Jackson Kayaks Come to Life

Active & Adventurous - Outdoors

On Tennessee waters or closer to home, Jackson kayaks go deep

Eric_Jackson_geared_to_goSure, any manufactured object is just a thing, especially if it’s mass-produced, not even custom or handmade. But after I met Eric “EJ” Jackson, Jackson Kayak products seemed to be imbued with a spark of life. After some fellow travel writers and I got a personal tour of his production facility plus a kayak demo on the Caney Fork River in Rock Island State Park – including a 360-degree flip off a rock overhang – his products were infused with even more spirit.

Founded in 2003 by Eric Jackson and Tony Lunt, Jackson Kayak designs, builds and manufactures whitewater, fishing and exploration paddle-sports products. The business was a natural extension of Jackson’s professional career as a champion freestyle kayaker (including wins in Men’s Pro World championships, Men’s Pro Pre-World Championships, Men’s Pro, and USA Team appearances in the Olympics. Jackson states, “I have won over 100 events, the most of any kayaker in history,” but then adds, “much has to do for how long I have been doing it!” 

Jackson_Kayak_1So clearly, Eric Jackson knows what makes a high-performing kayak. However, his young son provided initial creative fodder for Jackson Kayak. At the time, no kayak manufacturer made kayaks small enough for preschool-age kids, so Jackson filled that niche – and products such as Rockstar XS and the Fun still provide an early start for a young kayaker. He expanded his product line, adding a diversity of groundbreaking products along the way: in response to a consumer’s request, he built a craft for kayakers with a little extra bulk; by request and based on another EJ Jackson interest, he created the first fishing-focused kayak, with a raised seat, enough stability for standing up (to reel in that whopper of a fish), and other features specifically geared for fishing. The JK line even includes a pontoon-style, twin-hull fishing kayak. 

Eric_Jackson_Big_RigThen there’s the latest: if you see someone fishing from a kayak, navigating their craft with paddles, pedals and an engine, that’ll be a Jackson Kayak Big Rig HD FD. You might even notice that the pedals and engine can be rotated in and out, and that the rig is designed to move automatically out of harm’s way if the boat scrapes bottom or encounters debris. Or maybe you will be that trendsetter, turning heads on the water. 

The factory tour showed off an impressive display of efficiency (among the machines and among the employees), with multiple quality-control checks. Seeing kayaks in various stage of production and inventory ready to ship, I found it easy to imagine that one of them would one day be mine.

The Jackson Kayak production facility also manufactures sturdy Orion coolers (with creative, utilitarian features such as bottle openers, sturdy handles, locking mechanisms and padded lid (you know, for sitting on the cooler). 

Eric_Jackson_on_waterAs we spent the morning with Eric Jackson, his energy and fitness reminded me of his many championships. As he demonstrated his kayak along the falls and the rapids, he also demonstrated the benefits of following one's passions in life.

Jackson's schedule was a testament to the success of his business – besides meeting with our group of writers, he greeted a politician who had come to visit the factory and was between sessions of filming for a Casio commercial. His enthusiasm and passion hinted at the reasons for his continued success, as did his commitment to his adopted Tennessee community and his employees (“It’s the best place in the world to live,” he says). He even showed up at the Blues & Brews Festival in Cookeville a few days later.

If you’re looking for a kayak, for fishing or paddling, whose story goes deeper than “just” high performance, check out Jackson Kayak. Since the JacksonKayak.com website directs shoppers to nearby vendors, you’ll be supporting your community, too.


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