Being Me is the only person I would want to be, and I hope everyone feels the same way. Being yourself comes with strengths that only you have, weaknesses, friends, family, and thoughts that are all uniquely yours. My brain seems to be a little weird in how it processes information, ideas, and turns it into actions, and it has been my strength and my curse throughout out my life. I tend to get very excited about things, especially about doing something big, challenging, unique, etc.. and it fast forwards to the action phase quickly. I tend to jump into things and the “look before you leap” is more like “now that you have leaped, look around and see where the best landing is and if you can’t hit it, brace yourself.” Marrying Kristine at 18 years old, unaware, and in experienced with life outside of her parents house, we got a 100% fresh start, as hard as it was. Having Emily and Dane while living well below poverty level, unable to afford our own housing, cars, or even food and diapers in many cases, got our family with kids started in EJ form as well. All of the while, I was focused on trying to become a world champion kayaker, make the olympic team and win the olympics, etc.. The kids were regulars on the scene… more like they were a core part of any kayak scene. Emily took her first steps at Relias’ Garden Restaurant at NOC, during a USA Team training camp. Dane was on site to watch me win my first worlds, while he was fresh out of his 7 weeks in the hospital as a Premie weighing around 4 pounds at the event at Hell Hole. Our decision to move into an RV, was a Kristine and EJ decision based on me wanting to kayak anywhere, anytime, and the two of us wanting to spend our entire day together, every day. By moving into an RV, we pulled Emily out of school, Dane would never attend a public school, and we would become nomads. This decision had a bigger effect on our family than any other, I am sure. We became close, inseparable, and dependent upon each other. There were no outside childhood friends that had a big influence on the kids, we had the kids and each other as our support network and our entertainment and we created a world that revolved around that. We learned to play “family games” and do things together every day. It went from Dad being the kayaker and the kids hanging out and watching, to Dad taking the kids paddling often, on the easy stuff. On our first Around the World Trip in 1999, going to England, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand for a 3 month excursion including the 1999 Worlds in New Zealand, the kids really hit their own on the world tour and kayaking went from something Dad did, to something that they were truly a part of. A couple of years later, they became full time kayakers with Dad in 2003. In 2004 both Emily and Dane got to compete with me at the Pre-world championships in Australia– Dane got 4th at age 10 and Emily got 2nd at age 13. This was the beginning of a new era in our family and our kayaking as well. No longer was I the only one with goals, ambitions, and competitions. Now the kids were on the ride as well. I began designing boats for them (made the Fun 1, and 2 Fun) that they could paddle rivers in, but also compete in, too. The Fun Series was just that. We traveled in our first Jackson Kayak RV in 2004, loaded with Fun 1, 2 Fun, and Fun for me and ran the rivers of North America. Kristine was in a new phase, where the kids went from being with her all day, to being with me most of the time during the day on the rivers. She loved seeing the kids and I doing things together, all day. My relationship got stronger with the kids as I was forced to deal with the insecurities, strengths, immaturities and impressiveness as well that the kids displayed each day. Keeping Dane from hurting himself and Emily from holding herself back with harder rivers was the theme most of the time. What was happening in the Jackson family was a young family spending 24/7 together, with similar goals, similar experiences, and tied to each other for support, friendship, and survival. We grew closer each year, and developed our own skills related to the family and things that needed done. Jackson Kayak had become a reality and the kids were representing kids kayaking, something that was brand new to the industry and that JK used Emily and Dane as the sole marketing and as test cases. It worked and people loved watching them in action. They were naturals on the water, and naturals with people. Knowing that people were watching them from a young age, both kids chose to be good role models and live their lives in a way that they were proud of on and off the water. As a parent, Kristine and I didn’t have to discipline the kids or do much more than the occasional pep talk about complaining, or arguing. The kids developed an unbreakable moral compass and good natured heart that was no longer at risk of being corrupted. The reality was that I was putting the kids into an environment where little money is made and only by a few people, where there was not really a “future” if you asked anyone or did any research on “professional kayakers”. Yet, I allowed them to immerse themselves and dedicate themselves to this sport and lifestyle, and even encouraged it. When asked about going to college, I gave my opinion to them, as I always do, never trying to say the “right thing” but to say the honest thing every time. I told them that I didn’t think college was worth wasting time on unless you wanted to be in a profession that required it, or you didn’t know what you wanted to do and it allows you to do something, while you try to figure out what you want to do. Much to the chagrin of many friends and family members the kids took it to heart and by the time they were in their mid-teens they were already decided that college wasn’t for them, at least not now. Self-fullfilling prophesies are the theme of my life and I try my best to transfer that concept to my kids. Never ask somebody else, no matter how knowledgeable , if something is possible, or if you should do it if it is something you really want to do. If they answer no, it doesn’t mean anything- because those things you really want to do, might be impossible or never done before, and if you don’t just do it, it will never get done. Jackson Kayak continued to grow and I had a philosophy that I wanted my team to grow with it, those people who were on the water everyday and knew our products the best, the competition the best, the customers the best, should be the ones with the most responsibility to help us sell the products. I surrounded myself with people who I believe in and they all grew with JK and took on more and more responsibilities. My kids were still young and I wondered how that would play out. Each year, they became stronger in the marketplace as competitors, spokespeople, and providing ideas for sales, marketing, and R+D. As family members our conversations evolved over time as Kristine works directly along side of me in most of what I do, the kids took their places as regulars to the big conversations related to Jackson Kayak, and steering the ship. Emily was the first one to really just kick in, at age 20, one year ago… She got tired of watching us constantly fail to get up articles, photos, videos, and other important stuff that the team was doing and that would help us spread the word about JK. She jumped in, unasked and began to manage our “content” and the website with James McBeath helping her with the nuts and bolts of it. In one year, she transferred from a young team member, to the key player in Jackson Kayak content that goes online. Dane never likes to see his sister contribute to the family in any way that he isn’t doing as well. It is perhaps one of the most incredible traits as a parent to watch in a child. To be competitive with his sibling in being supportive and contributing to the family unit. Dane jumped on board with video making and photography, along with Nick, who became a new member of the family in 2009. The two of them went from the occasional videos of random content, to full media team responsible for all video production. Nick and Emily now rule the roost on media content development, and management. Dane, now 18, reports directly to Nick, and is now, also full time with responsibilities. BAM…. I wake up and realize that my kids have gone from “I wonder just what their interests and skills will be” beyond being the captains of their kayaks on the water… to self sufficient, hard working, hard playing, responsible, but on their own program adults. If there were no Jackson Kayak, both Emily and Dane would be self-sufficient and could do just about any job they wanted related to marketing, Nick, too, of course. This was the moment that I realized, after 21 years, that Kristine and I had succeeded as parents. We have been called out over the years as the most irresponsible parents of all time, with suggestions that the kids should be taken from us, to offhanded remarks about how the kids will never have any real life tools, that growing up in an environment that was so different from the real world that the kids would not be prepared for real life. (examples were that the kids have never had a negative personal interaction with other kids, like you could have daily in school) so how could they be ready to deal with adults in their life? What I tried to instill in the kids, with Kristine, is that there is no such thing as real life. “Real life” is the laymen’s term for living as others do, in their world, with their rules. I would never want my kids to experience real life in any way shape or form. I, more than anything I have ever wanted for them, want them to create their own worlds, with their own rules, their own characters in it, and live in a way that they see as worthy of their time and energy. As of today, I believe they are getting close to that reality. Kristine and I have lived that way since we moved into an RV in 1997, and 1/2 way there before that. Nobody has any influence over how we live our lives. No money, no “reality” has effect. Only decisions based on priorities, which for me are in order: Kristine, Kids, Paddling, Business. 4 main priorities, each one working together with the others, and the lower ones never allowed to supersede the higher ones. The kids are really learning that and in many ways are better at it than I am. They are young, still, and each of them have their own challenges… Emily takes things too seriously, and Dane does not.. They are not the same people, but they have the same heart… you can depend on them and they’ll never let you down, on purpose. They would never hurt another person, animal, and they respect what they have. Emily more than Dane on the respecting your belongings, but he is only a year or two away from that one… They are also excelling, like nobody in the history of the sport has, at the sport they love. Emily has been top 3 in all but one freestyle kayaking event since 2006! Dane is coming off the biggest year of his career and set new records- winning three gold medals in one world championships. None of this is out of the ordinary for the Jackson family, though. It is just part of what we do in our house. Sure we strive hard and train hard and paddle hard every day, but that is normal, that is expected and we love that. The winning, or doing big things comes naturally. The kids watched me do it for years and know how much fun I have striving. They see me win, they see me lose, but they always see me smiling and enjoying the entire process and experience. They have stepped in to that role, striving, but enjoying the entire thing. they expected to become world champions, early on. Dane was shocked that he didn’t win in 2007, and then again in 2009, and fully expected to win in 2011 and finally did. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Emily won her first one in 2007 and then again in 2009, but didn’t win in 2011, getting second. What does the results mean to the family? I got 11th, my lowest finish in worlds history. It doesn’t mean anything really, as our sights are set on having fun every day on the water, and as long as it is set on competing and winning events, we all are confident in how we’ll do in the next one. We will have fun, win or lose. But by striving to do what we have never done before every day (pushing our personal limits) we keep ourselves honest with ourselves. We are not hoping for a “hail mary” where we win or accomplish something that we weren’t prepared to win. If we win, we fully were expecting to, in advance, because we trained for it, were ready for it, and had the skills and drive to do it. Seeing this approach in Emily, Dane, and Nick (he is family, too, of course, like my oldest son) makes each day an incredible experience. I am surrounded by people who expect to do great things, and do great things. I am surrounded by people who are far from arrogant. You can’t be arrogant when you are tested daily, and rarely achieve that day what you are trying to do, but instead are always in a situation where you are striving for something that you haven’t achieved yet. Not to mention when you in good company, the others always keep you honest and arrogance doesn’t fly. This makes every day a combination of striving, playing, learning, and supporting, and being supported by those I care about most. I am also in a similar situation with the rest of my business as I work with some of the smartest, hard working, dedicated, and successful people in the world and I strive every day to keep up and not be the weak link there. It really gives a ton of depth and meaning to everything we do at Jackson Kayak, to have a dedicated team; as we grow our business from where it was in 2004, in a 735 square foot building and 4 people, to 130 people and 100,000 square feet of bursting at the seams, 24/7 production time operation that is in its third year of 50% annual growth. It is the getting better, and when people are saying “poor USA, we have such a bad economy, we can’t compete against China in manufacturing…” what I am most proud of is that we have our own self sufficient prophesy in our business as well and it is that we are going to grow and make a profit that is growing (going for almost triple the profits in 2012 as 2011) and secure our place with this business for my family, my partner, my staff, and the community. If my kids have internalized this approach to life, as much as I think they have, I have only more more kid that still has a world to discover and a lot to learn! (KC that is).
There are some cool old clips of the family in this video that Nick Made…