After 14 years paddling for Dagger Kayaks and a season paddling kayaks from a variety of companies, whitewater Renaissance man Rush Sturges has signed a sponsorship deal with Jackson Kayaks. In a video posted to Vimeo today, the 29-year-old athlete, filmmaker and musician announced that the decision came down to the boats.
"I basically took the whole year to paddle whatever I wanted, and ended up with Jackson. It made sense," he told C&K editor Jeff Moag in an exclusive interview.
The decision doesn't come as a complete surprise. Sturges has been immersed in a three-year feature film project with longtime Jackson paddler Rafa Ortiz. And while Stuges has sampled many kayaks since leaving Dagger in January, he paddled Jackson boats in the competitions that matter most.
Sturges has been on a competitive and creative tear of late, with a second-place finish in the Whitewater Grand Prix, a viral ad campaign for Toyota, and a much-anticipated feature film set to drop later this year. He’s a four-time U.S. Canoe and Kayak Freestyle Team member, and has won the Rider of the Year Award twice, for Best Line and Expedition of the Year with the Grand Inga Project.
Here’s what Sturges had to say about his move to Jackson.
C&K: Take us through the decision to join Team Jackson.
RUSH STURGES: It stemmed from wanting to have the freedom to paddle whatever boats I wanted. That was the main thing. Dagger didn't really have a freestyle boat that I was too stoked on, or a race boat for that matter. I basically took the whole year to paddle whatever I wanted, and ended up with Jackson. It made sense.
What boats looking forward to paddling and competing in?
The new Zen is coming out, and I'm getting the prototype for that next week. I think that's going to be pretty sick. It'll be a race boat-slash-big water boat that'll cover all the bases with the other boats Jackson has. They have an awesome creek boat, an awesome freestyle boat.
I chose Jackson because they're always going to have good boats because they're kayaking so much. They're so in tune with the core community and the scene. That's really absent with some of the other companies where you're dealing with people that don't really know whitewater.
Will you have a role in designing the next generation of Jackson kayaks?
I'll definitely be working on new boats in the works. Jackson is really receptive to input from team members.
Beyond the boats, what else draw you to Jackson?
They just take care of their athletes. That's something I noticed on the circuit this spring. Classic example—I was competing in Vail, and Kristine [Jackson, wife of co-founder Eric Jackson] is out there shuttling people up to the top of the racecourse, and she's bringing food for people. And I'm not even her team member. It really is a family operation and I respect that.
Also, just hanging with Nick and Dane, the whole crew, and Emily as well. Those are the people who are going to be running that company someday and they're good friends of mine. And EJ's a good friend too. That definitely played a big role in the decision.
Has what you look for in a sponsor changed as you've evolved as an athlete and a filmmaker?
The industry has changed in the sense that social media is such a huge part of it. If a brand can get behind an athlete and push followers, then that's a huge selling point too. Jackson is pushing it harder than anyone right now. They've got the best freestyle boats, they've got the best paddlers. They've kind of got a monopoly on it, but they've done that because they're doing a good job.
How did Jackson approach you?
I tried out the Karma and really liked it. So I sent a message to Emily and she set up a meeting with EJ this winter. I had a good meeting with him and he offered a good contract, but I really wanted to have this year to paddle whatever boats I wanted. So I went on the independent program and had a fun time trying out all the different designs.
I wasn't sure what the fastest boat was going to be, and honestly my main objective this year was winning the Grand Prix. Initially I wasn't sure the Karma was going to be the fastest boat. After testing a lot of stuff I found out the Karma was a great fit.
I've known EJ for years, and competed with him for years. But I spent a lot more time this year with Nick and Dane and Emily.
Part of me joining the team is to bring my own perspective on kayaking, and to help push their videos into something that's more my angle.
Is video production part of your deal with Jackson?
Yeah. The contract includes myself and my production company River Roots as well. I'll be doing a series of videos, the first of which is about my decision to move to Jackson. I'll release three videos with Jackoson this year.
And what about the big one?
Jackson has been a huge supporter of the Rafa project from the start. He's here now, and we're working on the film. It'll be finished by the end of the year for sure.