What a catch! Kayak business lands in Warren County
Warren County has hooked a winner. Four-time world champion freestyle kayaking champion Eric Jackson is starting his new business, Apex Watercraft, in McMinnville. The company will specialize in high-performance fishing kayaks.
Feb. 1, 2020
By James Clark - Southern Standard
Here’s local news that’s really making a splash involving Eric Jackson, everyone’s favorite world-class kayaker.
If you recall, it was about a month ago when I reported Jackson, affectionately known as E.J., had stepped down as president of the company he founded 15 years ago, Jackson Kayak. It didn’t take long for him to find new waters to explore as he’s started a company called Apex Watercraft.
Now here’s the best part. Apex Watercraft is launching its operation right here in Warren County at the plant on Gilispie Road currently occupied by Towee Boats. It will be a partnership of sorts with Towee Boats owner Todd Gregory overseeing production for Apex Watercraft while E.J. is the sole owner.
“We hope to change the way people look at fishing kayaks,” said Steve Fisher, a world-class kayaker himself who is handling marketing for Apex Watercraft. “Our boats will be entirely different.”
Folks who have followed the Jackson Kayak story know Eric Jackson started the business 15 years ago in a tiny shop overlooking Rock Island State Park. The business has experienced tremendous growth and now employees some 150 people at a massive plant just over the county line in White County.
But as Fisher explained to me in a Friday night phone interview, that growth created new dynamics. He said Jackson suddenly found himself not calling the shots at a company bearing his name. This was an awkward experience.
So Jackson, 55, delivered the shocking news in December that he was stepping down as president of his own company. It didn’t take long for him to reel in a new adventure.
“This all came together very quickly,” said Fisher. “E.J. went out and assembled a bit of an A Team to make everything flow well. We’ve already moved into the Towee Boats facility and we’re doing R&D right now. We should be able to build our first prototype boat to put in the water in a few weeks. We don’t want to overpromise and under deliver, but we think we can have boats ready to purchase this spring.”
Fisher said it won’t be a mass production operation. He said quality would be stressed more than quantity and the initial goal will be to build one kayak a day.
“E.J.’s reputation and following allows us to start on the higher end,” said Fisher. “We’ll be working with higher quality and fewer numbers. Someone without E.J.’s name probably wouldn’t be able to jump right in on such a high-performance level.”
Apex Watercraft will be producing carbon composite kayaks, which are much lighter than traditional plastic. Fisher said the lightest boat manufactured by Jackson Kayak weighs 75 pounds. In comparison, Apex will produce a 35-pound kayak.
“It will be a lighter, quieter, faster fishing kayak,” said Fisher. “You’ll be able to carry it with one arm. This is something E.J.’s had in his mind for years and he’s raised the subject several times at Jackson Kayak, but it’s something they refused to build.”
In a recently published interview with Paddling Magazine, Jackson was quoted as saying, “I think it’s the right time to try something different, the opposite of a big conglomerate. 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.”
Jackson said he will not be competing against Jackson Kayak and will still serve as an ambassador for the company.
As for job projections, Fisher said Apex Watercraft will probably start with around five employees. He said that’s a good place to start and pointed out Jackson Kayak started with just three.
Jobs are always nice to add to our workforce, but an added benefit is having a kayak manufacturer here in our community as we’re trying to promote ourselves as more outdoorsy. It’s even more impactful with Eric Jackson at the helm.
You could say this is certainly a big catch for Warren County. In terms of fishing stories, it’s one that didn’t get away.
I hope to tour the Apex Watercraft facility when production gets underway and provide more information at that point.