Kayak All-Star Eric Jackson on Fatherhood

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Last weekend we took a quick trip up to Vail to watch the GoPro Mountain Games.  I loved every second of it, but the highlight was the freestyle kayaking.

Our timing could not have been more perfect.  We got to the Freestyle kayaking semi-finals just as kayaking legend Eric Jackson (“EJ”)  hit the wave.  We quickly grabbed a seat as we told the kids that they were watching one of the best kayakers in the world (4 world championships, and over 100 other wins making him the most winning kayaker in history, and founder of Jackson Kayak).  Mason in particular was instantly glued to him.  He’s smooth, graceful and pulls some pretty amazing tricks that make it all look effortless, especially considering he’s almost 50.  It was fantastic.

I was ready let my day peak right there, but was thrilled to see Nick Troutman (EJ’s son-in-law) and Dane Jackson (son) follow right on his heels.  Both amazing paddlers in their own right, this was quite the paddling line-up we got to check out.

Nick Troutman
Dane Jackson

As fascinating as it was to watch all Nick and Dane paddling, my eyes kept drifting over to EJ sitting in his boat in the eddy, with intense concentration on his sons.  Or are they his competition?  His pupils?  Whatever they are when they are on the water, it’s pretty cool.  There was no fist pumping, obnoxious cheering or moans of disappointment.  Simply quiet observation.

EJ Watching Dane

It was as if I could put myself in his shoes and imagine what he was feeling as a parent.  I imagine the overall thing going through is head was pride, quickly followed by the fear that his kids might beat him.

They did! Nicholas won first place, Dane won 2nd, and EJ won 5th.  The Jackson family rounded out the women’s side of things with Nick’s wife Emily taking 6th (where she normally dominates) – she’s 8 months pregnant!

EJ Watching Nick

As I got home, I couldn’t help but think about what I’d watched.  It was interesting and unique all rolled into one.  Not able to get enough, I spent the evening reading about the Jackson family…I was blown away.

As EJ said here, “My accolades are only a small part of my paddling.  I am most proud of being a part in teaching, training, and paddling with my family, and friends.     I am now a student as much as a teacher, which I am so lucky for.     Dane, Emily, and Nick are family and each of them are now my coach, as I am theirs, my family.    I am so lucky to be surrounded by many of the world’s best paddlers.   We all have more fun in one day than many people have in a life time, it seems.  We are lucky, blessed in that way, and driven.”

This only confirms what I saw on the river – he’s a father first, competitor second.  A rare jewel in the world of competitive adventure sports. His motto is “life without compromise” which he’s doing a great job of living up to both on and off the river. Eric started his kids paddling young, and it’s like they were born to be on the water.  After a few rough runs early on, life Dane’s first big run at the age of 3 – that were as much of a lesson for father as they were for son (read about it here), kayaking quickly became a family affair.  By age 12, Dane was joining in on big expeditions all over, including down the Zambezi.  Living on the road most of the year (and within walking distance of the river the rest of the time), EJ and his wife Christine have been chasing big water and great runs for decades.  It’s no wonder that their kids are hot on their heels.

It’s also no wonder that Jackson Kayak makes a kayak for kids as small as 30 pounds – the Fun 1 which our own kids have loved trying out.

As he told Outside Online, “I believe that bringing your kids with you for all you do is the right way to parent. If you don’t do anything, start doing something and bring them. Your kids keep you young if you play together. Putting your kids in soccer and watching from the sidelines falls way short of parenting’s potential.  Let kids learn about good sportsmanship and having fun, and enable them to be with their parents during their best moments of each day, not with random people.”

EJ’s advice for parents wanting to raise adventurous kids?  “Have fun with them in any sport, but don’t push them! Your motivation won’t do anything but turn them off if it is forced on them. They’ll get to a high level by wanting it for themselves. Focus on sports and activities that are lifestyle and long-term and that they can enjoy with you and you can participate with them. Structure your life for more regular access to fun sports and improve your lifestyle while giving them better opportunities. Watch them have fun and support them and without pressure on winning or losing.” (found here)

Want more inspiration?  Pull up a chair and watch:

Check out 3-year-old KC Jackson getting hooked on kayaking with some good support from his brother and Dad.

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