By Eric Jackson
Dane winning his first GoPro Games Freestyle Event
2014 GoPro Mountain Games will go down on the record books for many factors. Most attendance- 75,000 people on Saturday. Best Water levels- Gore Creek hovered around 1,000 CFS all week without spiking and flooding, or dropping too low. Homestake creek was the highest level in the history of the Mountain games; and finally- there was a big influx of international competitors this year.
The inaugural event that kicks everything off is the “Steep Creek Championships”. Water levels padded out many of the gnarly rocks, and the water picked up speed The lines changed some, and the final drop, “Leap of Faith” got harder due to the “Fin Rock” being just barely hidden and the boof much more difficult. The most commonly run line in the steep middle section this year was “Tanya Faux’s Line” which straightened out the course a little, but created a tough jump and turn at the bottom of it that got many paddlers.
In the Women’s class it was the classic Adrienne looking like she might finally win, but then crashing at leap of faith and getting 4th. The big story was 13 year old, Team JK, Sage Donnelly running a smooth line and nailing the Leap of Faith two runs in a row to make finals and then place 2nd. Martina Wegman ran a great finals race to take the win, and Lou from New Zealand took third.
In the Men’s class Dane won prelims with Isaac Levinson taking second and Nick Taking third, and Rush Sturgis taking 4th. Joe Morely, the World Extreme Racing Champion from 2013, was also top 5. 10 men made finals and listening to the final runs was like listening to the radio during a bomb raid in London in WWII. First the paddler came screaming into the final rapid above Leap of Faith, and then “oh no, he petons the right wall, Whoa, he flips into the rocks on the left, of “Oh this is going to be bad, he flips above the drop and takes a big hit on the way down”. It was not pretty. It came down to Isaac and Dane. Isaac has a great top section and then disappears in the tiny gorge and Clay announces, “And he skims across the bottom pool like it was nothing!” and his time comes up 1:40. Dane had already put down a 1:37 in prelims (The new course record after 12 years of competition here) Dane comes across the pool into “Little Sunshine” and is 1 second ahead of Isaac as he drops into Leap of Faith and then you have to listen to Clay who is down in the gorge on his microphone and it is: “Dane is flying into Leap of Faith and looks good… wait… he goes deep and hits the right wall and flips!! Oh no, what a bust… Dane rolls quickly and sprints, but loses critical time… Time 1:43 and second place.
Friday started off the Freestyle Competition: The hole was as good as it gets, weather 75 and bluebird skies. We went in alphabetical order and there were 80 men and 15 women. Claire Ohara took the women’s handily, as the current world champion. She through McNasty, Loops, cartwheels, space godzilla’s consistently. Rowan Stuart, the junior world champion, through one sweet McNasty in prelims to secure her finals spot, while Sage Donnelly through consistently planned out rides of loops, felix, spins, and space godzillas. Haley Mills and Marlene from France both used loop moves to make the finals.
In the Men’s class- Rush Sturgis is back in freestyle again and while he was using mostly 12 year old moves, he has learned the McNasty and got on in Competition, good enough to get him into Semi-Finals. Tomas from Poland had some good moves and is the current bronze medalist from the 2013 World Championships, but had a hard time putting them together. I had two good rides; one where I dropped my paddle in the middle of my right hand McNasty and through my peace “gang sign” up mid air hoping that the judges would think I was being fancy. My wife, Kristine, said it just looked like I dropped my paddle and was trying to cover it up. Funny, but either way I stuck the move and placed second in prelims. Dane had two rides that were OK, but not his best work and placed right behind me in third. Matthieu Dumoulin from France killed it to take the win with a flurry of linked cartwheel moves, orbits, phonix, etc… Greg Parker also had amazing rides to be in 5th and Max who lives in the USA but paddles for Sweden made top 5 also. There were 15 paddlers who made the semi-finals round on Saturday AM.
GoPro was sponsoring raging parties with free alcohol Friday and Saturday nights. Pumping concerts and big crowds were setting the stage and yet the Downriver Sprint race was at 8am, Freestyle Semi-Finals at 11am, and Finals at 4pm. I had to wake up Dane to go to the Downriver sprint, and we had an issue with my Mini- the engine blew and we don’t have a car now. We were able to load into Dane’s van and get to the put in in time to race. I went out with Clay and Dane Gavere on Friday night to the local Italian Restaurant where we have the annual “old guys” reunion. It was not a big group like normal as Shane, Jessie, and Arndt were not there.
The downriver sprint is a 17 minute race in the Karma Unlimited this year (for those of us who have them). I raced a pretty good race but my landmark to begin my final 5 minute sprint, a fallen tree, was cut out the night before and I was at the finish line before I knew it and had not burnt myself out yet. Isaac beat Dane to the finish by a few seconds, Joe Morely after that, and a local guy in a sea kayak got fourth, and I took 5th this year. It is class 2 water at high elevation but lots of turns, shallow spots, etc.. to make it challenging to race fast. Tired, Dane and I got ready for Semi-finals for freestyle.
Semi-finals- We watched some of the bigger names have some low scores, like Tomas, Bryan, and more, and I was pretty confident that the 910 points that was required to make finals was well within my reach. Both of my prelims rides were higher than that. My first ride I flushed twice on the same move and ran out of time. My second ride I flushed twice on a different move and ran out of time. One one ride counts and I rarely fail to make the finals once in Semis. I can count on one hand the number of times I have done that, I think… 2013 worlds, 2009 Teva Games here in Vail, and… I am sure there were a couple more. Dane killed it and took the win in that round with 1300 points. Dane, Dustin, Hunter, Max, and Matthieu made it.
Finals for Freestyle:
The women were going and it felt so weird for me to not see Emily there. Emily is in Canada at a wedding for Nick’s brother, Nathan. She won 8 of these events and only lost one time, last year while super pregnant. Claire dominated from the beginning with solid moves. Rowan was struggling to add to her single Mcnasty and she could score fairly high but stayed in the 300 range. Claire was at 500, Marlene got a sweet ride at 400, Sage took the bronze with consistent loops and felix moves to get in the 300’s.
In the Men’s Class- Dane set the bar on his first ride with a 1480 point ride, which ended up being the winning ride. Matthieu struggled to stay in the hole and while he seemed to be winning for the first 30 seconds on all three rides, the last 30 seconds he failed to keep adding to his score. Dustin Urban did a great job, as he usually does, in rising up to the competition and pulled into 2nd place with a great 3rd ride. Hunter Katich had a great second ride and was knocked from 2nd to 3rd by Dustin at the end. Max and Mathieu finish up 4 and 5. I captured Dane’s ride on my GoPro that I had mounted on the end of my paddle…
SUP Cross and 8 Ball:
Last year I took the SUP Cross championships with my SUPerCharger, but this year I got knocked out in the first round with a failed passing attempt. Since the kayakers do the kayak race, they can’t do the SUP downriver race, meaning they don’t get seeded for the SUP Cross and we have to start each head to head race in last place and claw our way back to the front. I pulled that off last year going from last to first each round, but went from last to last this time. Dane had the same result, not being able to pass to the front. Hobie also got knocked out again. There were some big names there this year like Kai from Hawaii, two from Japan, etc..
8 Ball- This year’s 8 Ball had great hits, some epic fails, 1 swim, and only 1 broken nose on the winner, Joe Morely. I was a competitor in the first round by Hunt Jennings took me from first to last using my own Karma Unlimited as a weapon. I then turned my Karma into a weapon designed to stop racers from finishing fast, and my first victim was Dustin Urban,who I plowed from river right to river left into the shore before letting him finish in last place. Dane made the cuts to finals, as did Joe Morely, and Greg Parker and a few more… the Finals was a mad house with the 8 Balls going hard and Hunt took his bow over Joe’s and it ended up on Joe’s face, breaking his nose. That didn’t stop the Brit, however, as he charged into me and I provided a second hit, attempting to divert his speed into the eddy, but he is so big and fast that he made it across the finish in first place, with Greg Parker in Second, and Dane in third.
The games wrapped up with a rain storm that didn’t dampen the mood, but cleared out the streets and it was clear that we just witnessed the end of the 2014 GoPro Mountain Games… Now we are trying to pack up and leave for Idaho, but no longer have a car… We pushed the Mini onto our trailer and have the RV to use, but no dingy.
Lots of Media in Vail- The New Yorker Magazine, TV, Outside, etc. etc.. I did some early interviews, like this one with Hobie for TV Vail at 7am…
See you in Idaho!
Kristine and I after the day…
Here is something I put together earlier this week that I figured I would share again… some of the events through my lens…