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May 16, 2006

On Friday it was relatively quite with only about 3,000 spectators out for the “Reno Open” qualifier event. Saturday was the Invitational and the way it was set up was perfect for the city of Reno. Tons of vendors were out in force, like Confluence (Perception, Dagger, Wavesport), Patagonia/Lotus, California Canoe/Kayak, Cliff Bar, Reno Mountain Sports, and lots of local vendors, including the “party favors” store with pink wig wearing, bikini clad, belly ring young ladies selling all kinds of fun stuff to the spectators. Just walking up the island to the put-in was an exercise in boat control; there was so many people that you had to thread the needle and watch your stern or you would be taking out old ladies, kids, and the big guys with tattoos saying, “Make my day” on their neck, just below their swollen face from the last person that made their day. I always considered my AT2 paddle a lethal weapon, however, and it is funny how much safer I feel with it in my hands and my helmet on. (Yes, I bumped the guy, and apparently he was in a good mood.) Sorry, just setting the stage for you to get a picture.

Our prelims started with the women.

Tanya Faux won followed by Emily in second and Nikki Kelly in third. Emily had a super strong first ride and a weaker second ride, while Tanya Faux had a good first ride followed by an awesome second ride.
In the men’s class:

Jay Kincaid had a 141 on his first ride followed by a 126 on his second ride and was comfortably ahead of everyone (30 points ahead of Andrew Holcomb who was second until the final heat)
I got a 143 on my first ride to hit the highest score of the comp so far, and then a 144 on my second ride to win prelims by about 20+ points. We cut to the top 6 men and women. Stephen Wright was bubble boy getting 6th place after two rides that were good, but not “Wrighteous”.
My ride was a very tight routine that was set up to run through the big moves in such a way that I didn’t have to set up with any spins or wasted time. My routine was:
ReEntry (entry move)
Phonix Monkey Left
McNasty left
McNasty Right
Back Loop
Lunar Orbit Left
Air Loop
Space Godzilla Right
Space Godzilla Left (at 55 seconds)
Tricky Woo Left (on the buzzer, but ended up missing it each time)
Tricky Woo Right (I never made it this far)

In Semi-finals where we cut from the top 6 to 3 there was lots of drama and excitement.

In the women’s class Tanya Faux had a great ride at 74 and was holding 1st place. Nikki Kelly was then in 2nd with a 57 point ride and Emily was in third with a 47 point ride. Then Ruth Gordon, the last girl before Emily, paddling her Star, went and was the last one to be able to knock Emily out of finals. Ruth came in with a 52 point ride and knocked Emily out, leaving Emily one more chance to get in. Emily’s second ride (best of two rides) started off really rough as she got her loop, but was missing a lot of more basic moves. With only 8 seconds left she opted for a McNasty that she learned last week and was maybe 1 for 3 getting, and nailed it just in time, followed by an air loop. Her Score came in at 61 putting her in second and into finals!

In the Men’s class after 1st runs Jay was winning with a 138, followed by me at a 128. Stephen had another bad ride. Jimmy Blakeney was in third with a 112. Stephen had one more chance to show his stuff, and on his second ride he threw down like the Stephen we know and love, hitting HUGE air like the All-Star and Stephen do and got a 145, the new highest score of the competition. This put Jay in second and me in third (uh-oh) with the other 5 men still to go. Bryan Kirk and Jimmy went, still leaving me in 3rd place, with only Andrew Holcomb left to knock me out. Andrew went and started ticking off the big moves right away and was on fire. I was trying to figure out his score and knew he was close. The score came up a 125, three points behind me. I was relieved and knew I was in finals. In about 30 seconds after announcing it, they said, “correction” and his score went to a 133, putting me in 4th place and out of the finals unless I stepped it up. Jay was guaranteed in at this point in second place so far, and did his ride, not bettering his first one. I almost went during Jay’s turn, being so focused on the fact that I had to do a big run right now, or I was going to be out of the game. Luckily before I peeled out, they announced Jay’s name. I did a couple of rolls, talked to some fans on the shore, called out a 150 point ride (getting everything) and followed my routine, which starts long before I hit the hole. First off, seeing my lovely wife Kristine on the shore watching me and smiling makes the world a great place no matter what happens, so it lowers my stress level quite a bit, she always blows me a kiss and waves (sweet!). Then I scan the banks, smiling and waving to my fans, fellow competitors, and onlookers wondering what I have in store on this ride. This puts me in a “broad external focus” which simply means that I am not talking to myself about what I am about to do, but instead I am seeing the world around me and making decisions based on what I see. (this is key when you do an entry move and then have to adjust based on that move to just how to initiate a hard move like the Phonix Monkey and not geek it). I also make eye contact with the judges, which were from left to right, Jamie Cooper, Matt Sullivan, and Clay Wright. (each with a local “exotic dancer” for a scribe, no kidding)

When I hit the hole everything clicked and I was able to call my moves while watching my competitors in the eddy in between moves, and got to the end in good form, getting a 157 the new high score and putting me in finals in 1st place; SWEET!

The women’s finals were next and the banks were so thick with people that it wasn’t funny. I tried to get out and bring my boat up to the put-in so I could watch Emily in finals with Kristine. I had to put my paddle in a bush, and my boat ½ in the water. Lots of people wanted to help me by holding my paddle, for example, “AHHH”. That is a nightmare when you are about to compete and you have 5,000 sunscreen lathered up people with greasy hands about to lube up your paddle shaft. (one person grabbing your paddle with greasy hands makes your paddle so slippery that I get forearm cramps in 30 seconds if it happens.) Sorry, off topic)

Nikki Kelley went first, after watching Emily practice for 15 minutes and nail a bunch of big moves. Nikki had a great ride and threw down hard. Emily was next and couldn’t get her ride going, scoring a 27, missing all of her key moves, but getting some of the smaller ones. Tanya Faux was next, having an awesome ride again, winning that round. Emily was knocked out and had to settle for 3rd place, but had a great week and competition overall! Tanya Faux and Nikki went head to head in the final round and in this case, Nikki only got a 21 point ride, making the 1st place spot easy for Tanya to grab, and she did.

In the Men’s finals: Jay had to go first, followed by Stephen, and then me.

Jay went and started off hard in his Super Star nailing his Phonix Monkey left, and his Left McNasty, but missed his Right McNasty (too flat) and didn’t go back for it. He continued on with his routine hitting everything else, which is an Air loop, loop, back loop, lunar orbit, and then went for a right Phonix Monkey at the buzzer and missed. His ride came in at a 115. Stephen Wright was next in his All-Star missing his opening Phonix Monkey, but then throw some HUGE loops, Space Godzillas (he was getting his 6 point HUGE bonuses), back loops, and his Phonix Monkey the other way, but didn’t have an orbit, or tricky woo. Stephen came out of the hole and the judges took their time recounting the scores, which usually means that they are close. Finally, Dan Gavere, and Hobie (the announcers) announced the scores and it was Stephen Wright at….. suspense, 117! Yes, Stephen was over Jay and was guaranteed a spot in the finals. It was now up to me to beat a 115 to get into finals. I entered the hole with my entry move and got too deep in the hole to throw my Phonix Monkey and had to pull all of the way out of the hole into the eddy and come back in for a good set up. I rushed it and missed my Phonix Monkey, oops!!! Now I am the position of do or die, because the momentum was not going my way. I set up the Phonix Monkey again, focused only on getting it right and going for it with no hesitation. I nailed it this time, and put my routine in high gear, increasing the pace to full speed, trying to make up time. I nailed each move with no wasted time and no misses after that, getting up to the Tricky Woo but not having time for it, getting it after the buzzer. My score was a 156, well over the 115 barrier. So Stephen Wright took out Mr. Reno, Jay Kincaid by 2 points this year. This is crazy, and unfortunate for Jay that he went down because he missed two moves that he rarely misses. Stephen was 3rd last year here and really wanted to improve. Jay was second last year and really wanted to win again like he did the first year. This time, Jay would have to watch the final battle for 1st place from the shore.

Winning the round allows you the advantage of watching your competitor go first and know what score you have to beat. Stephen went in from the eddy and missed his opening Phonix Monkey, and then his first McNasty. They were close but didn’t count. He didn’t go back for them, hoping to get scored for them, I guess, and keep going. The rest of his routine was awesome. He came out with a 98 point ride. I hadn’t had a ride that low yet, and didn’t plan on it. The most common mistake of head to head knock out competition is to focus on beating the score on the board, instead of focusing on getting the highest score you can. When people do this they set the low score as their goal to beat, and then things start to go wrong, but that is OK because they can still beat it, then more goes wrong and they fall short of the goal, and lose. This is not how I approach it. I go for my highest score and try to beat the score on the board as quickly as possible, in case something bad happens, like a flush, or broken paddle, or whatever. I peeled out, and was ready to hit each move on the first try. This was another one of those moments where everything clicks. The crowd is on your side and making tons of noise. The announcers, Dan Gavere, and Hobie know that it is mine to win or lose and know me well enough to know that I will likely have a good ride right now, and even the competitors who have been eliminated and are watching from shore in went paddling gear are smiling at me on the way into the hole, as if, at this moment, it is OK that I am the one there at that moment, going for the win, and they know that the odds are in my favor now, but I won’t be slacking off. I nailed each move out of the gate, and my pace was as fast as the time I had to make up time. I still looked around during each move, trying to see the judges when I was upside down during the McNasty, just before I tucked and looped out of it. My ride went fast and the buzzer sounded. The announcers never said my score, because they wanted to save it for the awards. (it is a trick to get the spectators at the awards ceremony, which was only 10 minutes after my ride on the island).

The women’s awards were first and Emily looked very pretty in her kayakers tan, and black dress taking the 3rd place belt. Nikki and Tanya Faux got their belt and Tanya Faux’s score was announce well above Nikki’s 21. Tanya became the champion for the second year in a row. Each paddler got a bottle of champagne, a bouquet of flowers, a box of Cliff Bars, and a cool WWF style belt.

The men’s awards were the same, but we still had our wet gear on. Jay got on, and then, although it seemed clear that I won, it was official as they called Stephen’s name for 2nd place, and then mine for 1st. It took a little while but I managed to get the champagne open and spray everyone, including myself in the eyes! (that stuff stings!) Awesome day! Brian Lippy of Fusion was there with his filming crew making a TV show for Outdoor Life Network and got all of his interviews.

I was so tired and hungry, and my stomach hurt after the competition. (actually it hurt so bad before finals that I was throwing up while watching Emily compete, from no food, and three Red Bulls and competing all day) I went to the RV, took a Tagamet, ate a bowl of cereal and fell asleep for a while. I felt better quickly and woke up ready to go to the Safire Club for the VIP party, and then to dinner for a good steak and perhaps some gambling here at with John Ratliff and whoever else dares luck. We are night owls so come prepared.

It had been quite some time since I had played any real cards, sure, I dabbled from time to time on delaware online casinos but nothing compared to the real thing. After playing Blackjack with John Ratliff until 12:30 am, it occurred to me that I was competing in the Boatercross in the morning, so I went all in on my last hand, and lost my chips, and then went home. (EJ style)

The boatercross event is always exciting, and it is “anything can happen day” each time. The start was as good as it has ever been in this type of race and I was very happy to see that. A line across the river, a clock and a horn. It was a simple “Sailing start” where you get 45 second countdown. You can cross the line anytime after the clock hits zero. If you false start you are disqualified, period. Well, a few key people got too anxious at the start. Stephen Wright, and Dave Garringer (little Dave) charged the start 2 seconds early, neither one allowing the other to get ahead. Tao Berman was the next guy to get knocked out as he charged it trying to get a perfect start, but instead focusing on staying ahead of the other guys. I paddled against this guy Ryan who had my number. He didn’t want to “race” down the course, but instead battle down the course! He was perfectly fine, and nothing wrong with his tactic, it was just high, constant contact. My experience in boatercross got the better of him as I dropped back a stroke and slammed his boat into the hole on the left with a well timed right sweep stroke that made my bow hit his just as he did a right forward stroke. His bow swung left and caught the hole.

There was a lot of heats, to compete in and watch, and each one has its own story. In one case I was in 3rd place after a bad start, all of the way to the last 50 feet and managed a wide outside pass of Ryan the gladiator to finally eliminate him from the next starting line, where he was always next to me.

After lots of eliminations and hard paddling, the finals were set. Jay Kincaid, Andrew Holcomb, Bryan Kirk, and myself. That start was interesting, this time everyone getting a good one and 4 guys in full sprint hitting a window big enough for one or two (if they are nice). Jay and I squeezed past Andrew and Bryan at the crux and were neck and neck and all over each other’s strokes. I almost fell into him and took one final big stroke over his boat and then made a break hard right to avoid the pourover. I was trying to get free and let Jay drop in, but Bryan Kirk had his stern and pushed it right, turning Jay left into the hole, and then he broke free and passed Jay as they battled for the second place spot for the rest of the race, while I was out in the open for the win. I don’t know what happened to Andrew but he ended up in 4th. This was a successful competition weekend for me. A race and a freestyle event, sweet!

One of my favorite moments in the Boatercross event was when I was tied up on my right side by two racers and another one on my stern. The only place I could paddle was on my left. I linked together about 15 C-Strokes at full power and powered away using one blade. I felt like Andy Bridge (C1 wildwater racer) back in his day when he would do about 120 strokes per minute on one side, cool!

In the women’s class, the final round was Tanya Faux, Nikki Kelley, Ruth Gordon. Nikki outpaddled both of the other girls and took it, with Tanya in 2nd and Ruth in 1st.

I am on a plane to the Ottawa River right now with Emily and Dane to compete in the “Buseater” event. Kristine is on a plane to Boise, Idaho where she is picking up our new Dalmatian puppy, “Roxy” (in honor of our late Dalmatian, Pebbles) Kristine will fly back to Reno and then drive to Colorado for the CKS Paddle Fest event, and then pick us up for the Teluride Film Festival, the Paddler Invitiational in Steamboat, and then the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, with a freestyle event, and extreme race, and a boatercross.

So, the only thing I didn’t talk about was how Dane did. Dane had a great week. He got to play all week with the newest member of Team JK, Jason Craig (age 12). Dane had awesome moves in practice for the competition, but didn’t get them like he wanted in the prelims and was 11th. He finished his ride, got his score, and then immediately went back to volunteering for the scoring tent by putting up the scores on the board. Clay mentioned this to me and was impressed that he handled it so well. They say you can judge a person by how they act when they win, but how they act when they lose. Dane showed his true colors here. Jason Craig is another story, and we’ll get to that another time.

I might as well state the obvious. Jackson Kayak swept the men’s class, with the All-Star, and Super Star. Emily got 3rd in her Star. 4 out of 6 medals went to Jackson Kayak paddlers in the freestyle event, and 3 out of 6 in the boatercross. Jay and I paddled the Super Hero, while Ruth paddled the Hero in that race.

After the race I taught a slalom clinic which was really fun. Next weekend there will be a slalom race in Reno, cool.

Look for photos soon.

🙂 EJ