No doubt in my mind this was one of the most fun and educational weekends I’ve had in a long time as an adventurer and athlete. As many of you know I work with Uncle Lem’s Mountain Outfitters in West Knoxville to promote the paddle sports, and whitewater kayaking in particular. Since the shop carries exclusively Jackson brand boats I was afforded the opportunity to venture to Rock Island for a few days of boat demos, clinics, paddling, and of course chilling by the campfire at the 2015 Jackson Dealer Summit. In a word, I was “stoked!”

Having never been to Rock Island, and since I only just stepped up to Class III water after spending the summer in a playboat (Jackson Fun or All star), this little “paddlewan” was super nervous about paddling new waters without my regular boating mates, and my Jedi paddling master. As far as familiar faces? Jonea and Sawyer from Uncle Lem’s, and then Cameron and Brian from River Sports were also out for the dealers summit. 

Sunday afternoon Jonea and I piled what looked like everything we owned into my Focus and made our way to Rock Island State Park to setup camp. Afterward we set out for the Jackson’s Ranch to meet some of the other Jackson dealers who trekked in from around the country. Imagine a beautiful cabin set back in a field where horses graze, the stars are as glimmering as a prairie sky, and if you stand quietly you just may feel the rush of whitewater over your eardrums since the powerhouse is just across the way. At the house there was no shortage of Orion coolers filled with your favorite beverages, cotton candy, and new faces. Of course, I probably caught a few folks off guard when I was trying to snag a few more votes for my Green Race shirt design…which was totally worth it! Anyway, after a VERY eventful night where my new Uncle Lem’s crew became much closer than anticipated, we tossed some wood on the fire, and our friend in a tent. 

DAY TWO –> The next morning my alarm clock, you call him Sawyer, malfunctioned and these party animals were of course late for breakfast…all I could think was, “way to go K-town kids…really representin…meh, at least we’re surrounded by boaters”. Running late, hungry, waiting on my business coffee (those who boat with me know the routine), and freezing because I’m a moron. How exactly could I pack so much stuff and forget that t-shirts, spandex, and jeans won’t keep my butt warm in the fall weather?!?! Lesson Learned. 

Finally got my coffee and as the ignition in my brain fired up I realized my phone was dead and the Green Race shirt design winner was to be posted that morning. So I happen to look over and Jonea is scrolling her facebook feed and I just had to ask her to check the Green Race page for me. Now remember, I’m no morning person and was off kilter anyway, so when she read aloud that I won I had no idea I screeched so loud that I won. Loud enough that I pretty much everyone heard it. (If you’ve heard the story of me announcing to all of Tomato Head about me walking into the mens bathroom after safety boating the Knoxville triathlon…ummm, was that loud apparently) But whatever! Thanks to all that voted and helped me get new tires to haul your demo boats around on!!
So, back to the important stuff. Our first full day had a few nice things on the docket, a marketing clinic, talking to vendors, and a short paddling trip, but up first a flatwater demo session. There we are standing around with Eric Jackson, Clay Wright, and Steven Wright…no they are not related…and yes, you know 
I asked. 

Now let me stop and rewind for a sec. Back when I mentioned we were waiting on coffee earlier, Cameron, our buddy from River Sports, walked over and quietly blurted in my ear, “did you see who’s over at that van?!?!? That’s Steve freakin Fisher man!!! Looks like he’s fishing though. OH! OH! And there’s Eric Jackson!!!! This is so cool!” He wasn’t wrong.  
So, fast forward back to where we were standing around a slew of brand new Jackson boats and Eric is giving us the run down on them. He’s got us all entranced in the new design features when all of a sudden we hear, ba ba ba ba ba ba ba. Here comes Steve Fisher down the boat ramp in paddling gear on a Onewheel with a boat on his shoulder and paddle in hand. Let’s just say as an athlete new in this particular sport I was thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me if I’m going to get some real paddling instruction from all of these guys…what an awesome opportunity!” and while I was thinking that I was so eager to get on the water that I jumped right into a playboat and paddled out. That’s when Eric looked at me and said “why don’t you go put on a PFD?”.  
I couldn’t believe I’d done that…but thankfully no one made me feel like an idiot like I did! By this point I figured I’d labeled myself as “THAT Girl”…yes…enough of you know my definition for that. If you don’t it’s fairly self explanatory. We all know “THAT Guy”.
After that little flatwater session, and lunch we had a quick clinic on sizing and outfitting a boat to a paddler. Thanks to Jacksons man, Colin Kemp, this was the most valuable lesson in outfitting a boat that I’ve ever been privy to. Many of you know I’m a fan of Dagger outfitting, but I have a whole new appreciation for Jackson outfitting now that I know the extent of dialing a boat in for a paddler. Playing so many sports at a high level for so many years, I know how equipment needs to work for the athlete…whether their skills are developed in the sport or not. However, this weekend was the very first time I’d felt that with my paddling gear, and it changed a lot in me as a paddler. Actually I’m willing to bet you there’s SOMETHING each paddler in our club could do to improve the “oneness” of you and your boat with a Jackson outfitting accessory, and if you’re curious what I’m talking about I’ll show you. 

Right about the time Colin’s clinic wrapped up we got the call to get gear and load boats for a down river run and a chance to hit the infamous play wave everyone had been talking about. Right about then I was really questioning my skills…I mean I had been in a playboat all summer and working technical things, but had only been on Class III running the Pigeon in a playboat and in a river runner once on Ocoee lite.
Now, in my phone I keep a list of every time I paddle whitewater. Whether it’s a river run, or a chance to just hit a play wave, I see it all as training. As I look at the list I see my notes of every swim, and every new milestone. The overall goal being to track progression and find what works with boating style, gear, and water levels. But while that afternoon was meant to be my 26th time in a boat and I have a combat roll, it’s putting it lightly to say I was majorly freaked out, and doubting my ability to keep up, despite being surrounded by some of the best athletes in the sport. Maybe it’s still a mental block since breaking my face at Lesser Wesser, but, like usual, it was time to buck up and perform. 

We put in and I quickly realized on the shuttle to the top us Knoxville kids were the least seasoned paddlers on the run. After his acrobatic back flip into the river EJ took Cameron and broke off to have a quick roll session and guided trip down the river. Jonea struck a ride in the Dynamic Duo with our camping neighbor and was proud to have set the line for Steve “freakin” Fisher as Cameron dubbed him. Meanwhile, like a guppie I searched for the school of playboats and tried to soak up as much warm up and confidence as I could before we dropped into what would be my first attempt at a legit surf. Thanks to Stephen Wright’s demeanor and instruction, and then EJ’s urging to “get in” the play wave I just went for it. 
Scared, thrilled, proud, surprised, and flowing with adrenaline…that’s what I felt riding that wave. I was probably only surfing for 8-10 seconds on my longest runs, but this was that next level I was looking for and I had no idea I’d hit. A few surfs, ferries, rapids, and combat rolls later and I felt like I knew what my skills actually were, but now I had the confidence to go with them. By far this was the biggest moment of my weekend! 

Later that evening we gathered at a local joint for dinner and we got a chance to mingle with the other crowd…the anglers. I took this opportunity to sit with non-whitewater folks and it was certainly a great chance to learn about their side of the summit and make some new friends. Not to mention learn a bit about Orion coolers and the Jackson fishing kayaks.
DAY THREE –> more of day one awesomeness except I decided to try a river runner for that day’s paddle run and learned some a nice wee lessons. 
Lesson 1: Don’t lean back on a long boat to roll like in a playboat 
Lesson 2: A river runner isn’t a playboat and edges differently
Lesson 3: Get a longer paddle…by the way mine is for sale
You guessed it…I swam…yeah. Definitely embarrassed, but hey, I tried 5 rolls before popping the skirt, and no yard sale. I swam trying something new, no biggie. The rest of that run though I was filled with awe watching Dane Jackson C-1 a playboat while he and Stephen Wright threw crazy moves down the river even in the flatwater sections. When I say crazy, I’m talking loops on flatwater kids!
This is where I was going to tell you about the amazing Jackson factory tour, but that in itself has so much awesomeness to behold that next month I’ll give you a rundown on how we made a boat. 

That evening was our last night with our new crew of friends we’d bonded with from around the country and it was time to say goodbye with a farewell dinner back at the Jackson’s ranch. But with a bit of daylight to spare I snatched my camera and Sawyer drove us down to the beach for one last paddle with our new friend Rachel from Colorado. Not only did we have a great time enjoying the sunset over the scenic views from the river, I got a chance to test out the whitewater prowess of a fishing kayak by surfing and ferrying it. Those suckers are like rafts! Although despite the stability of the boat I don’t think I’d be trying to take it down Class III rapids like Steve Fisher did with his earlier in the day. That was quite the impressive feat to see him skirting past the waterfalls and standing up in current to cast a line. I can’t wait to see the photos people took from that!

After showering off the day we set out to say our farewells and what a fun night it was. Full of food, fun, dancing, fire, starlight, karaoke, and of course Dane’s glass Porron wine pitcher made the rounds.  A big thanks to the Jackson family, and staff for a stellar weekend with loads of wonderful people!
You want to demo a Jackson? Give me a shout! 


{EDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel is a talented writer and editor of EDDY OUT, the newsletter of the CHOTA Canoe Club of Knoxville TN where she also serves as current club president. “THAT Girl” also happens to be an artist and designer who recently released a “Dirtbag” series of apparel. She may be new-ish to the whitewater scene, but she’s one of us on every level! Rachel is one of our contributing writers here at The Mag, so keep your eyes peeled for her next article….}

CHOTA CANOE CLUB, founded in 1969. 

The club newsletter, EDDY OUT.

Uncle Lem’s Mountain Outfitters, in West Knoxville TN


Rachel Elise Designs, where you can pick up your Dirtbag wardrobe! 

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