By Eric Jackson
When people in the kayaking world and the Jackson Kayak world think of the Jackson Family, they often think about the kayakers in it. Emily, Dane, EJ, and even Nick, our awesome addition by marriage. What people don’t usually see, but what is the cornerstone of our family, is my wife of 28 years, Kristine. Kristine’s role as a mother and wife is a story of perseverance, love, ingenuity, and tireless efforts on behalf of the rest of us. Her role at Jackson Kayak, although it is “behind the scenes” with no fanfare, is equally impressive. I would go as far as to say that without Kristine, there would be no Jackson Kayak today.
Kristine’s first life changing action as a 17 year old that appealed to me, but also set the tone and stage for the rest of our lives, was to convince me that the entire world giving me advice had it wrong, and that my idea of wanting to be a full time kayaker was the right thing for me. This concept, coming from a new girlfriend of mine, set me on the path I am on today.
As a poor kayaker, and newly wed, training full time trying to make the USA Kayak team back in 1989, Kristine told me she wanted to have kids, and now. Broke, traveling, no foreseeable way to make money in the near future as a kayaker I was not into that idea, at all. She asserted herself, like she does when she really wants something, and said, “you have your kayaking, I want my kids.” “OK, I thought, and how much could they cost anyhow.” Kristine got pregnant during my first World Cup for Slalom racing that year, my first year on Team USA while we were in Europe. We lived on $250/week for a year to save enough money for this trip. She babysat for a couple of a families, the Whittenbergs and the Clunes in Brookmont, MD. I was a waiter at Armand’s Pizza. Kristine started at 7am and went until around 6pm every day.
There was always something about Kristine, even when we were first married, and she was only 18 years old that was clear. She was about as smart as anyone I had ever met, and could see the end zone from the first step of a journey. She was also ready to take whatever life threw at her and the harder things were, the more she put in for overtime to get things done. It was almost as if she was happiest under the most challenging situations. No money, no foreseeable way out of a situation, etc.. This part of her character made her well suited with me as I could provide one seemingly impossible situation after another to deal with, and still do.
It started with food.
Kristine is the best cook in the world. I’ll just start there. Yes it is a bold statement, but from where I sit, I have not yet met a better one. What makes her cooking one notch better, is that she always seems to find a way to feed a steady stream of people who need a good meal, or who are around and turn a meal into a memorable gathering of friends and family. When we were young and Emily and Dane were little, it was the slalom racers who would be around for dinner, breakfast after a workout, etc.. Kristine never runs out of food, somehow. I think it is a mission of hers. If you eat at our house, you won’t go hungry. In 1997 when we moved into an RV, our RV became a center of comfort for kayakers. We began traveling around full time following the river’s flow. California creeking, Oregon, Washington, etc… It was during one of these trips that Kristine first got the nickname “Mother of all Kayakers” by Chris Emerick. Kristine’s idea, of course to move into the RV full time to begin with. Why? Because she wanted to be teacher one day and teaching her own kids seemed like a good way to do that. She got to teach every grade from Kindergarten to 12th grade. She also found that we had our family of 4 in the RV, plus some, always. We found that there were other kayakers, like me who didn’t have a way to get to competitions, to rivers, to travel around that really would thrive in that environment. We brought them with us. Kristine fed them, and acted like a mother to them, while I played with them on the river, and they played with the kids as well.
While touring around we did many freestyle competitions and extreme races as well. Kristine saw a need to help with scoring of the competitions, as the athletes were judges and somebody needed to help score that knew what they were doing. She was awesome at it and knew the rules, the formatting, etc.. like nobody else. Suddenly, Kristine was running all of the events we went to, and those she didn’t run, were never as organized as the ones she was. This meant she was riverside all day long for two days straight helping with the events and it was purely voluntary. She started organizing cadet rodeos for kids under 14 as well, since we had Emily and Dane and more kids were starting to compete. This really changed things for juniors in the USA as well.
Jackson Kayak, Kristine’s Idea…
We still lived in an RV full time, 6 years later at this stage, and Wavesport was no longer a real company, but a brand of confluence and Confluence was now owned by a different investment group and the leaders of that group refused to make the “Ace 2.1” kid’s kayak David Knight and I designed for Dane. That was just one many issues I was having with them, such as them wanting me to stop traveling in the RV, and I was a professional kayaker first and would happily give up my job long before I would give up being a professional kayaker.
Kristine finally told me that I should quit Wavesport. Try to understand just how amazing of a woman she is to be able to do that… We lived in a Wavesport owned RV, drove a sponsored truck that Wavesport controlled. We had no house, no RV, no car, two kids, and no other income. What kind of person would suggest that we could just walk away from that and survive? Kristine could, and so could I. Kristine believes that doing the right thing is better than doing the “smart thing”. The right thing is different for different people, but she knew that me being bridled by people who didn’t share in my dream of being the best kayaker in the world, was not going to work for me long term and that jumping ship and figuring it out was a better alternative. You see this kind of situation all of the time in movies, where the husband wants to quit, or gets fired, and the wife (it can be the other way around of course) gets all upset saying things like “what are we supposed to do? What will we do for money? How will we keep the house, the car? etc. etc..” That is a typical scene with a typical approach. Not Kristine, she says, “let’s do it, we’ll figure it out, and it will be great.” That part of her character, by itself, has made her so valuable to not only her family, but to Jackson Kayak and to the sport of kayaking. Oh yea, Jackson Kayak.
Now that we are no longer working, i don’t have income, but I have saved some money because I was getting better at making money as a professional kayaker (I was now a 2 time world champion as well) it was time to figure out what to do next. Starting my own kayak company was not something I had on the table because running a business like that, I thought, meant the end of my competitive career. I didn’t know another kayak company owner that went kayaking nearly as often after they started the business than before. This is where Kristine came in. She told me she thought I should start a kayak company and that if, as my own boss I couldn’t figure out how to kayak even more than before, I was not being creative or didn’t care about my kayaking enough…. WHOA, she through out the challenge and got me thinking… yes, she is right. My mind instantly switched gears and I was no planning to start my own kayak company. Only Kristine WOULD make that suggestion and only Kristine could do it with the conviction of knowing that I would never change my position related to that priority order making my kayaking more important than having a business and that only if I was kayaking would I be running a business. Thanks Kristine for that one too!
More food, more kids…freestyle in the USA is held together by Kristine…
We purchased land in Rock Island, TN and put a double wide trailer on it and Kristine’s mom moved into it. We stayed there in the winter and trained here. Now we had people coming to train with me all winter long, and both of my kids were now training with me as well. Our house was full every night for dinner.
Fast forward: KC is born, we built a house in Rock Island and Jackson Kayak is growing bigger and more complex.
Kristine has a unique insight into everything, including our business, which is owned by my partner Tony, myself, and some key employees. This business is a monumental challenge everyday. It involves many people, moving parts, and we run it differently than most, with many remote people, including my right hand man, Dave Olson, who is now our CEO. While Kristine is just one perspective, one person, she is the best person to go to when you want to get the most rounded insight into where we are, and what any action might do. She is like a board member that you go do for advice when you hear so much noise from others pulling in different directions and you want a neutral opinion with a strong background of information.
Of course what made me think of writing this today, was the “chicken shepherd’s pie” she made last night, the first time she ever made it and it was awesome. Also watching her spoil KC rotten everyday, but in a good way, with love and patience, and inviting other junior paddlers to stay with us while we are in Argentina at the World Championships, reminded me that the “Mother of all Kayakers” seems to be unwavering and better than ever.
here is a photo essay…
Pro Kayaker Dane Jackson getting some help from his mom, Kristine Jackson, while doing some school work at his house in Rock Island, Tennessee.