As a kid, Eric Jackson, or EJ as just about everybody calls him, began canoeing on camping trips with his father. “My dad was the only one who could tell me if I couldn’t do something. The subject only came up a few times, and each time he allowed me to do what I wanted.” He didn’t discover whitewater kayaking until college—and once he did, he was hooked. From the start, he says, boating was about “freedom and having the ability to run around anywhere. That has never changed.”
Fast-forward 40-some-odd years and 52-year-old EJ is the most decorated freestyle kayaker ever. A seasoned expedition kayaker and four-time world champion and Olympian, he was a member of the U.S. Kayaking Team for an unprecedented 25 years in a row. He’s also a competitive professional kayak fishermen, the proud father of three, and the owner of Jackson Kayak, one of the the biggest brands in the sport. “I decided to start Jackson Kayak to make a boat for my oldest son, Dane, but also to have the freedom to make what I thought made sense,” he says. Dane is now a three-time world champion. Emily, who is three years older, owns a pair of world titles too. (KC, the youngest, is eight years old.)
As his career has evolved, EJ has had to reinvent himself to stay on top. “As a young man, I was focused on working harder than everyone else physically,” he says. “But eventually, I got better by being creative and designing new techniques.”
He’s also had to figure out which gear he could always count on—which is why he never heads out without his Casio Pro Trek PRW3500. “The solar power is a no-brainer,” says EJ. “I’ve had Pro Treks for four years now, and I’ve never had a battery die.” On the water, he uses the thermometer, compass, and barometic alarm feature constantly. “It’s like having your own personal weatherman strapped to your wrist,” EJ says. “A single barometer reading is only useful if you remember what the last number was, but the trending barometer on the Pro Trek makes it easy to see if bad weather is rolling in.”
Which he’ll definitely need to know later this summer, when he heads to the Caribbean to attempt to make the first-ever circumnavigation of South Andros Island.