In an exclusive interview with Paddling Magazine, Eric Jackson, founder and former president of Jackson Kayak, revealed he is launching Apex Watercraft, a new brand making carbon composite kayaks. EJ is playing details close to the chest still, and there is lots of info he was not ready to confirm by phone. Apex Watercraft’s “About Us” page on Facebook confirms it will be making high-performance fishing kayaks.

“From now on, the appearance of a high-performance fishing kayak will change, what it feels like will change, what you bring with you on the water will change… Through a minimalist approach, fishermen will make more casts and catch more fish. The experience of catching a fish will be amplified by the texture and feel of the boat, the craftsmanship and the ethos behind the company,” the statement reads.

Apex Watercraft kayaks to be available for purchase soon

We caught EJ on the phone at the FLW bass boat fishing tournament in Texas. Here’s what he told us: In terms of a timeline, Apex’s carbon composite kayaks will be ready to purchase this spring, with limited production initially. Boats will be 100 percent made in the U.S., with manufacturing taking place in Warren County in Tennessee, just a few miles from Jackson Kayak’s facility. And Apex Watercraft has come together in the last few months.

The launch of Apex Watercraft comes on the heels of EJ’s December 3, 2019 announcement via Facebook that he was stepping down as president of Jackson Kayak.

“Apex is not competing with Jackson,” EJ clarifies. “I will still be an ambassador for Jackson; I paddle Jackson whitewater kayaks and Jackson fishing kayaks.” EJ’s daughter and son, Emily and Dane, will continue with their roles at Jackson.

Carving a new lane in a changing industry

EJ’s December announcement was one of several major industry shakeups during Fall 2019, which included consolidations and acquisitions. Among them, Jackson Kayak, Orion Coolers, Orion Kennels and Blue Sky Boatworks announced on November 3 that they were consolidating under one core brand, Jackson Adventures.

EJ sees the industry’s turbulent waters as an opportunity. “This is the right time for Apex,” he says. “The kayak industry just went through a lot of changes. I think it’s the right time to try something different, the opposite of a big conglomerate.” As the sole owner of Apex—EJ received some startup funding from a bank—“I don’t have outside investment and can make every decision on my own. I think a small and nimble company can navigate the industry better right now than the big brands.”

EJ wasn’t looking to start another company when he decided to step down from his role as president at Jackson Kayak, which he calls “one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.”

“I put my heart and soul into the business. Prior to the announcement, there was a good 30 days of high stress, but it was the right thing to do,” he says. However, he quickly decided he needed to figure out how to “channel my energy—being an athlete and fisherman is not enough for me. I want to be involved in the industry.”

EJ had come up with the concept of Apex prior, “but it wasn’t the right place for it. Other people [at Jackson] didn’t want to make composites. It made my next step pretty easy because I had conceptualized a lot of this.”

“It’s been balls to the wall from the time I stepped down,” he adds. “I wanted to hit this season and for this to be a 2020 project, not a 2021 project. The timeline I’m on is the impossible timeline. There was no retirement. This is the opposite of being retired.”

Getting Apex Watercraft off the ground (and into the drink)

Currently, apexwatercraft.com is a holding page, but EJ plans to launch the website soon, where he will introduce Apex’s team members. There’s no crossover between the Jackson team and Apex team, he says, but promises some of the Apex team will be familiar faces to the paddling industry.

When we spoke, EJ was writing Apex Watercraft’s first blog post, focusing on the meaning behind the new brand’s logo. The arrow-focused logo is inspired by a pendant EJ’s wife gave him in 1998, and he’s worn ever since. He says the pendant represents the Norse rune for victory and competition, and he won 11 competitions in a row after receiving it.

“Apex allows me to build from the ground up again,” says EJ. “While I’m a small piece of the puzzle, my objective is to be a caretaker of the industry. And the industry needs some variety. I think this is going to be an inflection point—Apex is going to shake things up,” he adds.

When further details about Apex Watercraft are revealed, paddlingmag.com will have them. Check back regularly.

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