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Who Uses What: Eric EJ Jackson

Who uses what gear, and why? Part 1: Eric EJ Jackson.

Who Uses What, and Why?

We are starting a series of articles on Playak in which we will present some of the world's top paddlers and the gear they use. Now of course these guys are typically sponsored, so I hear you ask: 'how independent can that be'? To which the answer is: we are not talking about the average sponsored Joe the plumber here. This is about people who are so good that they can actually choose from a wide range of sponsors...

In this kick-off article we present Eric EJ Jackson's gear. And since EJ prefers writing his own stories over answering questions, we decided to leave the text in his narrative style (slightly edited).


EJ - What Gear and Why…

Like all important things in life- anybody who says that they have all of the answers is the last one to listen to. I am no different. What I am about to describe is very important to me, and I hope that I will give you enough reasons why, to understand my beliefs about kayaking gear for my personal use.

It is important to understand several factors that go into every decision, common threads that can be found in each brand. Then there are the details concerning each item of gear, its design, manufacturing, post purchase support, and long term value to the sport itself.

Buying a piece of kayaking gear has more effect on your kayaking life then just the performance of that gear at the moment. When you purchase a piece of gear simply on price, for example, have you decided (without actually deciding on purpose) that you are only willing to pay the amount of money for gear that is made in China, making all domestically made gear obsolete? That is one example. The follow is a list of things to consider, I believe, before you make a decision about what gear is the best for you.

Who owns the company you are buying from?

Does the owner give back to the sport or are they absent owners, only profiting from your purchase, with little given back to the sport?

    • Individual owners that kayak and have a history of supporting our sport are usually people you want to be around in the future and are good for you and kayaking in general. Companies that are simply selling kayak gear as a commodity instead of being a part of the entire paddling family are hurtful to paddling and any money spent with them increases their power while diminishing the power of those who actually care and help.
    • Companies that have people involved in aspects of the sport that are important to you, should be given first opportunity to earn your business. If they help with river conservation, or river access, or freestyle, slalom, or some other part of paddling that is important to you, then you should know that supporting them, makes it more possible for them to continue being a strong supporter of things that are important to you.
    • Do you have access to the decision makers of the company? Is your opinion heard and responded to? Does this company take care of problems that customers have?

Where does the company make their products?

    • Buying locally made products is always the best, but the best product isn’t always local and the best companies are not likely local. Start local first before you extend outwards.
    • Is the gear made at the location of the company or in China or some other country that may or may not support a variety of labor laws and tactics that you don’t approve of? Do you think it is OK to make kayak gear in another country, just to save a few dollars? If you think it is worth saving $40 on a life jacket and have it made in China, think twice when you go into work. You are the consumer and you decide where stuff is made, not the companies. Choose Wal-Mart goods that are the “lowest price always”, but usually lower quality, and rarely made locally, and you have cast your vote. I find it nearly impossible to purchase all of your clothes and gear to be made locally and not made in China or other low labor price country. You must then look at the company itself. Patagonia, for example makes their stuff in China. They, as a company, however, are a leader in taking their profits and re-investing in the environment. They are a great company for their employees, and the Earth. They are also very good to the people in China that make their stuff, not taking advantage of them like the country would allow them to. Personally, I would prefer to see higher prices and made in the same location as their home office, but I think you should still support a company like that.
    • Are the people who are the “face” of the company hired help that will change in a few years, or are they there to stay? Expecting a company to follow the lead of a single employee that is the “face” of that company can be very disappointing if that person leaves or gets fired. Unless they are solid in the company and the company appears stable, expect the company to change in a few years with a new “brand manager” or marketing person.

The Gear Itself

Functional: does it do what it is designed to do?

  • Kayaks- Lightweight, comfortable, durable, dry, perform at or above your expectation, easy to roll, and easy to outfit.
  • Paddle- light, durable, comfortable, slices through the water well, proper size and grip
  • PFD- easy on and off, proper floatation, comfortable, features for easy use. Safety features are easy to use.
  • Dry top- DRY? Durable, comfortable, and stylish
  • Spray Skirt- DRY? Durable, comfortable
  • Dry Deck- both of the top combined.
  • Shoes- fit in kayak, comfortable, easy to walk in, light when wet, dry fast, protect feet. Good grip for walking
  • Fleece- comfortable, dries fast, fits right, protects lower back from backband, etc. etc.
  • Helmet- safe for impact, fits well and protects entire head, easy to adjust and comfortable, stylish

EJ’s Choices

Kayak Company

Jackson Kayak. Why? Clearly it is made “local” in my hometown and it is made by my friends and family. I do believe that we offer an incredible network of support to anyone who purchases from us. We go above and beyond in any warranty situation, and you can always talk to the owner/president about any issue at any time. You will likely see the staff, owners, and team on the water and can certainly get your opinion heard and responded to. I use the Fun, All-Star, Rocker, and Hero. I have also used the Super Hero and Mega-Rocker.

  • All-Star- fast, loose, huge looping, easy cartwheeling, comfortable, user-friendly all around winner of a freestyle kayak.
  • Rocker- like the monster truck of creekers with incredible “clearance” to go over just about anything. Safe, strong, confidence inspiring.
  • Hero- I use this a lot for river running as it paddles like a playboat and has the Fun hull on it. Great speed, and feel on the water. Ridiculously easy to paddle.
  • Fun- Big river running ability with world class play. I choose it less than the others as I prefer to maximize either the play or river running. When I want just one boat to do it all, there is no better choice.


AT 2- still the best after 7 years in my opinion-

  • Super strong- I rarely break them.
  • Awesome (the best I have seen) blades- with no rib and float high.
  • Great shaft for long term paddling and good control.



  • Astral Willis for a play PFD
    • Most comfortable, while it stays put on the body and doesn’t ride up.
    • Requires less tightening of the straps to stay down making it more comfortable.
    • Great movement and durable.
    • New one looks great.
  • Rescue Vest- I have used the P-Vest by Lotus for many years and don’t actually have any experience with any others. Since Lotus is no longer making vests, I am looking and I expect that the Astral vest will be a good start since their play vest is so much better than the other options.


Crocs for playboating

  • Creates a casing around your feet that prevents banging on the sides like normal booties.
  • Lighter weight
  • Never really wet
  • Don’t stink
  • I wear them straight out of the boat and into clothes.
  • Cheap but last longer than booties.


Happy 2 B - Skook

  • Comfortable and reasonably well made.
  • Stylish
  • Durability of outfitting is only a 5 out of 10.
  • Impact? I am not sure but need to find out.

Spray Skirts

Mountain Surf Rand skirt for 12 years until they stopped making them. I have hung my hat with Immersion Research, with the hopes of helping them design out some minor flaws to become the best design.

  • Durable (as of 2008 models) (they had prior manufacturing issues that hurt their reputation)
  • Fits well- They are actually designing them now specifically to fit the Jackson Kayak boats perfectly!
  • Great company and customer service- John and Kara Weld are the owners and they have been in the sport since the 80’s

Dry Tops

Immersion Research

  • Switched over to a “durability first” manufacturing and they already have incredible designs and customer service.
  • Very supportive and helpful to the customer.
  • Very supportive of the industry and a good long term investment of your buying dollars.


Immersion Research, There is nothing better. Uni-suit rocks, all of the tops and pants are so soft, warm, and cut right that it is the way to go for all layering.


Can you purchase other brands and feel good about it? That is up to you [ed. see also below]. Only you can make you mind up about what works for you and what companies you want to support. Many people support brands blindly and don’t look around to see what the real deal it.

I am off to paddle with my stuff and I feel proud of each item of gear I use.

Second Choice

To give this series of articles an extra independent touch, we ask every athlete the following question: "If the above companies wouldn't exist, what brands would you be using?". EJ's answers to that:





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