Ok, sorry, we were in 2001, World Championships, Sort Spain. I designed the EZ as my boat to compete in this event. It was designed to be super user friendly, meaning, no matter what kind of feature they made, I could focus on the moves, not on keeping my boat under control. Sure enough they made a hole that intimidated many and kept everybody on edge. Going for a different overall plan than pre-worlds, I decided to fly to Spain with my family early enough to adjust to the time change and to learn the hole like it was my own, and make a routine that can’t be beat.
We flew to Barcelona and rented a car, drove to Sort. I had a hotel room picked out that had a perfect view of the hole from the window, but it had been taken. Luckily we found an apartment in the city center, two blocks from the hole. We were on the third floor overlooking the town market. The kids could run down for fresh bread in the morning and we could stand on our balcony and let them know if we thought the avocados were ripe or not.
It was the dream European vacation. Our apartment was two floors with the parents on the second floor and the kids on the first. Dane was 7 and would be out the door at 8am before Kristine and I would wake. We would just hear a slamming door. He managed to get free breakfast at the cafe’ on the street just using his natural charms on the girls working there. He would head straight to his “foam boating” buddies apartment. Dan Campbell, Dale Jardin, and Steve Fisher. These are the “bad boys” of freestyle, but in Dane’s case, I would trust them with his life over anybody else. Dane would sometimes wait for hours outside their door until they woke from their stupor and came out. Dane somehow had them playing with him for 3 or more hours in the river catching his foam boats when they flushed out of the hole (foam boats are 3-4” long kayaks made from foam that you play with in little waves and holes). They were invented, or at least popularized by Clay Wright, and Dan Gavere fits in there somewhere in the early days of foam boating. If you think these things are toys for kids, you haven’t played with them. Dane even organized the first ever, and only, Foam Boat World Championships on the town creek in Salida, Colorado. Cash prizes, and lots of gear. Paddler ran an article on it. My son Dane is the Foam Boat World Champion for Head to Head Extreme Racing. You might think some fatherly help went into that one for the sake of his son’s self esteem, right? Well, actually, it goes the other way. Dane is used to racing me down the creeks, where we send our foam boats along their way down some steep creek (1-25 cfs on average) and when it gets stuck in an eddy, you are allowed to splash it but not make contact. Competitive, oh yea, we take this sport seriously. Well, the rule in the World’s was no contact. Over 30 kayakers, average age 25, had their boats in the starting lineup. The rules were simple; throw your kayak into the creek behind the plywood board holding up the water. When everybody is in the mix, the starter lifts the board up and the rush of water starts the foam boaters of all types racing down the creek. Dane was quite involved and his boat had a bad start and eddied out. He jumped in the creek and splashed it out of the eddy where it got stuck and was in last place. As referee, I did what I thought was appropriate for this 7 year old who was not following his own rules, and I threw his kayak way in the back of the pack. Dane, was horrified, and burst into tears, running away as all hopes of winning, and the embarrassment of having your dad publicly humiliate you like that. I couldn’t leave the scene. You couldn’t see what was happening.
Foam boat jockeys lined the bank like tourists watching a Disney Character parade in Main Street USA. I did hear the hollering as the crowd seemed to stop in a particularly steep section of creek with big eddies and a hole. It seemed that there were 20 foam boats all getting recirculated in the eddy and hole. From a distant last place, Dane’s boat came through the drop, melted the hole, and continued on down to the final drop, which was the sticky rodeo hole. This was a 3 foot drop into a hole that would scare the swim suit off of a Barbie doll (and did off of Dan Gavere’s). Somebody got so excited about Dane’s comeback that they fetched him from his hiding spot and jerked him out of his self pity and tears. There were two boats surfing the hole, each one poised for the win. Dane’s boat again did the perfect melt down and came up well below the boil line crossing the finish line first, with a glut of foam boats coming in only seconds behind him. Dane threw his arms up in the victory celebration, he won, and he beat the odds.
I am not sure how we got onto that subject, but hey, life is full of moments that make up who you are. I am not sure how that moment affected Dane, but he will be different, hopefully better for that experience.