waking me up good. Luckily for me I was able to compete as an alternate, so was Dane. I came to Australia with my new All-Star fiberglass prototype. I left Wavesport the past fall and was finally on my own. Nobody knew much about a Jackson Kayak and I was eager to show off David Knight and my new creations. I was as eager to prove what my new boats were about as what my paddling was about. The All-Star was a hit, and I won beating out Billy Harris, and third was Andre’ Spino-Smith. My boat still needed some more tweaking to make it everything I wanted it to be, but they eyes of the world were starting to watch out for the Jackson Kayak models. Emily took second in the junior ladies and Dane took 7th.
In 2005- I was as anxious to win this event as any I have ever competed in. So many things going on. It was the first world championships for a Jackson Kayak and I had the best boat in the competition, yet, losing the competition in an All-Star would muddle people’s minds about the boat that anybody who wants the best playboat would love. Also- I have been told about 1,000 times that now that I own my own company and have ten zillion things to do to run the company, and a family that is competing, etc. etc. there is no way for me to stay competitive. I have watched people sacrifice what is important in their lives needlessly because of the public opinion that you can’t run a business successfully and do anything else at a high level at the same time. Well, I am here to prove that wrong, to myself, and to anybody who disagrees. In fact, I can run a more successful business, and kayak at a higher level, because I do both. The real focus here is on quality of life, which is self-defined by everybody, but for me, it is doing what I love most, taking care of those I love, and doing what I do at the highest level possible. So the saying, “Kayak for fun, compete to win.” Applies here. Trying to win is good enough, of course, for me, as long as I am not fooling myself that I did all I could do. I get really angry with myself if I tried to take a shortcut somewhere, hoping it doesn’t catch up with me and then it does.
This year I won prelims, then got second in Quarter finals to Jay, then got 5th in Semi-Finals after competing like a nervous wreck. In finals, I was comforted by knowing that everybody was paddling well, that I had done all I could do to this point in time, and that regardless of the results from this point forward, I can be proud of myself. With that said, I still had something to prove; that I could paddle like I didn’t care, just having a great time and win it all. That sums up my approach to life. Give it my all, but keep my daily activities within the realm of things I call fun.
The 2006- and 2007 World Summaries aren’t written yet. I plan on being there and am already invited, not having to make the USA Team because I have a “bye”. However, life moves fast and I will not wait until then to have another personal victory or challenge like the one I just had. The rest of 2005 will be all about building the best boats on the market, making both the dealers that sell them and the customers that buy them my champions that I am to please. I will also be working towards making sure the business does what I forecasted it will do this year. Only in this way can the Jackson Kayak family, including my partner Tony Lunt be proud of what we are doing and have the financial resources to become a solid rock of a business that everybody can depend upon for years to come, especially my kids.
Specific plans for the remainder of the year:
1. We will get our creekboats out ASAP- Rocker, Hero, Super Hero
2. We will make “EJ’s River Running Basics” and EJ’s Advanced River Running” DVDs
3. We will satisfy our customers by producing 5,000 boats in 2005.
4. I will paddle daily and make sure the kids have the opportunity to have another great paddling year.
5. I will work to make Jackson Kayak profitable enough to be able to afford me the luxury of building my dream log house on our property by this time next year, by following our current business plans.
Well, I am now on a plane to Cairnes, in Northern Australia on the Great Barrier Reef. Kristine wanted to make sure we went on vacation after the world championships. I never really want to go on vacation like this until I get there. I am glad she organized it. I have been putting off quite a few projects at home for the world championships. Luckily the kayaks have been designed, and are being produced with John Ratliff at the helm, but there are still things not done. Hero and Super Hero logos, Creekfeet isn’t finalized, catalog for 2005 isn’t even started (do I need one?), River Running video hasn’t even been discussed in terms of dates of filming, etc. etc.. Well, I will not be worried because all of these things will be well on their way and finished easily once I get on them at home. I checked the gauges at home today. Rock Island runs all day. I can’t wait to go home and paddle with Clay again. I really can’t wait until we get the Rocker mold in and we can go creeking in Rockers together!
While in Cairnes we will get a boat to an island and get dropped off to go snorkeling and hanging out. Emily is worried about sharks. We will also be flying to Ayer’s Rock in the middle of Australia to check that out. I heard we may not be able to climb it, but I don’t believe that. We’ll see.
Until next time: