By Eric Jackson
Training in the 2004 All-Star- just a month before I win my 3rd World Championships in Sydney, Australia
If you know me very well, you know that I love competition, love trying to be the best, and love a good challenge. If you know David Knight, you know that there is only one way he does things… the right way.
When you combine the two of us, we set our own bar pretty high on kayak design. We are not perfect, nor do we always make a boat that is best for everyone. We do, however, improve continuously and get closer to our goals with each new generation of kayak we design together. What you’ll learn here is how our goals evolve as well.
(I can’t find a single photo of that boat in action!! sad!)
Another factor in our kayak design process is our team. In 2003 when I started making the first All-Star design Dane was a little kid, Emily not qualified or interested in design at 13, and it was just David and I going up against the rest of the world’s best kayak brands. In 2018 I can bounce ideas off of my kids (between Emily, Dane, and Nick there are over 20 World Championships/World Cup Gold Medals in Freestyle, not including mine.) Add in the rest of Team JK in the USA and world-wide, and the freestyle expertise is overwhelming and the input I get is constant and voluminous. From 2003-2018 the team’s growth in size and expertise was evolving just like the new kayak designs. From EJ and David Knight’s brains only, to as much input as we can handle.
2003- The Original All-Star prototype (yes, we made a prototype because we couldn’t make plastic boats yet, so we made a composite boat- Paul Shreiner- P and S Composites) was an experiment. We went out on a limb and created a crazy boat. Fastest boat on the water on a wave, but not very user friendly. I managed to win the 2000 Pre-World Championships in it in Australia in January of 2004, but I struggled to do backwards moves, clean blunts on steep waves, and I knew that most kayakers would choose this boat over all others because it wasn’t user friendly enough. Meanwhile, my favorite production freestyle boat at the time was the Bliss Stick RAD. The RAD influenced my next design, which would become the 2004 All-Star that we made in plastic.
“Braver Wave” at Rock Island, first testing of All-Star on big wave
Fresh from the World Championships win, competing in Germany at World Cup…
2004-2006 Star, All-Star, Super Star- Since we don’t make prototypes (this design was nothing like the composite boat I competed with in Australia) and my line is “Prototypes are for people who can’t design it right the first time”, I wanted to make sure that this boat was going to be user friendly. David and I put some extra rocker in the Stern to create what Corran Addison would call a “Butt Bouncer”. We created a sleek, very slicey easy to flatwater, big looping, boat that went big on waves, but was slow and took off with no edge necessary. Meanwhile- we were in the height of the new phenomena called “Big Wave Surfing”. It was the beginning of people going to the Nile, Zambezi, BusEater, Gladiator, High Tension, etc… It was the beginning of freestyle kayakers traveling the world in search of big waves. Wavesport had a new boat the ZG which was a faster hull than the All-Star. I was promoting my new boat, the 2004 All-Star and traveling the circuit, such as Reno, Colorado, etc.. and I still remember getting reamed by “boatertalk” people saying my new boat was crap and “EJ- Get out of the holes, wave surfing is where it is at, who cares if your boat is good in holes”. This first Jackson Kayak freestyle kayak was good on waves, but only steep ones as it wasn’t as fast as the competition’s boats. As for my own wave surfing… I spent as much or more time on big waves as anyone and the next World Championships were slated for BusEater Wave in Canada…
2007 All-Star- the Boat the shut up the haters- There have always been vocal people who wish ill of Jackson Kayak and our boats, but after three years of hearing how our boats are not good on waves, David Knight and I were going to do the 1-2 punch with All-Star 2.0. We are going to make a higher volume, bigger looping boat, that is also easier to flatwater cartwheel, and be the best wave boat on the market. I was going to use the 2007 World Championships to prove it was the best. Ruth Gordon, who paddled for Wavesport but was a long time family friend, saw the CAD design of this boat and agreed to paddle for JK.
Ruth fresh off of her first session in her new Jackson Kayak All-Star
Emily was getting to the top of the game, and Nick Troutman, now 18 years old was on fire as a wave surfer. The new design, with no prototypes, took what we learned from the 2004 and we simply put our ideas into it knowing that they would work. New Rocker profile we were working on that increased speed but also user-friendliness (Goes fast, but bow and stern doesn’t pearl), drop chine that doesn’t catch, but carves well, etc..
The team went to Africa for the winter again, armed with our new boat and we surfed every wave we could, doing routines, new combos, and working hard to be ready for buseater.
Nick Troutman on Buseater…
Nick was hard to beat and could possible be the new World Champion. I was paddling well and the new boat was so much fun and everyone who saw it, or tried it wanted one.
Buseater came and our team and the boat didn’t dissapoint. All-Star 2.0 got 1st (EJ) and 3rd (Nick) in mens, Ruth Gordon Took the Gold in Women’s, and Emily took gold in Junior Women’s. Customers started buying this boat 3 times faster than the 1.0 All-Star and Jackson Kayak was known for its “Wave boat”.
EJ about three moves away from securing his 4th World Championships title in 2007…
Emily doing what Emily does best… making her boat fly…
2009- All-Star 3.0- This boat changed everything- again… but this time nobody saw it coming and we put the nail in the coffin for anyone who doubted that Jackson Kayak was dominating freestyle design. All-Star 2.0 was 6’1” long… All-Star 3.0 was 5′-10” long and higher volume. We did what every other brand said was impossible:
- We made our kayak shorter, but FASTER.
- Higher volume, but easier to cartwheel.
These two things were considered “mutually exclusive” by the other designers and brands and when we pulled them off, it was a landslide of new customers and team members wanting to compete in this design.
Wait… what??? Shorter and faster? Higher volume and easier to cartwheel??? Impossible!
2009 World Championships- Thun- Switzerland- 5 out of 5 in men’s finals were in the new All-Star including the 4th best Frenchman who paddled for another brand and switched to the All-Star the week before the competition and got 4th (top french finish) showing off just how much he was willing to risk to paddle a boat he had never been in and how it rewarded him. This was also the world championships that was dubbed- Jackson Kayak versus carbon. Our entire team paddled our plastic boats while 80% of the other competitors were in carbon boats. Our plastic boats out performed the carbon boats in that event in a big way and All-Star 3.0 went huge in the market-place. copies of this boat still exist today with the “Black Sheep” and others who literally pulled molds off of this design and then made minor changes to try to disguise it.
2012 Rock Star is born… Why the Rock Star instead of the All-Star? I wanted to design a boat that you sit up higher and wanted a new name to go with it. The Rock Star looped bigger, cartwheeled easier, and was much looser and faster on a wave. This boat was designed for Plattling, Germany… It was the first time we really made a “super loose” boat that could grind any wave.. It was wide and flat, but the loops were massive as well and we took most of the medals at the 2011 World Championships, but not men’s kayak.
The Rock Star 1.0 was our first boat that was tougher to roll due to our higher seat in it. We decided to start shipping it with our normal seat but made the Sweet cheeks 200 to raise anyone who wanted to sit high. We had some pretty diehard Fans of the 2010 All-Star that struggled with the rolling of this boat and we learned our lesson. We would no longer ship kayaks with a high seat. We’ll let the customer add Sweet Cheeks 200 or more to a boat on their own. This boat was still a huge success both in the market-place, but also in competition. We won 75% of the medals in the World Championships in this boat as well as most domestic competitions. The best paddlers were wanting to compete in it.
Here is the promo video for this boat, which went HUGE, BTW….
2013 All-Star—- A sizing game- We made our first “in between” sized kayak. The 2013 Star series was 1/2 size bigger than all previous models. We also launched this on the heels of the Rock Star 1.0 only 18 months later in hopes of capturing both the customers who wanted a lower seat or a slightly bigger boat with more room in it. We also focused this boat on wave speed and friendliness. This iteration became most popular on rivers with good waves or bigger water at the time. Big air in holes, retentiveness, comfort were the main selling points and we won most of the World Cup events in it in 2012 the year after Platling World Championships.
2014 Rock Star- Here we go again! 2012 Rock Star- 2013 All-Star- 2014 Rock Star was our massive push to hit the key markets, key features, and people that didn’t want to compromise on a freestyle kayak. The 2014 really hit a nerve among customers and was designed to win the NOC World Championships in the USA in the fall of 2013. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we put a model year on a kayak in a similar way to the automobile industry. If our boat, launched yesterday, the Rock Star 4.0, were given a model year, it would be 2019. Why, you ask? Well, the 2018 season actually ends for us in August and we start shipping 2019 colors, outfitting, etc. etc.. in September and our coast guard serial numbers also show 2019 starting in September. This does make the boat look newer a year from now as well. It will be a current model year in the customer’s eyes during the entire 2019 season, even though we sold them during the second 1/2 of 2018. The 2014 Rock Star- This boat dominated in a big way at the World Championships and throughout the season. Bigger loops, super balanced and it became a bit of a “cult” boat. We also would give it a solid 2 years before we would redesign it, 6 months longer than the last 3. We made carbon versions of this boat in Canada and in Europe in three sizes giving our customers more options. I took 8th place in the World Championships in this boat, while Dane took the gold as well as Claire Ohara.
2016 Rock Star (Rock Star 3.0)- Here was a departure from the norm. The World Championships were on a wave- Garberator in Canada. Having a boat that could beat every other boat on a wave was the primary objective. The secondary objective for this boat was to be slicey compared to all other freestyle kayaks. The “slicey boat” trend was starting and having a boat that was super easy to get vertical in flatwater without sacrificing wave performance was my goal. Linking vertical moves in holes was also another goal, while big air bonuses was less critical in my thinking. There are customers who wanted a lower volume modern kayak and while I wasn’t ready to produce a MixMaster for them, I wanted the Rock Star to suffice for as many as possible. The Rock Star 3.0 not only dominated the world famous “Garberator” wave, but it taught many people to flatwater cartwheel. Emily and Dane both won the World Championships that year (2015) and this model took 75% of the medals once again. However, I would not get away with this type of design for long as people wanted either a slicey boat, or a boat that goes really big and is easy to loop.
Keep in mind we are all getting better at the big waves, combo moves, etc…. but this boat really kicked butt on the water and was our best boat to date….
Rock Star 4.0- Now we are at the present… First off, We designed the MixMaster in two sizes. We now have the lowest volume, sliciest, extremely easy to cartwheel kayak. Anyone looking for that type of kayak- we are shipping them today! The new Rock Star is designed to loop huge and easily, as well as stay in the hole and on the wave better than any previous boat. You will feel good in this boat, your friends will be impressed with your sudden “inspiration” and skill. It isn’t as easy to flatwater cartwheel, but wow it is fun in a hole or on a wave. Wave surfing just changed like hole surfing with this boat. narrower, quicker rotations, bigger air, easier combos. More retentive and forgiving as well. The loops, Phonix, McNasty, etc.. we are seeing on Day 1 of the boat are already blowing people away. This new boat will be remembered as a game changer, and the game just changed.
2022 Rock Star 5.0? Stay tuned… that is a long time from now and you have a lot of fun paddling to do between now and then… make it the best it can be. Get your Rock Star 4.0 today!