By Eric Jackson
Speedo Thursday Pays Off- EJ’s newest and biggest Sponsor- Speedo!
50th Birthday Part- Nile Special Wave- good friends and family… Speedo on…
Maybe you were at the Ocoee recently and saw me sporting my new Speedo before or after paddling? Maybe, you noticed that I have been in some fairly high profile places, seemingly out of place, in my Speedo. Maybe, you didn’t realize that I wear a Speedo under my Dickies coveralls at each fishing tournament, just waiting for the right opportunity to show it off? Well, here is the complete story behind that…. This story goes way back..
When I was 8 years old, living in Woolrich, PA, I was glued to the TV screen, watching my first Olympics. I was mesmerized. One man became my hero and changed my life. Mark Spitz. 7 Gold Medals in swimming and the Butterfly was his specialty. I asked my mom if I could be on a swim team and go to the Olympics and try to beat Mark’s record.
The next day, my mom took me to a store in Lock Haven, PA, where they sold Speedos. I got my first one, solid black. This swim suit meant more to me than you can imagine, as it was a symbol of everything I planned on doing in life. I had my first “life dream” and was taking steps to achieve it. I joined the Lock Haven YMCA swim team in the 8 and under age group and began training. I was already taking swimming lessons and my teacher taught me all of the strokes. I really only cared about one, the Butterfly and focused on that. By the end of the season, I had my first team and pool record in the 25-yard butterfly and was hooked.
My swimming career took a turn for the worst when I moved to Florida, where swimming is big because of using improperly sized goggles that were too tight and my vision got so bad that my parents wouldn’t let me swim anymore with goggles and the chlorine was so strong that I couldn’t workout with my eyes open. I was 10. I quit. What I didn’t quit was wearing my speedo. I was still secretly dreaming of being the next Mark Spitz. Being that it was hot in Florida, I wore it riding bikes, climbing trees, playing football.
In 1979 I moved to New Hampshire and joined the Nashua YMCA swim team at 15. I missed some key years as a swimmer so I wasn’t a very fast 15 year old in the 15-18 group at the start. I got a new Speedo, Blue with White stripes, the Nashua colors. I tried hard and in one year I worked myself into the fast lane and got under 1:00 in the 100 butterfly and earned the “3D award” from the coach for “Dedication, Determination, Desire”. My Speedo became my “uniform” once again. I also got my first whitewater kayak that year, in 1979, a Lettman Mark IV. This, coincidentally, was the winning kayak in the 1972 Olympic slalom race, the same year Mark Spitz turned my attention to the Olympics. I wore a Speedo under my 1/4” thick wetsuit when kayaking Otter Brook, The Souhegan, Ashuelot, Smith, Swift, East Branch of Pemi, etc.. When it warmed up in the summer, I no longer needed my wetsuit… nuff said. I got as far as New Hampshire State Champion in the 100 butterfly at age 17, and bronze in New England. My speedo stayed the same as I was flying the Nashua colors through high school. When I started at the University of Maine, I had a head coach that didn’t appreciate my kayaking, and bad tendonitis combined to have him kick me off the team due to missing practice to run the Kennebec River and then missing another day due to not being able to move my arms. Initially I was traumatized that my childhood dream of going to the Olympics as a swimmer seemed to end, again. Luckily I was kayaking regularly and quickly turned into an evolved goal of making the USA Kayak team instead. I saw Hank Thorburn wearing his red/white and blue paddle jacket with the USA on the shoulder and it dawned on me immediately that THAT was what I was supposed to be doing. There I was sitting on a rock with a camera in my hand on the Kennebec River at “Three Sisters” rapid (that I since named Big Momma in 1983) and I was taking photos of the rafters as a job, in my red Speedo.
EJ at 15 in homemade kayak The other part of my swimming uniform, Mohawk..
That next year, 1984 I moved to College Park, Maryland and started school there in Engineering. I was training for the USA Team, by invitation of Bill Endicott, the USA Team Head Coach. He scouted me upon my request in 1983 where I spent 5 days training with him and Mike and Marty McCormick as well as Elliot Weintraub. I was wearing my Speedo, of course. By now you get the idea. It it was warm enough for a swim suit, I wore my Speedo. If I was kayaking in slalom I always wore my speedo.
“Ass Gasket” Outfitting. So, the Speedo is small enough that you have bare skin on your legs and lower back. I created a way to stay perfectly put in my slalom boat seat in 1984 using mini-cell foam. I cut 1” wide by .5” tall and as long as I could pieces of foam. I glued them around the perimeter of my seat in just the right way that when I sat into my seat it created an air-tight seal. This only worked with a speedo (or naked- but that is another story). Literally, when I sat in the seat it would make a farting sound as the air was forced past my legs and the foam was compressed into the perfect gasket. In order to get out of the seat, I had to lift myself up hard and lift one leg to break the seal. While racing or training I was so perfectly locked in that, to this day, nobody has come close to as good of a system and the concept was lost when I left slalom racing in 1998. The seats we put in our plastic kayaks are designed for large butts to fit.
I got my first big break in Brazil, 1988. Richard Fox, England, World Slalom Champion in 1981, 83, 85, 4th in 87 (went on to win 1989, 1993) invited me to train with him and his wife Miriam (French)- also a world champion. My Red Speedo was all I wore for 6 weeks straight, three workouts/day, the most grueling, and productive kayak training of my life to date. I left the USA never having been able to win a slalom race against the USA Team, and came back a machine, with much better technique and fitness. I won the first two events in a row with ease, beating all of the USA Team and everyone else who entered. I made my first USA Team that year, thanks to Richard, and my Speedo (which had become my symbol for my athletics, for striving to be the best at something).
1992- USA Olympic Trials- Slalom Kayak- Speedo? Yes, Make Team? Yes!! This was exactly 20 years after I first committed to trying to be in the Olympics and got my first Speedo. Barcelona- I competed in the Olympics wearing a Speedo and was the top American in that K1 event with a 13th place finish. I didn’t win, but I was fired up to keep charging, and so it goes…
1993- World Rodeo Championships- my first World title… Speedo on.
In 2001 I won my Second World Championships. A good friend of mine, Jay Kincaid, sent me a Gold Speedo- but a thong. It was a symbol of winning, but also supposed to be a joke. He came out to train with me the following year from Oregon to Rock Island, Tennessee where I had my RV for that month and was not expecting that I would be wearing a gold thong Speedo at every workout with him. He told me he regretted ever giving that to me. I thought it was one of the most thoughtful and appropriate gifts from a training partner, even as a joke.
The next 30 years that brings me to today is filled with ups and downs, a long reign as the “kayaker to beat” in just about any event. The Board Shorts revolution happened and Kristine began buying me board shorts and I wore them a lot. The are practical in that you can go into restaurants, stores, etc.. and people don’t think twice. I still wore my speedos regularly, however, and eventually, to keep the tradition alive, created Speedo Thursday. One day a week that I wear a Speedo all day. I wear them as underwear and when feasible, as my only clothes, and sometimes when not feasible. I did get Nick and Dane to join the club in Europe at the 2008 World Cup, 10 years ago. The three of us wore Speedos in the competitions and hanging out. The heat of peer pressure got to Dane and Nick and they dropped out of the club. Simply put, the Speedo was out of fashion.
Fashion is a funny thing. People literally think something is “right or wrong”, embarrassing, or not, proper or improper, based on if enough people are buying that stye of clothing. I try to stay focused on my own style, what I would wear if there was not a popular style to choose from. I don’t overthink it, not trying to make a statement, but I do like to be myself, not a trend. Even if being myself came from a trend at some point (like the Speedo).
You can find me wearing Vans, Converse All-Stars, Doc Martins, Speedo, Dickies.. You can see that I have been fairly consistent in some things. Fine. no biggie.
Now, Emily buys me Speedos. Her goal is to get me the “ugliest” speedo she can find, in hopes that it will be so ugly, I won’t wear it. She actually started the tradition at age 14 buying me the ugliest board shorts she could find. In 2012 she realized that I would wear any shorts she got me so she switched to Speedos and has yet to find a pair I won’t wear in public.
This year’s birthday Speedo from Emily was designed to be about fishing. Fish bones are the print on the suit. I was able to put it to good use at our MixMaster run down the Ocoee. By the reaction of the newest generation of young paddlers, this is something they were not expecting and is an eye-opener. “What the???”
For me, and for my newest sponsor, Speedo… what else would you expect? I have been rocking the Speedo since most of you were born, have competed in (and won) hundreds of events in them. Have competed in, and lost as many events as well. I have countless hours of training in them. When the World forgot the Speedo, and American’s shunned it like an Iranian shuns the site of a woman’s ankle or face in public, I stayed true to this high-performance garment. It is the minimalist approach that works for so many reasons.
My “Total Weight Concept” of weighing everything you have on to compete in… It is the lightest pair of shorts, wet or dry.
Minimalist approach: It is the simplest, least likely to fail garment. It stretches on, won’t come off when tied, and stays on when not tied as long as you don’t do a racing dive.
So, Thanks Speedo, for recognizing my 46 years of patronage and support, not matter what others say. Thanks for supporting Speedo Thursday and making that a National/International day and me being the spokesperson for it. (I had to negotiate that, but hey, you can’t take Speedo Thursday from me and pretend somebody else started it!)
EJ taking a fishing break during 2015 World Championships on a Thursday…
Finally, thanks to all of my fans and supporters, family, friends, staff, and sponsors for understanding that you can’t be extraordinary by being ordinary. You might hear people argue that me wearing a Speedo doesn’t help me win anything or be better at anything…. but then again, do you want to debate that with me now, after you got the history? I would go as far as to say, if I never wore a Speedo, you would not know my name today. So, Thanks Speedo, for being my symbol of winning, of striving, of excellence. Thanks, Mark Spitz, for kicking ass in 1972 and motivating my 8-year-old self and doing it while wearing a Speedo.
All Events in this story are real, the names were not changed to protect the innocent or guilty. The only thing that is part of my April Fools Joke (yes, this is my April Fools Joke) is that part where Speedo is sponsoring me.
I have never been approached by Speedo, not sure how I slipped under their radar. I have never reached out to them, (not sure how I have let that one get by, either.
Perhaps somebody reading this can forward to the marketing director at Speedo for me. :))
Thank you and enjoy the rest of your Easter Sunday, which, just happens to also be April Fools Day.
See you on the Water!
here is a video for your viewing pleasure..