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14 Jan 2015 | By Sun International

On Life, Family and Conquering the Zambezi River

The Royal Livingstone and Zambezi Sun attract thousands of tourists from around the world. Renowned for proximity to the Zambezi River, these properties recently played host to Olympian kayaker Eric Jackson as he explored the region and enjoyed what he describes as his “favourite river in the world”. 

We caught up with the world-champion kayaker, entrepreneur and family man to find out more about his time in Zambia and his new reality show for the Travel Channel.

Q: Your family has been involved in the sport of kayaking for decades with your children and son-in-law following in your footsteps. When did your passion for kayaking begin?

A:  I started kayaking with my father when I was 6 but really caught the fever at age 15 when we finally purchased our own kayaks. I got my first job taking photos on the Kennebec River in Maine in the USA, and being on the river every day is what helped me become really good at it and made me realise that this was a sport that I really loved and could continue doing in the long term.

Q: How have you managed to succeed in the sport for so long despite often competing with athletes many years your junior?

A: Over time as I became the best kayaker and forged my own path, I was able to lead the sport for many years. New, younger paddlers came up the ranks and often beat me in occasional competitions, but it is much harder to become the best, developing your own techniques, versus copying others and doing it very well. Eventually my experience level was just higher, while my skills and physical abilities were as good or better as well, keeping me at the top of the game.

In the past 5 years, however, my son and son-in-law, in particular, along with a couple of team mates of mine, like Stephen Wright, have begun to forge their own paths and I’m now the one trying to keep up!

Q: Tell us about your new show on the Travel Channel, what can fans expect?  

A: This show is about my family's travel experiences to a variety of places worth visiting. The first show was done in Austria at a competition – the "World Extreme Racing Championships" and while the competition is part of the show, the bulk of the show is about the activities that we do when not competing.

Our second show was done in Zambia, based out of the Zambezi Sun and Royal Livingstone Hotel. Activities like a game drive in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, camping on the river, a traditional braai, along with kayaking on the river and visiting Livingstone Island should show those watching what a wonderful place the Zambezi River and Zambia are to visit.  

Q: Do viewers have to have an interest in kayaking to enjoy the show? 

A: Most of the show is about my family, which is a very colourful group of individuals. My wife, Kristine, is the smart, witty planner. While my daughter Emily, who is 25 years old, is the mature, hardworking, serious one. My son-in-law Nick who is 26 years old, is the super nice, hardworking, fun-loving new father, and my son, Dane who is 21, is the carefree, awesome kayaker with a heart of gold, who forgets to do things and needs a little help from mom and dad to remember his responsibilities. My son, KC who is 6, is the excited ball of energy, and my grandson, Tucker is the new toddler running around.

Q: As a well-travelled kayaker, how does Zambia’s Zambezi river rate compared to other rivers that you have experienced? 

A: The Zambezi River is my top, favourite river in the world. The combination of the gorge, the put-in, take out, the rapids, and the environment and people make it second to none in my opinion!

Q: Please share some tips for kayakers heading to the Zambezi for the first time.  

A: The Zambezi isn't overly difficult at the lower water levels – July to December. With a good Eskimo roll and the willingness to walk the harder rapids, anyone who is a big water class 3 boater can do it.

Q: On your Facebook page you mention that sharing your journey is a way for you to stay accountable to living your best life. What is your definition of “living your best life”?  

A: I believe in a life lived without compromising what’s important to you. It basically means that you think honestly about what is truly important to you and make sure you prioritize those things in the order you feel they go. For me, for example, it is my wife, my kids, my kayaking, and then my business in that order.

So to live that life, I never let priority 4 overpower my priorities 1 - 3. I also focus on finding mutually beneficial situations for all 4 priorities, such as living in an RV with my wife and kids, traveling to rivers to go kayaking and enjoying the many awesome things to do along the way, all while promoting my business on the road.

Q: What do you think about while you’re out on the water?  

A: Being on the water is truly, for me, about the moment. I am enjoying each rapid, the challenge of kayaking well, learning new stuff and safely getting the group down the river. In between rapids it is usually reflecting on the location and people I am with. Nothing outside of the river enters my head when kayaking, which is part of what makes it so special to me.

Q: Your life seems to be pretty exciting and adventurous – you’re an athlete, entrepreneur and family man. With so much on your schedule, talk us through your daily routine.    

A: I don't have a routine, which is the way I like it, but, I do have a few examples of a typical day...

When at home, I work from my home office, where I am today writing this. I wake up early, empty the dishwasher, make coffee for myself and Kristine and deliver Kristine's coffee to her in bed. I then check my email and catch up on that and try to be ready for the day before other's wake up.

I'll play an average of 18 holes of disc golf each day at my home course. I’ll go kayaking, play some games with KC, usually jumping on the trampoline, do some more work on the computer and then watch the sunset with Kristine with a glass of wine. I’ll then turn my attention to family games. When on the road, 6 months of the year, in my RV, it starts the same, but more time is spent kayaking, competing, etc.

Q: It is quite obvious that family is extremely important to you, how do you balance your various commitments while ensuring you that enjoy quality family time?   

A: My main technique for assuring that family always comes first is to include them in my work and my leisurely activities. My wife and kids work with my business, and they are my playmates in all of my games. This assures that I don't have to "balance" my life, but instead I can do as much of any type of activity and be spending time with them. I also always work from home or my RV and don't report to an office, even though I have a factory with 160 employees only 20 kilometres from my house.  

Q: Where can viewers find about more about your family and your Travel Channel show? 


A: The release dates for the Travel Channel show on our family has not yet been announced. Whether or not it becomes a weekly series is still being decided by the network. The show we did on the Zambezi will air this year. I will publicise it on my Facebook page which is eric.ej.jackson as well as on my blog page at ej.jacksonkayak.com.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?   

A: "Take 100% of the responsibility for making any relationship work.  50/50 never works long term." From my dad. The world would be a better place if that was internalised by more people.

Watch Eric Jackson’s video of the Zambezi Sun and Royal Livingstone.

For more info about the Jackson family, follow Eric on Instagram: @ericjacksonkayak.