By Eric Jackson
I can’t believe that my kids are not only adults, but well into adulthood, self-sufficient, and masters of the sport of kayaking. I believe it, of course, but for years it seemed like it was so far fetched and far away that I would never see this day. Of course they started off really little, especially Dane who was 1 pound and 10 ounces at one stage in his life.
I remember my frustration for many years, from the time I introduced the kids to kayaking in little boats called “puddle jumpers”. They were each 2 when they got their first Puddle Jumper. Emily would use it with me from time to time and enjoyed the time with me. We camped out at the island at the Feeder Canal out of our kayaks, which was perhaps her favorite way to enjoy it. When Dane was 2 he had a different approach as he couldn’t seem to talk about (to the small level he could talk) or want to do anything but play with kayaks. Dane and Emily would paddle with me on the feeder canal on a regular basis, as well as at locations we traveled to for slalom racing, or river running, like NOC, etc.. They both got quite proficient at paddling their kayaks and I was VERY interested in them learning to roll. Neither one of them would have it. Emily would simply say, “no thank you” and Dane would throw his paddle, tip over, and flail. I would tip him up and say- “Dane, let me show you what to do.” He would grab his paddle, say “no thank you” and paddle away. This went on from the time they were 3 and 6, until they were 8 and 11.
That was a VERY LONG 5 years for me. In the meantime, I met a little kid in Costa Rica who learned to roll at age 5 and used him as an example for my kids, but they still weren’t interested. The kids still did some good paddling with me and we ran rivers like the Lower Yough, Nantahala, lower parts of the Ocoee, Potomac River, Ottawa, and more with them while they didn’t have a roll. Finally, when Emily was 12 and we were in Wausau, Wisconsin, she said to me in the RV. “Dad, I want to learn to roll.” “Oh my gosh”, I thought, as that was music to my ears. At that time I was brand manager for Wavesport and she had a “Siren” and Dane had a prototype “Ace 2.1″ as in 21 gallons! Dane’s boat was never put into production because “there is no market for a kids boat, it is a waste of money.” according to the management who no longer runs the brand that no longer exists in the USA. Anyhow- Dane was in the RV and his ears perked up and he said, “hey, I want to learn to roll, too!”. OK, I am now in hog heaven, knowing that I can teach them quickly, because they are already paddling well, have seen people roll for their entire lives, and I have a way of teaching the roll that never fails. We walked from the RV to the river and found an eddy above the “big drop” at the whitewater park, and I taught Emily first, which took 1 try and she could bang out rolls after that. I then taught Dane, who also learned immediately, and we went straight down the course running the bottom of it, and then walked back up to the top. Both kids could run the water, but one of them swam the big drop (can’t remember which one) that day. It was august and for some reason they didn’t get to paddle much after that until we got home. I did another quick rolling clinic with them at home and from that moment on, at age 9 and 12 I had paddling buddies for life.
My paddling changed quite a bit in the beginning, in that I substituted class 5 with class-2-3 runs so I could take the kids. I focused more on play boating and less on extreme racing, etc.. However, each year after that we were running harder and harder stuff until I was able to run anything I wanted and Dane, for sure, would want to go, and Emily sometimes, depending on the creek. That was about the time I started Jackson Kayak and made a production Fun 1 for Dane and 2 Fun for Emily. We competed in the World Championships for the first time together, which was a dream I had with the kids. I wanted to compete in the World Freestyle Kayak Championships and have both of my kids competing in the same one. In 2005, when the kids were 14 and 11, that dream came true. I won my third World Championships that year, beating out Billy Harris and Jay Kincaid for the gold, and Emily just missed the podium with a 4th place and Dane with an 18th. Since that goal was achieved much sooner than I expected, I created a new one, to be on the podium in a world championships were the kids are also on the podium. In 2007, I won on the Ottawa River, Buseater Wave, the first and only big wave feature we have had for the World Championships. Emily won the junior Women’s class, and Dane was third in the Junior Men’s class. Ok, so that goal also came to fruition so fast…
I was getting on some epic creeks with Dane, like South Silver in California, and all over Colorado, California, and the Southeast. Emily, Dane, and I were paddling all of the classic Rivers like the Gauley, Zambezi, Nile, and more. My parenting couldn’t have been easier. Wake up, go kayaking with the kids all day, come home, eat dinner with Kristine, and repeat. Even my work included the kids. They came with me to the dealer events, trade shows, clinics, etc.. 24/7 I had the kids with me and we were all about the kayaking.
In 2009, Emily married Nick Troutman, who was already living with us in the RV and became an epic boater himself during his time with us. Dane grew about 6 inches that year and moved out of the kids’ boats into a “Star”, the same boat Emily was paddling. This year we competed in the World Championships and Emily won her first Senior Women’s class, Dane was second in the Junior Men’s class, Nick won his first world championships, beating me out who got a second place, for the first time, to one of my “kids”. Nick isn’t my kid, but he kind of is as we adopted him into the family as my son-in-law. This was a highlight. It would also be the last time Dane didn’t win the World Championships.
In between World Championships- Emily and I had some epic runs together as “Father/Daughter” where we won three Teva Mountain Games in a row and three Reno River Festivals in a row- the big prize money events at the time. We had a father/daughter domination thing going for some time. Dane was still young and these were senior level events, so he was competing against adults at a young age and when he was only about 50 pounds. He did manage a 3rd place in the Teva Games when he was 13, however. The big question on the pro tour at that time among the pros was: “Have you been beaten by Dane yet?” At that Teva Games where all of the pros were present, the answer was yes for all pros, but myself. I was the last pro to finally get beaten by Dane, and as my son, I was doing my best to prevent that from happening (by doing well myself, not by keeping him down, of course. :))
In 2011 Dane won multiple classes in Germany, finally getting his World Champion title. Emily was second that year to Claire Ohara. In 2013, Emily missed the team, competing in USA Team Trials pregnant, and was a little bummed, but handled it awesome. Dane won his first senior mens’ World Champion title, and I was 8th. It was my first time not getting 1st or 2nd in 8 years. The writing was on the wall, in that Dane seemed unstoppable, and I was in the mosh pit of the top paddlers, compared to being the one that is likely to win. It marked the beginning of a new chapter for me: The teacher becomes the student. Dane and Nick, and Emily, have been great examples for me , watching their moves, and learning from them since that time. They had always been good, but I was better. Now, they are better. This past year, Emily regained her title as World Champion, and Dane defended his, becoming the man in history to win two World Championships in the Pro Men’s Class, cool.
Today I accept the position of being the student. I can still do all of the things I could do to win the past world championships, but they can do more. Even more interesting is running hard creeks and having Dane and Nick “watching over me” versus me watching over them. Of course I am watching over them, too, but they take the role of “OK, EJ, remember this one? Be careful to get left at the bottom, OK? Big undercut on the right…” It takes so much pressure off of me as the leader of the band, to be able to be a participant and just watch the kids in action, leading the way.
I am complete as a whitewater kayaking parent at this stage, with the exception of my youngest, KC, who has the entire process to go through himself, if he wants. Luckily for me, I have Dane, Nick, and Emily to help!
I also hope to get my kids proficient at fishing as well. Right now I am the teacher there.. Sweet!
p.s. Here is a photo essay of what I was trying to use words to describe!