OKC NOT excited about EJ’s visit!

Dreading it…. I just wanted the weekend to be over already. Eric Jackson and Steve Fisher’s flight had not even arrived yet, and I was not excited at all. En route to my home town of Oklahoma City for a weekend of whitewater kayaking instruction on the new, 45.2 million dollar, whitewater kayaking park, Riversport Rapids, I was to play host. We had much to do to prepare for the visit of the World Freestyle Champion, and a guy named by his peers, “Best Overall Paddler in the World,” and I felt extremely apprehensive about the outcome of their visit.

As the local kayak shop owner, you would think I would be super stoked, and the text messages I was relaying to the pair as they were on a flight layover in Charlotte, indicated such. Then I began to type the last part of the message, “…and we have over 50 people signed up for the first day beginner class alone.” This number would just continue to climb, and these did not include the signups for seventeen other instructional lessons and events we would be offering during the two day weekend of clinics.

The problem, you see, was the closest that most Oklahoman’s had ever been to a “Jackson” other than a kayak bearing the name, was that one night they hit it big at an Indian casino. We had kayak fisherman, recreational boaters, touring kayakers, rowers, and even non boaters, all signing up for a chance to taste whitewater for the first time, under the tutelage of such masters. The signups had gone viral. My text message alerting the two pros, left each of them looking at the other with a blank stare that could only say, what do we do? The directors at the whitewater center had been sending me messages of concern as well, fearful that it would be shear chaos.

To further complicate matters, two hours from their plane landing, I was sitting in an intensive care unit with my shop manager, and long time partner, Melissa, whose father who had undergone quadruple bypass surgery that very morning. Procrastination is a rare trait in kayakers, but I had left four years worth of house cleaning to the very last minute, despite the fact that the pair was sacking out at my place for the weekend. Oh, and I forgot to mention, our kayak store, OKC Kayak, was hosting a party for four hundred boaters at the store that Saturday night.

After making a few phone calls and realizing that a flight to Bermuda was out of the question for the weekend, I sucked up my pride and began accepting the many offers to help out, from the kayaking community. We began to delegate folks to help teach rolling, fit kayaks, and sort through bags of peanut M&M’s, removing all the red colored candies, one of the many things required by Steve Fisher’s rider and agreement to appear. Slowly but surely, the excitement the community was feeling about the weekend began to pulse through my veins as well.

The day of the event arrived, and we made our early departure, EJ commented that he didn’t remember EVER leaving for a non-fishing event while it was still dark out. Like a honeybee hive, dozens of volunteers were buzzing about the whitewater center, each with a specific job. The masses began to arrive to a sea of Jackson kayaks. Even the whitewater center folks were exclaiming, “Where did all these kayakers come from?”

We have always had whitewater boaters in Oklahoma, (get ready to pinch yourself) and even some pretty good whitewater, sporting the likes of other legends like Stephen Wright on occasion, but this certainly blew everyone’s mind to see three hundred whitewater kayakers all in one spot together in the capitol city of the “Dust Bowl” state.

EJ and Steve went right to work, teaching raw beginners to roll (and even one homeless guy who showed up how to swim!) They then broke into groups, and things began to flow like clockwork, as it would continue to be the case all weekend. Large smiles, and loads of compliments bestowed the two all weekend. Everyone was impressed by the coaching and skills they were learning, but even more so, how approachable and normal (well maybe normal is the wrong adjective) the two were.

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First time kayaker, Taitai , a cute as can be, nine year old girl who looked like the blonde haired progeny of the gal on the Swiss Miss hot chocolate box, was here trying a Rockstar XS with her dad. She ended up taking Fisher’s strokes and concepts clinic, following along for all but a brief moment of distraction. Steve would later run the course, as the less skilled participants in class ran along on shore, pointing out the items they had just learned. The highlight of the weekend was watching Taitai run down along side the course, as fast as a gazelle and with a smile so big her helmet pushed up a bit. She was not about to miss a word Steve was speaking. Steve would take her, the homeless fellow, and many others for a Dynamic Duo tandem kayak ride down the course, so they could truly experience the rush that is whitewater kayaking. (We did convert that gal who previously was a rower too!)

Once the two days had come and gone, the comments all shared the same theme. I will share a snippet of some comments, friend and volunteer, Daryl Hopper posted:

I just wanted to say a few things about the past weekend over at Riversports OKC.
Regarding Eric Jackson and Steve Fisher, those guys never slowed down, and were always teaching, demonstrating, correcting, etc. I’m not sure how the schedule went, as I just caught snippets of clinics (but did manage to catch the entire advanced playboating clinic on Sunday), they went well beyond allotted time to help everyone that wanted it. They were still teaching when they shut the pumps down on Sunday. They are truly class acts.
There were always several people helping in the top pool with the roll clinic, too many to mention by name. Having said that, I watched Tom Burroughs spend an entire 2 days standing in the top pool, teaching beginners how to roll. Pretty sure he has webbed hands now. There is no telling how many people he helped.
Finally, every time that EJ or Steve led a group of beginner or intermediate paddlers down one of the channels at low flow (or high flow), there was always a large contingent of experienced boaters following behind, rescuing swimmers and retrieving boats and paddles, and then helping to drain the boats. As we all know, swimming is inevitable, we’ve all been there. It’s a part of the process.
The entire weekend was just extraordinary, and just illustrates why the paddling community is the best community.

The paddling community IS the best community, and Jackson Kayak, a great partner. Everyone whose coworkers asked them on Monday morning why they looked so happy, got to show a picture, describe a new friend they made, or explain how enamored they were with EJ and Steve. Many even said it was the best weekend of their lives.
EJ describes rolling and the hip snap as a BB gun trying to knock down a tin can, and makes the analogy of the paddle as the bazooka shooting at this same can. EJ, Steve, and the many volunteers, thank you for being the BAZOOKA that really kicked off Oklahoma City’s newfound passion for whitewater boating and all the amazing folks who go hand in hand with this sport. Honored to have you as friends!
-Dave Lindo, Owner OKC Kayak/ Tulsa Kayak

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