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February 6, 2005

In 1981, I confided in the only person I knew that
wouldn’t think I was an egomaniac, that I was going to be the world
kayak champion one day. That was Wayne Hockmeyer, over a game of Tron
at his Northern Outdoors lodge. Wayne seemed to believe what I was saying
and was quite supportive of the idea. I was 17 years old. Well, it took
me a long time to get to my first world championships, which were in 1989
in slalom. I had been training to make the USA Slalom team from 1984 to
1989, never quite breaking through the barrier put up by the best slalom
racers in the USA until 1989. In that year, after training with Richard
Fox in Brazil, I had a breakthrough year and not only made the USA team,
I was good enough to win the worlds. Well, my inexperience showed and
I ended up 16th making some classic racing mistakes. I went on to compete
in the world cup and started to get my act together getting a 7th, 6th,
and then a 5th respectively in the last of the World Cup events. It was
two years until my next world championships in Tacen Yugaslovia. I still
wore my Pro-tec helmet to show the world that I was a playboater racing
slalom, not a slalom racer. Slalom racers all wore Ace helmets or small
glass ones at the time. In 1991 I had something to prove and although
I had the second fastest time in the world championships to Sean Pierce
from England, I had two penalties putting me in 14th. I would have been
2nd with no penalties, 4th with one…another two years to prove myself
in the world championships.

In 1992 I competed in the Olympics but, again, got
13th, not having the results I wanted.

In 1993, I had the “Mega Plan” where I
was going to try to win the Flatwater sprint, Wildwater, slalom and Rodeo
worlds. OK, so I am not one that can admit that you can’t do it
all at once (I still believe that one thing can feed another if done right,
so I always try to do more than most people consider possible or smart).
Well, slalom was my strong suit theoretically, but I failed to make the
team (the only time I missed it from 89-98.) Flatwater got screwed up
and I didn’t even make it to trials, and I was one boat out on the
wildwater team. That left me with Rodeo. It was my first rodeo worlds
and I must admit that it didn’t occur to me that I could get anything
but first in that event. I had always felt I could playboat better than
anybody. I arrived at the Ocoee to find that Kent Ford was doing a video
(Take the Wild Ride) and was featuring 4 kayakers that he thought had
the best chance and I wasn’t one of them. I found out that day that
my opinion of my abilities weren’t shared by others. I was also
suffering from the classic condition of not feeling that I was given credit
for my skills and therefore I was more vocal about my skills making it
less likely that anybody will want to give me the credit. This is a condition
it took me a number of years to get over.

1993- I competed against my then “nemesis”
Scott Shipley who proved a better slalom racer by winning the world cup
that year, and I was pitted against him in the head to head semi-finals
for the World Freestyle Championships. I put on my best show and bettered
his ride which secured my win. My ride against Dan Gavere in the finals
was for show since I had enough points from the freestyle through a rapid
to win already.

In 1995 I competed in both the freestyle and slalom
worlds. In slalom I don’t even know what I got that year, but I
got a 50 second penalty on my good run and was again, busted on my goal
of winning, which I had been training full time- literally since 1984
for and was the fastest in a straight line, the fastest in almost all
practices, but just didn’t have the right focus in competition.
(I needed to follow my own path there, the sports psychologists were full
of BS in my opinion and really are no better then your local witch doctor
when it came to the type of focus that was needed to win in slalom, at
least for me).

I hurt my ribs in my first finals run and couldn’t
finish the competition- finishing 13th in the World Championships for
freestyle in Augsburg, Germany.

In 1997- I had been retired from slalom for a year
now, but still made the team without training. I, again, don’t remember
the finish position, but it was not top 10. I focused on the Freestyle
Worlds on the Ottawa that year. I was coming out of the “Kinetic”
and was now paddling the “Stubby”. Ken Whiting was the king
of McCoys Chute Hole but by the time the competition hit, I was ready.
It was actually quite and exciting event with the final scores just a
couple of points apart having Ken in the lead and me in second. This was
my second world championships medal in 4 years.

In 1998- I was dominating the pre-world championships
and won every round in New Zealand. The finals was a 10 person head to
head deal. I got down to the 4 to 3 cut and flushed off of the wave, where
you can’t paddle back on and BAM, that was that. I paddled my X
and that boat rocked there at that time. Rusty Sage won that one.

In 1999- Things were going really well with my competition
until semi-finals where I blow off the wave on my opening move on both
rides, getting 9th, that was a crusher for me. Eric Southwick won, followed
by Corran and Steve fisher. I paddled my ForPlay, so did Wick.

In 2000- the pre-worlds in Spain- I was on my game
and got first, followed by Jimmy Blakeney and then Nico Chassing, and
Clay Wright was 4th. I paddled my XXX.

In 2001- I felt that I had the ability to win the worlds
every time since 1993 and was unable to put it all together yet. I really
focused on dominating and not letting there be a window of opportunity
for anybody else. Well, it worked until the final cut from 3 to 2 athletes
where Brian Kirk got the bronze and Wick and I were left. Wick beat me
on that cut, meaning that I would have to go again, immediately, with
thousands of screaming specatators, TV and me still way out of breath
from the last run. I took my time hiding under the bleachers for about
2 minutes to catch my breath, then went up to do my entry move and final
run. I was back on my game and took it home, feeling very satisfied with
my performance and the obstacles I overcame to get on the winner’s
podium again, after 8 years.

In 2002- At the Pre-Worlds I paddled really well and
set the new world’s record high scoring ride of 869 in Semi-Finals.
However in training that morning before the competition, I broke my last
paddle and had to borrow one that was 10cm shorter than I usually use.
I went for my Tricky Woo three times after getting rejected twice by hitting
a new rock that showed up after the water dropped and didn’t even
make the first cut finishing 5th. Tao won that one, with Jay Kincaid in
second and Yagi from Japan in third, and Roberto from Italy in 4th. Same
story- different year- I want to win, and apparently by my first few rounds
am in the best position to pull it off, but bringing it home includes
more variables than I can always handle and I have to leave it for next

In 2003- The world championships was a big deal for
a lot of people and I was, again, in pole position winning every round
up to finals. Flushing out on my entry move, killed my second finals ride
and I was knocked out in 4th place. Jay Kincaid took it home, followed
by Andrew Holcomb, and then Steve Fisher, and Billy Harris was 5th. It
was heartbreaking for me for about a day, but at this point in my career,
I finally discovered that the journey is the ride, and the results good
or bad, aren’t what determines my enjoyment in the sport or my success
in it, overall.

In 2004- I competed in USA Team trials and didn’t
make the team, at Rock Island! I made the classic mistake of treating
my home spot, as if I couldn’t possibly lose. Well, I did and it
was a big slap in the face waking me up good. Luckily for me I was able
to compete as an alternate, so was Dane. I came to Australia with my new
All-Star fiberglass prototype. I left Wavesport the past fall and was
finally on my own. Nobody knew much about a Jackson Kayak and I was eager
to show off David Knight and my new creations. I was as eager to prove
what my new boats were about as what my paddling was about. The All-Star
was a hit, and I won beating out Billy Harris, and third was Andre’
Spino-Smith. My boat still needed some more tweaking to make it everything
I wanted it to be, but they eyes of the world were starting to watch out
for the Jackson Kayak models. Emily took second in the junior ladies and
Dane took 7th.

In 2005- I was as anxious to win this event as any
I have ever competed in. So many things going on. It was the first world
championships for a Jackson Kayak and I had the best boat in the competition,
yet, losing the competition in an All-Star would muddle people’s
minds about the boat that anybody who wants the best playboat would love.
Also- I have been told about 1,000 times that now that I own my own company
and have ten zillion things to do to run the company, and a family that
is competing, etc. etc. there is no way for me to stay competitive. I
have watched people sacrifice what is important in their lives needlessly
because of the public opinion that you can’t run a business successfully
and do anything else at a high level at the same time. Well, I am here
to prove that wrong, to myself, and to anybody who disagrees. In fact,
I can run a more successful business, and kayak at a higher level, because
I do both. The real focus here is on quality of life, which is self-defined
by everybody, but for me, it is doing what I love most, taking care of
those I love, and doing what I do at the highest level possible. So the
saying, “Kayak for fun, compete to win.” Applies here. Trying
to win is good enough, of course, for me, as long as I am not fooling
myself that I did all I could do. I get really angry with myself if I
tried to take a shortcut somewhere, hoping it doesn’t catch up with
me and then it does.

This year I won prelims, then got second in Quarter
finals to Jay, then got 5th in Semi-Finals after competing like a nervous
wreck. In finals, I was comforted by knowing that everybody was paddling
well, that I had done all I could do to this point in time, and that regardless
of the results from this point forward, I can be proud of myself. With
that said, I still had something to prove; that I could paddle like I
didn’t care, just having a great time and win it all. That sums
up my approach to life. Give it my all, but keep my daily activities within
the realm of things I call fun.

The 2006- and 2007 World Summaries aren’t written
yet. I plan on being there and am already invited, not having to make
the USA Team because I have a “bye”. However, life moves fast
and I will not wait until then to have another personal victory or challenge
like the one I just had. The rest of 2005 will be all about building the
best boats on the market, making both the dealers that sell them and the
customers that buy them my champions that I am to please. I will also
be working towards making sure the business does what I forecasted it
will do this year. Only in this way can the Jackson Kayak family, including
my partner Tony Lunt be proud of what we are doing and have the financial
resources to become a solid rock of a business that everybody can depend
upon for years to come, especially my kids.

Specific plans for the remainder of the year:

1. We will get our creekboats out ASAP- Rocker, Hero,
Super Hero
2. We will make “EJ’s River Running Basics” and EJ’s
Advanced River Running” DVDs
3. We will satisfy our customers by producing 5,000 boats in 2005.
4. I will paddle daily and make sure the kids have the opportunity to
have another great paddling year.
5. I will work to make Jackson Kayak profitable enough to be able to afford
me the luxury of building my dream log house on our property by this time
next year, by following our current business plans.

Well, I am now on a plane to Cairnes, in Northern Australia
on the Great Barrier Reef. Kristine wanted to make sure we went on vacation
after the world championships. I never really want to go on vacation like
this until I get there. I am glad she organized it. I have been putting
off quite a few projects at home for the world championships. Luckily
the kayaks have been designed, and are being produced with John Ratliff
at the helm, but there are still things not done. Hero and Super Hero
logos, Creekfeet isn’t finalized, catalog for 2005 isn’t even
started (do I need one?), River Running video hasn’t even been discussed
in terms of dates of filming, etc. etc.. Well, I will not be worried because
all of these things will be well on their way and finished easily once
I get on them at home. I checked the gauges at home today. Rock Island
runs all day. I can’t wait to go home and paddle with Clay again.
I really can’t wait until we get the Rocker mold in and we can go
creeking in Rockers together!

While in Cairnes we will get a boat to an island and
get dropped off to go snorkeling and hanging out. Emily is worried about
sharks. We will also be flying to Ayer’s Rock in the middle of Australia
to check that out. I heard we may not be able to climb it, but I don’t
believe that. We’ll see.

Until next time:

EJ 🙂