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A visit to the Jackson Kayak Factory.

A few months ago Exploration Team-mate Justin Varney andI left the frozen playground that is Maine in February and lit out for the warm embrace of the South East. Tennessee, to be exact. Our plan was to visit and tour the Jackson factory and pick up our new boats that we had ordered. We also planned to meet up and paddle with some of our fellow Exploration team members; Samantha Christen, Adam Strachn and Kyle Thomas. What we found there was so far above and beyond what we expected that the term Southern Hospitality has taken on a whole new meaning. These folks are awesome. In fact all the folks we met while there were awesome, especially the people who make up Jackson Kayaks. From Eric Jackson himself to the builders, paddlers and office folks it is easily apparent that this is a special company.

It started when we showed up at the factory and were greeted by Jeff Leach who gave us our tour and introduced us around. Right off the bat he informed me that my new custom colored Karma RG was being finished at that moment. How cool is that? We drive from Maine to Tennessee to pick up our boats and I am about to see my boat being built by master builder Curtis Smith.

As Jeff started to show us around and introduce us to everyone it blew my mind how kind and enthusiastic these people are. I knew that Jackson was a family company but this tour showed me that your last name doesn’t have to be “Jackson” to be a member of the family. Their dedication to boat quality and sharing their stoke of all things Jackson is unlike any other place of business I have seen. From “Fish Slayer” Adam Cunningham in molding to Supervisor Helen Walker to the aforementioned Curtis Smith these people were more than happy to take time out of their busy day to talk with us and share in the process of how Jackson Kayaks are made. (Plus I got to watch Curtis put the finishing touches on my new RG as he chatted about the process. Super Cool!) Curtis- If you happen to read this- The boat is awesome!

In addition to the tour we were able to head to Rock Island and check out Clay Wright, Dane Jackson and Nick Troutman playing around in the prototypes for the new Nirvana. This is positive proof of boats being designed and tested by paddlers. Not only was it a blast watching these guys Throw down, it was awesome to chat with them and get first hand thoughts on the new boat. Again, their kindness and eagerness to chat about kayaks and kayaking make this a real special company that is a huge honor for me to be a small part of.

We rounded out our day by playing in the features at Rock Island. Justin in his new Karma, Kyle in his Antix and me in my new Traverse .

It was truly an inspiration to visit this factory and surrounding area. Not only for the beauty of the surroundings but the friendliness and welcoming nature of the locals. I have a feeling that this trip was the start of a yearly pilgrimage from our frozen playground of Maine to the warm embrace of Tennessee.

And as for my Exploration team cohorts, I couldn’t ask for any finer people to call friends and teammates. Though this was the first time we got together in person it was like we had been friends and paddling partners for years. A special thanks goes to Samantha for opening up her home to us for our stay. Can’t wait to get back to Chattanooga! (where else can one get cotton candy flavored ice cream that is covered in Pop Rocks?) I am truly looking forward to many more adventures with this team. Who knows, maybe someday I can get them all up here to the coast of Maine so I can pay back all of their hospitality and show them all the fun to be had in our Jackson Kayaks.