Apex Watercraft to Make Whitewater Kayaks: Eric Jackson Brings Us the Ringer
We all saw it coming! Eric Jackson’s new kayak company, Apex Watercraft — builder of crazy high-end fishing kayaks — will release its first whitewater kayak in 2022.
Called the Ringer, the new boat will specifically be designed to win at the new Extreme Slalom competition discipline. And there will be other whitewater kayaks — including a freestyle boat — coming very soon.
Eric Jackson (EJ) left the whitewater boat design/building game when he left his namesake company, Jackson Kayak, back in 2019. His focus in recent years has been bringing to market the $11,000 Apex Watercraft Tyr composite fishing kayak. He’s had a rough go of that — and not for the lack of demand, but because of manufacturing issues.
Apex Watercraft is at a big turning point right now, as manufacturing moves primarily to Nelo Kayaks in Portugal. Yes, there will be composite whitewater kayaks. But plastic is coming in 2022 as well.
I had a chat and exchanged a few emails with EJ to get the scoop. And I got lots of interesting details about this new direction for Apex Watercraft.
Let’s dive into the details.
The Genesis of Apex Watercraft
EJ has been riding the waves of popularity of specialties within kayaking since the 1980s. He began with slalom, and then freestyle in the 1990s and early 2000s.
He started kayak fishing in the 2010s, and now with the rise of boatercross as an Olympic sport, he competes in Extreme Slalom. He’s been both a fierce competitor and an innovative boat designer in all of these specialties.
EJ has been designing kayaks since 1992 and has been involved in making them since 1981. His kayak design ideas have influenced many generations of kayakers. He worked at and designed boats for Wavesport. He started and built Jackson Kayak. And he’s now building Apex Watercraft.
Jackson Kayak launched with the first-of-its-kind small kid’s boat, the Fun 1. And Apex Watercraft was launched with a first-of-its-kind ultralight fishing kayak.
Now, EJ plans to develop a full line of whitewater kayaks at Apex Watercraft. This starts with an Extreme Slalom design ready to win Olympic gold.
“As you can imagine, I enjoy moving the market and delivering boats to people they can’t get otherwise,” he said.
“Pushing hard helps motivate the other brands to keep up. And that is how we continue to get better products from everyone. There are still plenty of great boat designs, outfitting ideas, construction, etc., that whitewater kayakers haven’t had access to that I will bring them.”
Apex Watercraft Whitewater Kayaks
The whitewater designs coming out of Apex Watercraft will be the first since 1992 that EJ has designed with anyone other than naval architect David Knight. For context, Knight still designs boats at Jackson Kayak.
While whitewater designer Pat Keller has worked with Apex Watercraft, he is not directly involved with the new whitewater boats coming out of the company. Instead, EJ is working with a new CAD design partner, Mark Nordstrom, who has never worked on whitewater boat designs before. Nordstrom has helped EJ in the past with CAD assistance on Orion Coolers and Jackson fishing kayaks.
More on Construction, Development
For the first time in EJ’s boatbuilding career, his designs are going to be built offshore. Specifically, the new Apex Kayaks will all be produced at Nelo Kayak in Portugal. Nelo has been building composite competition kayaks since 1978, winning loads of Olympic medals along the way.
Further, Nelo had actually reached out to EJ to help them design an extreme slalom boat. But in the end, the two partnered to have Nelo manufacture Apex-branded boats.
Through this partnership, EJ will also be helping Nelo set up a rotomolding machine in the summer of 2022. This will make plastic Apex whitewater kayaks. The goal is to have plastic Apex Watercraft Ringer kayaks in the 2022 world cup events for extreme slalom.
The plan for Apex Watercraft is to introduce composite whitewater kayaks first and then offer the designs in plastic. The boats will all be made by Nelo and then sold direct to consumers by Apex Watercraft and through retailers worldwide. No retailers have currently been established for the Apex Watercraft whitewater kayaks line.
How Much Will They Be?
While pricing hasn’t been worked out yet for the Apex Watercraft whitewater kayaks, EJ expects his new kayaks to be very competitively priced. Contrast this with the Tyr fishing kayak, which is an extremely premium product with a price that reflects it.
A new outfitting setup hasn’t been finalized yet, which greatly influences a kayak’s pricing.
Apex Watercraft Ringer Extreme Slalom Kayak
The Ringer will be the first whitewater kayak to come out of Apex Watercraft and will start production in 2022.
The boat is specifically designed to win extreme slalom competitions, which will make its Olympic debut in 2024. Extreme slalom is a boatercross style event where four paddlers at a time race head-to-head down rapids while navigating up and downstream slalom gates.
Kayaks for this competition must be shorter than 2.75 m, made of plastic, and weigh a minimum of 40 pounds.
The extreme slalom event is being shaped and molded to be the best for racers and spectators, while also being safe and super competitive. EJ is on the advisory committee and spent long hours in 2021 at world cup events, the world championships, and over Zoom meetings helping shape the rules for this exciting new Olympic whitewater event.
He helped design courses and developed rules that find the balance between safety and promoting in race passing while also encouraging participation.
Where the Boat Comes In
EJ says the Ringer will be “basically, the fastest 9′ boat of any kind.” He says that the design will be all about controlling the boat on the stern. It’ll also be great for other races with 9-foot length categories as well, like the iconic Green Race.
“I was fortunate to make the USA Extreme Slalom Team in 2021 and get to go to the World Cup and World Championships where I met up with the fastest slalom racers in the world, of which many also compete in the Extreme Slalom event,” EJ told us. “One of my objectives for this kayak was to make the best extreme slalom kayak available.”
He added, “These athletes had plenty of input and were quite interested in having a boat that could give them an advantage over the other three paddlers in their heat. This is assuming they don’t also have a Ringer!”
The initial production run of Ringers will be produced in an advanced composite, but composite boats aren’t allowed in Extreme Slalom competition. EJ says the composite Ringer will be made of “carbon fiber, foam core, reinforced and protected with the latest stuff that I am not listing here at the moment for a reason.”
Sounds like he has some fun new construction tech up his sleeve, including the first use of polyurea coating on the outside of a composite kayak.
Competitive but Accessible
Not only does EJ see the Apex Ringer as the boat to win Extreme Slalom kayaking events with, but it’s also a boat that beginner and intermediate paddlers will also enjoy on their local rivers. EJ quips that “user-friendliness” is always something he strives for in his designs.
The composite boats will help EJ with that goal to the general paddling public, while rotomolded plastic kayaks will be for competition as well as people who can’t afford composite and/or want the durability of plastic.
The Ringer will come in at least two sizes in composite and three sizes in plastic. EJ expects the composite boats to weigh in around 25 pounds, about 15 less than the medium-size plastic boats.
He did a “truth in advertising” campaign in his early years at Jackson Kayak where he sent fish scales to dealers to compare actual boat weights to advertised weights and says he might have to do the same again.
More info about the Ringer will be released in early 2022 once EJ has had some time with the first prototype of the boat and the design is finalized.
Apex Watercraft Tyr
Apex Watercraft was launched in mid-2020 with a Kickstarter campaign for the Tyr fishing kayak, a cross between a bass boat, wave ski, SUP, and traditional fishing kayak. Measuring 12’10” long and 36″ wide, the 40-pound kayak costs $10,999.
Production of the boat has moved all over the U.S., from Tennessee to Texas to Virginia and now internationally, with production starting at Nelo in Portugal. Come March 2022, all presold Apex Watercraft Tyr boats — 18 in total — will be delivered. And orders for new boats will start back up in February.
“In my case, getting the Apex Watercraft Tyr designed, prototyped, and finally into production in any quantity has taken me almost 2 years. The past 18 months has been purely focused on manufacturing,” EJ said.
“Why so hard? The design of the kayak is unique. It has a lot of surface area, deep gunnels, large flat surfaces, and a challenging parting line to assemble. The reality is that molding this boat at 60 pounds is easy. Molding it at 40 pounds is very hard.”
EJ and Apex Watercraft’s Future
EJ plans to sideline his bass boat fishing tournaments — where he’s competed for years now — in 2022. Instead, he’ll focus on kayak fishing in his Tyr. He also has goals to make both the U.S. whitewater freestyle and slalom teams in 2022. Neither is a small task.
To help him make the U.S. freestyle team, Apex Watercraft will also develop a composite freestyle kayak. EJ looks to debut this at the U.S. Team Trials this March in Oklahoma City.
He hopes to then refine the design and use it to compete in the World Freestyle Championships in Nottingham, England. Even in his 50s, you can never count EJ out of a competition, especially in freestyle.
With son Dane (one of the very best kayakers on the planet), daughter Emily, and son-in-law Nick Troutman all still working at Jackson Kayak, we have to wonder if and/or when any or all of them will follow EJ to his new company. Especially as they are a tight-knit family that all live on the same Tennessee property. They also regularly travel the world together to kayak and compete.
EJ has big aspirations for Apex Watercraft with his latest whitewater kayak designs. We’ll first see the Ringer extreme slalom kayak, and then a freestyle boat, and then, who knows?
Our guess is a new slalom boat based on EJ’s competitive aspirations. Apex Watercraft is for sure developing into a company that builds competition kayaks for a wide range of niche paddlesport activities.
Now, let’s see if EJ can deliver quality designs, Nelo can deliver quality products, and Apex Watercraft can market and sell all of the above in a super-competitive landscape.