In Cascade, Idaho, under 80 degree sunny skies, on the North Fork of the Payette at 68 Degrees, in the new “pro feature” at Kelly’s Whitewater Park, the final event of the National Championships was contested yesterday. Professional DJ’s, local beer crafters, natural stadium seating (big granite boulder terrace), an interested and friendly local crowd of non-paddlers and paddlers alike made up the venue. Jeff Campbel did the announcing and had guests like the mayor of Cascade, the director of the Ford sponsorship program (the top sponsor of the event), and had some great extra features that we have never seen in the audio presentation. Lauren Burress got audio/video interviews of each athlete in advance of the competition introducing themselves and before each athletes’ ride Jeff would cue it up for the audience to get a sense of who they are, where they are from, what they like about paddling, etc. etc. There were some funny interviews for sure!
“Rapid Pirate” (Gary) created the spreadsheet that kept the scores organized and worked all day on the event. Justin and Justin (the “Biebers”) were in charge of judging, while, USFKA certified judges Elaine Campbel, and Billy Bob Malesky judged also.

The river is running 3,500 cfs, while normal is 2,000 cfs. Big snows and a cold spring add up to huge water in the Rockies. This river is part of the epic run–off of 2011. Everyone here at the event has been super impressed with the feature we are competing on and the most common comment is: “this is the best feature we have competed in all year” Huge air on the wave shoulder, huge air and/or “chundering” in the BIG hole that is part of the feature, and everything in between. Boaters from Reno, like Scott Sadey who don’t get a chance to do wave moves, were learning them fast here and throwing some in competition for the first time. Wave paddlers were very happy to be able to throw their moves cleanly and with solid air in competition. Most paddlers chose the wave as their place to do their rides, but some did both. Emily did all wave moves. Dane and I did both, as did Bryan Kirk and the Demshitz guys.

Finals started at 10am with the Cadet Mixed class. They competed in the second feature which is the beginner/intermediate feature- a wave hole that is slow and easy. (Great future in our country with these kids!)

Hayden Vorhees got first with sweet front loops and a back loop after the buzzer.
Hanna from Colorado was second
Ashley was third

Next class up was the Junior Women also competing in the small feature. This was a hotly contested event with both the Gold and Silver Medalist from the world championships competing, plus Sage Donnelly who was currently in first place in the point series due to having more events already under her belt (best 5 events count, finals counting double and Lauren didn’t have 5 yet, but would after this one)
It was clear- if Lauren wins, she is national champion, if Sage wins, she is national champion. Lauren won prelims and Courtney Kerin (new zealand) was second and Sage was third. It looked like Lauren would walk away easily with a win after prelims, but Sage was working on a new ride that would score higher. After first rides, Lauren was in the lead with 240 points (Front Loop, Space Godzilla, two spins, and a huge bonus). Sage was at 150 points, Courtney below that. After second runs, Courtney improved, but was still in third. In the final ride, Sage did a big loop, space godzilla, spins, roundhouses, and back roundhouse and a shuvit to get 245! Lauren had one ride left and needed only to get her second Space Godzilla (to the left) to go and she could hit 300 points or higher, and she also has a McNasty that goes sometimes, but not yet in this event. She nailed her first loop and righty space godzilla and started her lefty nicely but caught an edge and flushed low, ending her ride leaving her in second by 5 points to 10 year old Sage, who was now our new 2011 National Champion. Great paddling by all of our junior ladies. The Rock Star S took all three places in the junior ladies.

The junior men were next and it was going to be Dane Jackson’s last major event as a junior as he turns 18 in one week and next year he’ll be in my class, the Pro Men’s class. He went out with a bang starting off by putting a 1210 point ride on the board on his first finals ride. Air Screws, Pan Ams, Clean Blunts, McNasty, Helixes, flip turns, flash backs, etc. made up an epic ride that would not be touched by anyone else in the junior class on that day, or likely any day soon. Jason Craig is still missing from competition as he is in a long recovery process from his accident this spring. He was Dane’s competition and is very much missed by Dane and everyone on the USA/Worlds Scene.
The junior men competed on the big feature and did really well with it.

Tennesse/Rock Island paddler Hunt Jennings burst on the national scene at this event getting second place in his first major event and Alec Vorhees (14 years old and 6′ tall) got third in his Rock Star Large. It was a Jackson Kayak Rock Star junior men’s sweep.

Incredible performances at the finals for the National Championships Point Series by Team JK took all of the top spots in each class.

In the C1 and Oc1 classes Dane was first, then courtney and then Jeff Campbell. Jordan, Seth, Jeremy and others missed out on this competition resting on their other results for the overall nationals placing. Dane won both in his Rock Star C1 and Oc1 and it put his National Champion count in 2011 to 3 classes. His top c1 score was 530 points, of which Emily was going to try to beat that in her upcoming class.

The Pro Classes were the final classes to go at 3pm with perfect weather and a great crowd, awesome music blaring throughout the park (must have had 20 speakers set up). Women’s Pro lead it off.

Emily’s first ride took the lead. Devon Barker qualified in second place after prelims didn’t have her ride to start things off and was in 5th. Aaron Clancy nailed her first ever McNasty in competition to put her in second place after first rides. Jessica Yurtinus was in 3rd and Elaine was in 5th after 1st rides. On second rides things changed around some, as Devon moved up to 4th. On final rides, Emily improved her 380 score to get 430 but didn’t beat Dane’s C1 score like she was hoping, however she maintained a commanding lead over the pack. Elaine moved up to third place with beautiful blunts, and going for Pan Ams, etc.. Aaron kept her second place position, and Devon moved into 4th, with Jessica in 5th, going for the helix but flushed.

The Men’s Pro Class was next and there were 4 men in finals that a win would guarantee a win for the national championships. Mike, Craig, Bryan, and I were all close enough in the point standings that whomever won this finals (counts for double points) would be the new National Champion. It was cool that all of us made finals and none of the top 4 leaders got eliminated on day 1, we would have to battle it out today. The 5th qualifier was Karl Moser who has incredible skills on this type of wave.

Everyone did their first rides while I watched from above (i won prelims so got to go last in finals) and there were some good scores in the 700’s but none as high as they could have been. Bryan did a 960 in prelims on his first ride. My two goals were to have the highest score of the competition (beat Dane’s 1210) and to win. I did my entry move, and then straight into my Right McNasty, which went really well, but it took me a few seconds to set up my Left McNasty. Then it was Flip turn right, helix right, clean air blunt left, back pan am right, pan am left, back pan am left, back air blunt both ways.. then my time ran out before I could finish my routine.. 1290 points was my score. Sweet! I was happy with my ride and it would be hard to beat, but not impossible. Bryan was in second, and Craig was in third so far.

After second rides- I got a 950 flushing early, Bryan improved his 600+ point ride to a 700+ point ride and the others were still below Bryan.

Final rides- Nobody improved their scores until Bryan hit the wave and he started off with a flurry of quality moves and was at 745 points in about 30 seconds but flushed on his righty Helix ending is run for the first place spot.

I got to do a victory lap and hadn’t gotten to my “grand finale” in my ride yet so decided to start with that and then start my routine from the beginning. I did my entry move and then a huge front loop/Lunar Orbit/Back loop and nailed all of them. I went straight to my flip turn etc… but forget to do my McNasties and when I got to my back blunts and my time hadn’t run out I couldn’t figure out what I was missing!

My score was a 1250, and I had the time and potential to get a 1650 had I not had a brain fart. Either way, I was super happy to be paddling really well and getting my moves on my first try and they seemed easy to me. Getting my boat off the water nicely and landing my moves cleanly makes me happy. The nice DJ guys new my taste in music and played some Led Zepplin, Guns and Roses, AC/DC and more right after the event before packing up while I got to play some more on this epic feature.

Awards were held in downtown on a closed road with a free concert, $2 beer, the mayor and all of city council, etc. present. I purchased 50 beers at the bar for anyone wanting one during the awards that knew the password “EJ”. I also bought 20 bags of kettle corn for the juniors to spread the love as I had just won $3,500 in cash, and so did Emily.

The awards were sick! HUGE medals that were water cut from old water tanks, with a stainless steel center and then welded together and polished down. I’ll get some photos soon and show them off in a photo essay after Dane downloads and compresses the best of the event. We didn’t do a good job with photography during the event as everyone was competing the whole time.

A big shout out to Mark and Kristina Pickard for their investment in Kelly’s Whitewater Park and this event and believing in our sport. Also to Devon Barker for her tireless efforts at Kelly’s Whitewater Park and Idaho paddling. Everyone who works at KWP did a great job. The landscaping is worth of a king’s castle, the welcome center is incredibly impressive and kept cleaner than Rockafeller’s hands, and the town was super friendly and welcoming.

We are packing up after our big finals to the 2011 season and heading downstream to paddle the “North Fork of the Payette” which is running at super high levels and packs a big punch with long big rapids. I have a new toy to try on it!