By Eric Jackson
This is the 5th year that that New England Championships and “T’Ville Triple Crown” have been held on the Farmington River in CT. The Brainchild of Jamie McEwan, this one event brings Wildwater, Slalom, and Freestyle events and athletes to one place. It is one of my favorite events, where you compete in three different boats in one day, with little break in between.
The section of the farmington River we are competing on is in Tariffville, CT, just North of Hartford. Ice out was only recently, so the water temps are in the 30’s, but yesterday was the warmest day since October and perfectly sunny, making it the perfect competition day.
Yesterday’s competition started with the Wildwater event, a straight downriver sprint with class 2-3 whitewater and the final rapid is particularly difficult with several swims, lots of eddyouts, etc.. Nick, Danny Stock, and myself agreed to race the same boat, a “Wave Hopper” which is an old Perception plastic wild water boat to keep the race between people and not between boats. There were a variety of wild water boats on the water, some new, some old, and some plastic versions. Last time I raced against Danny he beat me in this race. Danny was the National Slalom Champion for USA in 2012 and is one of the best on the water at training and racing, and paddling in general. I went first and started off hard, and paddled around the corner with the easiest whitewater going as fast as I could manage for the 4 minute race, leading into the rapid with the bridge abutments and strainer that is a little scary. The waves knocked me a little off line but I got back on line for the crux of the move and carried my speed into the next pool and found my line through it, which included crashing through two slalom poles on the way. My conditioning at the Nile was rewarding me at this point as I remember feeling much more tired and burnt out by this point in the race last year. The freestyle rapid I managed to do pretty well, but had to slow down for a few strokes to control the boat and make sure I hit the pool straight. The final rapids had me nervous as I hadn’t had the time to run them yet this year and while I “knew” the line, the water level was almost double last year and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I entered the final rapid which is a series of waves and holes leading into a big ledge with a curler wave that feeds into the biggest hole on the river that covers the river right 3/4’s of the river. The line is right to left but it eddies people out on the left and drops them backwards into the final drop, or the curler pushes people right into the big hole. I slowed down enough to read the curler and see my line and pushed through it with left angle but almost got railroaded into the left eddy as I pulled a little too hard on my right stroke. I managed to do the offside lean and hard sweeps to straighten out without losing much speed and fired into the final drop with a perfect angle and carried my speed across the finish pool and had enough energy to sprint it. I timed myself at a 3:56, the first time I was ever under 4:00. and the first time the race ever went under 4:00. Because I was sharing a boat with the other fastest guys, I couldn’t wait around and watch them finish and time them on my synchronized watch. I had to run up the hill and put the boat on the car and shuttle back up to the start for Danny to go next. I saw Danny start the race and as I expected he looked fast, awesome forward stroke, and great lines. I picked Danny and his boat up and shuttled up for Nick who went last. By the time I got back to the RV, which is at the river, near the finish of the race, the slalom race was starting. I changed gear, and put my bib back on to race slalom. The results from the wild water race came out before my first run. I won the New England Championships for Wildwater with Danny in second and Jordan Poffenberger in third, Jeff in fourth and Nick in fifth.
In slalom the course had an easy section at top, with typical upstream gates and easy offset gates, with a big physical ferry from gate 7-8 to tire anyone out that is trying hard. My first run was pretty good, again feeling physically better than I remember from past years for how hard I was paddling. I was not as snappy in the upstreams as I wanted, but did all of the moves well. The hard section of the course was quite difficult with Gate 13 being a tough upstream in a very small eddy. I did that quickly, and peeled out for 14 and then the 15-17 move is the crux. A hard move across “Klingon” hole into a flush gate that only about 5 people did without having to loop the gate by flushing below 16. I nailed this and felt good but was conservative in 17 and changed up my sweep exit into a draw exit and hit the pole in the process. I got a 101 plus 2 for a 103. I watched Danny’s run, the fastest slalom boater here and he was much better on the top section, but not quite as fast in between some of the gates. He then nailed 13 and the rest of the course and was clean for a 100 clean and was winning by 3 seconds. The next best time was 107. My second run started off well and I was faster up top, faster in 13, the same in 14-16, and clean in 17 for a 99 clean, putting me in first until Danny’s run. Danny had a great top section again and was looking like he could overtake me but tried an S turn on 13 and dropped a stroke low, costing 2 seconds or so and finished slower than his first run, giving me the New England Champion title for slalom as well. I was quite happy to win slalom here. The best I had done against Danny recently in slalom was to tie him to the 100’th of a second 2 years ago. I haven’t beat him in slalom in a while.
Freestyle came up straight away and it was freestyle through a rapid. Shallow rapid that can be “macho moved” or wave wheeled but only very carefully, and then a great hole with lots of moves to be done but you can’t paddle back into it, followed by two big shallow holes that look good but are really shallow.
My first run went very well getting a series of wave wheels, split wheels, and kick flips down to the good hole. I got my blunts, loops, mcnasty, and phonix in the good hole before time was up. Nick went and flushed early out of the good hole which makes it hard to get many points. David Silk had a great run getting lots of points as well and is only 15 years old and a member of team JK. Danny had a huge loop and space godzillas but hit bottom trying to wave wheel. My second run was not as good and I left it open for Nick or David to beat me as it was combined scores. They would have had to have a killer ride to beat me since my combined score was still quite high and my low score was higher than their first rides. Nick went and flushed early again sealing his fate, unfortunately. David had another good ride and Jordan Poffenberger had a great ride as well getting a nice Phonix Monkey in his C1. The scores were tallied and I won again, this time in Freestyle, making me New England Champion and winning my third freestyle event in 2014 in a row out of 3. (China, TN, CT) The first two events were hometown throw downs (Against Nick and Dane (and a bunch of Chinese) in China, and Nick and a bunch of TN locals in TN) and then here in T’ville. Under any condition it felt good to perform well in all three events.
Today is the “Triple Crown” part of the competition. The top 10 men and top 5 women compete again today doing the same three events, but where the combined score is all that matters to crown the best overall paddler. Clean slate for everyone. I have won this even the past 4 years in a row, but today is anything can happen day. Danny, Nick Jordan, David, etc.. are all going for it! We meet in 30 minutes in the parking lot of the put-in for the wildwater- I need to eat breakfast and go…
Yes, there was also a women’s event yesterday, which Emily killed it by winning all three events, and Jessie Stone killed it by getting second in all three. The other women battled out for third but our favorite KIWI, Courtney Kerin got third!
Sorry there are not any real photos yet- was paddling or announcing, etc.. all day and so was Nick, and everyone else!!