By Eric Jackson
Getting to compete in the 2015 World Freestyle Kayak Championships will be an honor, and an experience that will be remembered for life. It isn’t automatic, however, as only those who qualify for the USA Freestyle Kayak Team get the privilege. Qualifying isn’t easy, as the spots are limited and hotly contested by many of the best boaters in the world in that category.
This year’s team trials are less than 2 weeks away here in Colorado on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. The “Glenwood Wave” is starting to come in good form at 7,000 CFS and will continue to improve in size and quality for wave moves as it warms up this week and rises. Over 10,000 CFS the wave really starts to shape up nicely and will make a good venue for testing the mettle of the athletes and see who should represent the USA in at the world famous “Garburator Wave” on the Ottawa River in Canada.
Many of the top paddlers in the Men’s and Women’s pro classes and even some of the juniors spent a large part of the winter training in Africa in Uganda on the Nile River. My training there was very productive and anyone who did train there got a good head start on the season. However, once returning to the USA it was still winter, or at least a cold spring, and finding quality waves to train on was not easy. Rock Island had the “Top Wave” for some of the time and that was where I got my spring training in. Columbus, Georgia had a good wave also that got some traffic from paddlers like Stephen Wright and Clay Wright looking for warm weather and a good wave.
What happens now is a lot of anticipation, and everyone has their eyes set on the Monday and Tuesday after GoPro Games- which is June 8th-9th. The USA will have a single competition to determine who gets to go to the World Championships. On Monday the Junior classes and C1/Oc1 will compete. One shot for the big show. One Tuesday the Men’s Pro and Women’s Pro classes will compete, again- one shot, no second chances. The format of the competition will be a standard ICF format. A prelims, Semi-Finals, and Finals. The Team Size for the Men’s Pro Class is 5 men. This means that the Semi-Finals will determine the team. Prelims will cut the Men to 10 and then Semi-Finals will cut the men to 5 and those 5 men get to compete in the World Championships. In the Women’s Class they get 3 women for the World Championships. They will cut to 5 for finals and then the top 3 in finals will make the team.
There are so many awesome paddlers competing for these coveted team spots, and some are new, and some are veterans. In the men’s class, due to winning the World Championships last time, Dane Jackson gets an automatic spot and while he will compete, he doesn’t have to.
For the rest of the paddlers who do have to compete, Stephen Wright has been showing the most consistently awesome rides and moves of anyone I have seen in the men’s class on wave so far. Paul Palmer from Glenwood spent the winter in Uganda and paddled really well there and this is his home spot, I expect he will be very good here. Clay Wright has also been paddling very well and looks like a good bet for worlds and he has the experience and confidence that comes with making the team for many years before. Junior World Champion- Hunter Katich also gets an earned spot from winning in 2013 in juniors. The USA is very lucky to have winners from the past worlds who don’t take up one of the key spots, but get to compete. I have been able to take advantage of that 4 times in the past, but this time I am fighting for my spot like everyone else. I am paddling well and feeling good about my chances again this year. I have good crisp moves and can throw for the 45 seconds without getting tired. The last two world championships that were on a wave was Buseater and Thun. I got a 1st and a 2nd in those Worlds. Since then the next two were in holes and I didn’t medal. I am very excited to be back on a wave for USA Trials and hopefully for the Worlds! But like a lot of high end competitions- it is about performing on the day- with only 4 rides total, it will come down to a total of 3 minutes of paddling and one great 45 second ride to make the team. The list of athletes keeps going…
A big story for me to watch is Emily Jackson, my daughter, who didn’t make the 2013 USA Team while competing pregnant in that team trials, but won 2 golds and a silver medal in the previous World Championships. Emily won the event last weekend handily, beating the competition by over 300 points, but it was in a hole. Emily’s strongest paddling comes on a wave and I don’t think there is a woman in the world who can beat her on a wave if she is paddling up to her skill level. That doesn’t mean she’ll get to go to the world championships, however, as she must have a great team trials, first. Then she can focus on worlds. Emily won both world championships she competed in that were on waves- Buseater and Thun, Switzerland. Emily has a lot of competition with Jessie Stone, Haley Mills, Elaine Campbell, Kat Levett, and that list keeps going.
The junior classes this year will be fun to watch with the Kellogg’s Family having a super strong contingent as well as the Vorhees, and then a host of other juniors who have been training hard like David Silk who is now old enough to go to worlds. In the Junior Women’s class the big story is Sage Donnelly who has not been old enough (15) to compete in the past worlds, but was good enough to win. This year she is old enough, and is better than ever! Katy Kellogg is hot on her tail and was tied with Sage after 2nd rides at the BV event last weekend and is from Glenwood so is very familiar with this spot. Sage has a few more years of experience and more moves than Katy, however, but we have room for both of them. With that said there are other Junior women who can perform and if those girls are not on their A games, they may have to watch the worlds from home. Only 2 junior women’s spots on the USA Team.
This coming weekend is the Lyon’s Outdoor Games, the Animas River Days, and the Steamboat freestyle event. USA’s top paddlers are splitting up among those events and some are staying to train in Glenwood (like me). The following week is the main pro event of the Colorado Tour, the GoPro Games. The timing is tough as the USA Team Trials starts the day after the GoPro Games. The Jackson family has a long history with the GoPro Games and the Teva Games before it (GoPro took it over from Teva) and will be there in force as usual. This event and the entire week before it is what we call “Feel Good Week” and the idea of trying to get better at freestyle kayaking is replaced by just feeling good about what you can already do and focusing on being happy, confident, and ready for the big competition. Since we can’t train the 5 days prior to USA Team Trials at Glenwood (We’ll be competing in Vail), these next 5 days will have to be our training to work out the routines and bugs out of our moves.
This isn’t just any World Championships for me or the rest of the world. This may be the last of an era for some time as having it on a big wave on a natural river is something that is getting harder to pull off. Since most of the countries who compete in the World Championships are in Europe (20 countries) and the rest of the world makes up about 15 countries, the ICF tends to want to make events in Europe. We have had the Worlds in the USA (small man made hole at NOC 2013) and Canada in 2007 on the biggest wave compete in world’s history, so having this one in Canada again in 2015 on a wave means the next one could easily be in a hole. Current discussions are to have it in Rio, Brazil at the new artificial whitewater park being built there for the Slalom Olympics. From there is it most likely that it would go back to Europe, which, again, would be most likely on an artificial whitewater park, in a hole again. This means that between now and 2021 the chances of having a worlds on a wave, like this year’s Garberator, is very slim. That makes this year’s worlds VERY Special to me as while I like playing in holes in artificial whitewater parks, I LOVE playing on waves on big natural rivers. This puts a lot of pressure on anyone who wants to show off their wave skills in a World Championships between now and 2021!
So what is my plan/goal? Make the USA Team on Tuesday by having two solid rides in prelims that get me to semi-finals, and then one epic ride in Semi-finals that place me in the top 5 (goal is to win, of course to leave margin for error) which gets me a ticket to the big show- the 2015 World Freestyle Championships on the mighty Garberator Wave on the Ottawa River in Canada- August 2015!
Time to go train! All part of this year’s “Road to the Worlds”
Here is my winning ride from the last world championships held on the Ottawa- 2007- Buseater: I hope for a repeat.