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Do you ever feel like it may be a good time to reflect on what life is about, just in case you are running down a path that, with a little thought, you might realize that you are the wrong one or worried about the wrong things? I have had numerous such moments in the past two weeks while here in Costa Rica. One thing that a change in your environment seems to always do, is to get you thinking. My only regrets in my life have come from charging blindly into anything without questioning whether or not it is really what I should be doing, and whether it coincides with the important things in my life.
While I hate leaving Kristine for a moment, every time I do leave her on a trip, I get a chance to think, independently, and confirm to myself, that what I am doing in my life is what is truly important to me. I admit that I come home from trips already three steps into a paradigm shift that makes Kristine nervous, since she is a part of just about every decision and deciding moment in my life otherwise and I don’t usually tip toe into the water to see if the temperature agrees with me.
One of the first things that really hit me on this trip was the fact that Chepe’, of “Friendship Bar”, that I have always called “Chepe’s Bar” in Peralta, Costa Rica had died. I had been coming to Costa Rica almost annually and made daily runs down the Peralta section of the Reventazon with Mario for about 6 years. Each run ended in a town of about 100 people, called Peralta. This town was left to die out by a railroad that got taken out by landslides just one time too many, leaving it off the beaten path. However, it was the best place to take out from a 12 mile class 4-5 run down the biggest and best playable whitewater in Costa Rica. Chepe was a guy who owned the bar, where we would take out and wait for the 4X4 taxi to pick us up. Chepe fell down off a bridge in the 80’s and lost his ability to speak. He could say UKK, chuuk, aaaggg, aakk, guarroaakkk, etc. etc. and that was it. Every day Mario and I, along with anyone that joined us, would run the section from about 11am to 4:00pm. At 4:00 PM, as we were scurrying over the barbed wire fence from the river, to the pitted dirt road, Chepe’ would be waiting outside of his bar for us to arrive. When he saw us, about 200 yards out, you could see taking a head count and then run into the bar. When we arrived he would have a Guarro, and a beer ready for us. (Guarro is sugar cane alcohol, one shot would kill any germs from the river) When, after 10 years of absence from Costa Rica, due to the dam that was built, that wrecked the Peralta Section, I finally decided to bring my kids to the country and retrace my steps there, Chepe had died, this past fall. Chepe’, whom I never had a real conversation with (he could hear and understand me, but couldn’t talk to me), was someone I truly held dear in my life. He was a part of some of very good memories. We have run the “Super Pasqua” section of the reventazon several times already, bypassing Peralta and continuing on. Finally I decided it was time to pay Chepe’s bar a visit. Mario told me that for 10 years straight, everytime he saw chepe’, he had asked about me. Mario even got a photo with chepe’ and the new All-Star last year. When I got to the bar, it hit me, that someone, in a small town of 100 people, who couldn’t speak, was just as important to me, as people I saw on a regular basis, that were from my own country. When Chepe’s son William came to open the bar up for us, he was all smiles and we shared some memories, in Spanish. William is also 43 and his dad died at 81. My big moment was when I was almost in tears leaving Chepe’s bar. I knew at that moment, that I am not an American, or an earthling for that matter. I am a citizen of the universe, and everything in it is important. I almost feel as if, in Chepe’s case, I let him down, by not coming to see him, for over 10 years, and in the 10th year, when I did arrive, he had already passed away. These are the stories you hear about kids and their parents, or grand parents. There is too much good in the world to ignore that which isn’t in your own political, family, or social boundary. That is what I have been trying to say this whole time.

I suggest:
1. Get in touch with an old friend.
2. Talk to your family.
3. Reach out and make new friends, with everyone. Nobody is beyond your grasp. Be a leader in making new acquaintances, don’t wait for the invitation to say, “Hi, What’s up? What is your name? Where to you live? How is your day?”
I never truly expected that my kids would be taking care of me. Sure, if I was not functioning on my own, but now? Emily and Dane both have gone out of their way to be not only self-sufficient, but also to try to take care of me too. Both Emily and Dane try to buy my dinner, lend me money, and try to help make sure that I have everything under control. Neither of them make much money, but they know that they can be helpful and lessen strain just by offering. I truly feel like, for the first time in my life, that I am not just looking out to make sure they are fed, dry, happy, and safe, but that they are doing the same, if not more at times for me. I have never been more proud of my kids than I am right now.
The most challenging personal relationship of my life, is my marriage. Not in a bad way, but that since I consider my relationship with my wife, Kristine, to be the most important one I have, an average relationship doesn’t cut it. I would do anything for Kristine, and she knows it. That is probably the single thing that I have always done right in our relationship, and a truth that must stand firm forever. There is nothing Kristine could ask that I wouldn’t grant. This puts an enormous amount of responsibility on Kristine, in that she must not ask for anything that we haven’t the means for. As far as being a husband goes, Kristine makes being her husband not only rewarding, but truly makes it a wonderful experience. I am incredibly lucky, and not only do I know it, but anyone who knows the two of us, knows that I am very lucky in my relationship with Kristine, who I have been with for 20 years now.

I am injured right now. I made the dumb mistake of thinking that after one week of lifting weights, I should try to break my bench press record from college. That would be doing 205 pounds 10 times. It was hurting at 6 but I wasn’t really focused on that at the moment. I stopped at 6.5 and Nick helped me up. No biggie, I hoped, but raising my arm up from my side was a real issue over the next week. Once I got to Costa Rica and was really paddling hard, it got worse to where I can barely sleep at night. I had one really bad night, but 1,600 milligrams of Advil three to four times a day is lowering the inflammation enough to keep paddling hard. I will focus on fixing it when I get home. What hit me here in Costa Rica is just how fragile an athlete’s body can be. Living and functioning is one thing. Pushing yourself and performing at peak levels over a long period of time is a much more difficult task. I am using this trip as a kick off to my 2008 competition season. Instead of training in Africa on big waves for the 2007 World Championships (I trained there for two winters to prepared for a big wave World Championships), I chose Costa Rica where there are tons of small, medium, and larger holes, as well as small, and medium waves, and some large waves (like at the beach the past two days!). Variety was the key to Costa Rica. Down river moves, doing catch on the fly rides on holes or waves, where adapting instantly to a feature you have not practiced in, and dealing with lots of rocks were the benefits. The World Cup this year is in three spots, of which two of them I have never been in, and one of them I have only paddled either a slalom boat or an 11 foot Transition in it for the 1995 World Championships. Hopefully this type of training means being ready to jump into a feature that is home base to the Europeans only a couple days before the competition and coming out on top. Not paddling here because my shoulder is injured hasn’t seemed like a viable option given my personality and goals. I just hope I don’t pay a penalty for it down the road. Since I have worked more than ever before this winter on the manufacturing part of Jackson Kayak, purely to assure the survival and success of Jackson Kayak, I have not trained or paddled to the level I would normally and that means it is time to catch up. Being here in Costa Rica, filming for the new Strokes and Concepts DVD, as well as training reminds me just how easy it is to let something go, and not bring it back. Being an athlete for the long run, means keeping yourself in good shape to the best of you ability at all times, as well as remember to take time to improve your skills, and learn new things as often as possible. Mario taught us two new moves here already! Reverse Airscrew or Donkey Flip, and the “MOP” which is like a kickstart at 2pm into a Pan Am Left. Cool! The Humas is another move that requires a sticky hole that we haven’t really learned yet but will before we leave. Mario has a whole bunch of people in costa rica trying his reverse donkey flip, and it is so obvious that we all follow what we see. I North America, you NEVER, and I have NEVER seen anyone really trying this move. Watch for it on a river near you soon, and look for it to be used a lot in a couple of years. Nick, Joel, and Dane are all about it. Now Dane does it downstream and keeps the boat as straight as an arrow over waves, doing the Back Airscrew move- not much different from a Kick flip, but really straight and backwards. I haven’t tried but one time because it is the worst for my shoulder. I may have to learn this one later. Being an athlete right now is to set my sights on my goals, which is to do well at all of the events I enter, with the most important one to me being the World Cup. It is doing so while balancing the other priorities in my life, like my family and my business.

2007 was my most challenging year as a business owner. Strong growth, but production issues, cash issues, and issues with vendors, put me in a position where the survival of Jackson Kayak is dependent upon what happens in 2008. A business can’t survive unless it is viable, and to be a seasonal business like ours and be viable requires so many things to happen just right that any one problem has a ripple effect that by the time you correct it, the season is over, and the profits are gone. Growing without profits requires outside cash, and that is not an endless supply. My desire and ability to assure that Jackson Kayak is successful isn’t something that I struggle with, but doing it with the clock ticking loudly, and no way to know for sure when the alarm will go off and it will be too late is something that keeps me up at night sometimes. Luckily for me, I have a great partner and a team of people that also believe in Jackson Kayak, what we stand for, and in its future success. Because of that, we were able to dig in and create our “quality first” program, as well as really getting to the bottom of our challenges, our vendors challenges and move our business forward to a new level of detail, accountability, and performance in general. My focus on operations, along with a strong team including Dave Olson, Kristine, John Shepherd, Tony Lee, John Ratliff, Carman Ratliff, and more detracts from my time spent on making sure that our sales and marketing programs are in full force, my training is in good order, and my time with my family is undistracted. This is not something I am complaining about, just how it is right now. As we move into Spring, we will be in good shape for producing the highest quality boats we have ever made, molded correctly, assembled with care, and inspected carefully before going out our door. That came with a lot of time, energy, and care by our team from the top down. It isn’t easy, won’t be easy, but it will be worth it when you and I have our new boats on the water! Also, I believe that the long term success of Jackson Kayak is directly related to providing uncompromised quality and design. Kristine, Dane, and Emily all have their blood sweat and tears in this business, not just me. I finally truly understand what a family business is about. Not just that the owner of the business has a family, but that the whole family works in the business. Kristine’s mom Lorraine has worked in the business since day 1, while both Dane and Emily have continually increased their roles each year. Kristine runs the meetings for everyone at the factory, and spends countless hours each day working to assure that everything that we need done, gets done. My job as CEO, and President, is quite unorthodox in many respects, but the job of planning, projecting, managing, leading, and assembling a winning team is something I do with zest. Dave Olson, is my right hand man who has voluntarily taken over the executive role of leading a new operations initiative to help us put money on the bottom line while producing the best boats we can and growing all at the same time. Where this all puts me is in a fast forward life, like I enjoy, where I am juggling many balls, with each one dependent upon the others. Drop one ball and they all drop. Spouse, Dad, Citizen, Athlete, Entrepreneur. Each part of what I am about is important to me. When push comes to shove, I choose them in this order:

1. Spouse
2. Parent
3. Athlete
4. Entrepreneur
5. Citizen
It is hard for some people to see me list being an athlete before the business. Where would the business be, if I weren’t an athlete first before, I ask?” To stop being an athlete is to cash in the chips with no way of earning more and the business would suffer because of it. When designing boats with David Knight, to have to ask other athletes what they want in a boat but not have my own ability to interpret and put my own special ideas into it, from experience, is to lessen the designs. Is that normal? No, it isn’t. Many successful companies have leaders that don’t participate with or know first-hand about the products they direct. That won’t be Jackson Kayak. People who put their career before their spouse, get divorced or lead unhappy personal lives. People who are unhappy can’t make others happy, and can’t be successful long term. Putting your business before family is to ruin the business over a finite period of time. Jackson Kayak will be here for my kids to run, and hopefully for their kids as well as long as I keep my priorities in order and avoid unforeseen catastrophe. Putting my kids below my wife is something that my dad taught me and it can be simply stated like on the Appellation bumper sticker, “If Momma ain’t happy; ain’t nobody happy.”
Finally being a citizen of the world, or at least as far as you dare roam, is simply a part of making the world a better place for everyone. It is the “I want to make him/her happy he talked with me.” Approach to life, verses, the “what a jerk”. When you defend your position and expect people to respect you to the level you feel you deserve, you can’t help but to turn off those you meet, making the world one jerk too many. When you forget about what people should do and not do regarding anything concerning you and try to make each person’s day brighter that you meet, you leave lasting impressions everywhere you go and your life is greatly improved once you return to that point or that person again. This lesson has been clear to me as I travel back to places I haven’t been in 10 years, like Costa Rica. The people I am seeing, don’t know I am a world champion, or own a company, they only know that when I was there 10 years ago, I was kind and friendly to them.
I may be writing this for you to read, because I do know it will be put on my website, however, I wrote it more of a reminder for me to read. When the world is spinning too fast, and your time is too tight, it is hard to really reflect on what is important. In the time it just took me to write this, I reflected and recommitted to my goals, and ideals. I am energized and excited about seeing Kristine, knowing how she is the most important thing in my life. I am here in Costa Rica and truly appreciate my kids every day. My business needs me and I am giving it everything I can at every moment, while keeping balance. My visit here after 10 years, and the effect of wanting to see Chepe’ but having him be gone, combined with seeing Hannah, owner of Soda burbuja (restaurant I ate at probably 250 times in my life), Rafa of Rios Tropicales, etc., etc. (still have to see Phil Coleman while I am here!) has reminded me and has me re-committed that these people made the world a better place for me, and trust that I can have the same effect on others. Simply put, I am either part of the solution, or part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.
Purda Vida!