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June 6, 2006

Vail, Colorado is a rockin’ town for the first 5 days of June. The town of Vail kicks off their summer with the Teva Mountain Games and this multi-million dollar event is a showcase for kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, trail running, and adventure racing. Kayaking definitely gets the most attention here, and it keeps with tradition, as the games started off year’s ago with the Jeep Whitewater Festival, and Champion International Whitewater Series races back in the 80’s and 90’s. What makes this event so fun is the variety of events to compete in, the complete maxing out of spectators (more people couldn’t watch if they wanted to, since it is standing room only, including on hotel balconies and light posts, bridges, etc.).

Day 1: Boater Cross on Dowd Chutes of the Eagle

The games started on Wednesday with the Dowd Chutes Boater Cross. This is a 2 minute race through 3,500 cfs steep water with big waves, holes, and strong eddies. Starting 4 abreast under the bridge and finishing in the left channel just below the last drop makes for a perfect boater cross course. Clay Wright and Dan Gavere were in charge of organizing the events, scoring, etc.. These guys have been doing this for so many years that they really know what is up and how to make each event shine.


Eric Jackson, winner of time trials, and each round.
Tao Berman, second
Brad ludden, third
Jay Kincaid, fourth (he finished second behind me in the finals, but got DQ’d for not hitting a gate with his paddle.

Tanya Faux
Tanya Shuman
Emily Jackson
Laura Nash

Day 2: Extreme Racing on Homestake Creek

At 50 cfs, steep and tight, with lots of ugly rocks mixed into some sweet drops, this race is a great test of skill. Last year some big names crashed and DNF’d, like Jay Kincaid, and Steve Fisher. This year there were some pins and DNFs too, but not by any big names.

After 1st Runs Pat Keller was in 1st place with me .3 seconds behind him, and Tao was .05 seconds behind me, with Brad Ludden a few seconds behind Tao for 4th. They eliminated the bottom 5 boaters from doing their second runs, and Dane was one of them, paddling his Fun 1.5 and not having his best run on the top section, having his first flip on this creek. In the women’s class, Nikki Kelley was the fastest one only 10 seconds behind the men’s times over 2 minutes.

It would come down to 2nd runs for the win. I knew I easily had at least 4 seconds of improvements that I could make up just by fixing my mistakes on the first runs. Pat also had mistakes to fix, and Tao too.

My second run started out terrific and I fixed two mistakes worth 2 seconds before getting stuck in a little slot that was a questionable line anyhow. On my first run I did it well, but it is a pile on the rocks and push off move that can shave a second off of the traditional line, or lose a few seconds. I lost a few seconds and was now slower at this point (1/3 of the way down) but then got the next two moves faster. At the last drop “leap of faith” I boofed too hard and went on the rocks on the left and had to go around a rock and a hole and then was in bad position for the last move, losing more time there. My second run time was a 1:53 which was the 4th fastest time. Pat had a great second run shaving a second off of his first run and won. Tao crashed at Leap of Faith and flipped and got a 1:56 which put him in 5th, while Brad Ludden improved his first run score of 1:53 and came in right behind me in 3rd place. The race is at 10,000 feet above sea level and almost 2 minutes long. Anyone who has done the 880 run, knows that this distance is very lactic at sea level, and more so at elevation. It is also a great test of conditioning.

In the women’s class: Nikki Kelley had a good second run to win, while Tanya Faux got second, and Valerie from Quebec got 3rd.

Day 3: Freestyle Prelims at Gore Creek, downtown Vail

The men and women had their prelims which cut the men to 10 and the women to 7 boaters on Friday. The crowds were pretty big considering that it was a Friday in Vail. Lots of great boaters were eliminated, like Todd Baker, Ben Guska, and more, while other top boaters made it through.

Stephen Wright won prelims, followed by Eric Jackson, and then Bryan Kirk, and in 4th was Jay Kincaid, and 5th was Greg Parker. It was a great Jackson Kayak showing with 5 of the top 10 boaters paddling a Jackson Kayak. Greg Parker from Wisconsin had great rides to take 5th place. Dane was 9th in his Fun 1.

In the women’s class it was Ruth Gordon, then Emily, Nikki Kelley, Tayna Faux, and Devon Barker, and Tanya Shuman, and Hannah Farrar. Ruth was taking the competition by storm winning the big trick contest, and then winning prelims in the Freestyle comp. The hole was not at a good level for the women, making it hard to stick moves, but it rises during the day from 2pm-9pm and higher water was what we were hoping for.

Day 4: Freestyle Semi-Finals and Finals at Gore Creek, Downtown Vail

The men still had to cut from 10 to 3 and the women had to cut from 7 to 3.

When we showed up to the hole on Saturday morning, the water was already higher than the night before, meaning that we would have high (good) water for the competition. As usual, Team Jackson Kayak was out in force training early. One thing you will notice about Team JK is that we tend to spend more time on the water than just about anyone. Is this for training purposes, or because we like paddling more? Who knows, but surely you couldn’t show up at the hole without having several team members on the water. Saturday morning before the competition was no different. Since the water went up, Stephen, Jay, and I were all trying different moves that we couldn’t do at low water. I stuck a Lunar Orbit and a Back Loop, neither of which I could do at the lower water. Stephen nailed his Phonix Monkey which was awesome, and Jay was getting his McNasty dialed in.

Once the competition started for the women, Devon Barker came out swinging in the first heat winning it handily. She nailed both her loops and Space Godzilla, as well as some cartwheel moves in the flushy hole. In the second heat (top seeded women) Emily killed it and won Semi-finals, while Nikki Kelley had two good rides. Ruth Gordon went from winning prelims to not quite nailing her loops, although she flew in the air, she flew right out of the hole and didn’t quiet stick them. Ruth was 2 points out of 3rd place and missed finals. So it was Emily, Devon, and Ruth in that order. Two Jackson Kayak pink Stars in one finals, awesome!

In the men’s semi-finals: the first heat of 5 guys went and with Dustin Urban being the top guy in that heat, but not quite getting his ride going. Last year Dustin was second place in this event and gave me a run for my money. In the top seeded heat (top 5 guys) Bryan Kirk had a really good run, while Greg Parker didn’t have quite as good of a ride as in prelims, and forgot to do his McNasty, which he is capable of doing. Stephen had another killer run, Jay had a really good run that was similar to Bryan Kirk’s and too close to call from just watching. My rides really started to step up but again, we had to wait for the scores.

It was:
EJ, Stephen, and Jay for finals! All three Jackson Kayak All-Star or Super Star paddlers! In 4th was Bryan Kirk, only 2 points out of 3rd. They checked and double checked the scores to be sure because it was so close.

We got a 4 hour break until finals, which started at 4:45 pm.


The finals were so packed with spectators that there wasn’t any room for more people to come and watch. People were lined deep on the bridges, and sides of the river, as well as in the bleachers, hotel balconies, and even standing up on street light posts to get a view. They had boom cams, a jumbotron truck, and lots of cameras on hand for better viewing and also for the TV coverage. Dan Gavere, Hobie, and BJ were the announcers and they did a great job bringing everyone up to date and in the loop.

The finals started off with Nikki taking her first ride. Nikki started off with a bang, nailing a huge loop, catching her bow and turning it into a Space Godzilla without hesitation. She did a Space Godzilla the other way and then started going for cartwheel moves into a flush at the end. Devon and Emily got to wait to hear her score and it was a 56, the highest score of the competition for women so far. Devon went next and had a decent ride, equal to her best prelims ride of 26. Emily then went, knowing that she had to better her own highest score in order to beat the score laid down by Nikki. The competition was two rides, best one counts. Emily hit the hole and nailed her air loop, loop, Space Godzilla right, and then her clean cartwheel right all right away in good form. She went for split wheels and cartwheels to top it off before the buzzer and pulled off a McNasty just after the buzzer which put the crowd on their feet. The McNasty would have sealed the deal with no question, but it didn’t count since it was after the buzzer. The crowd was wowed as both Nikki and Emily had just had incredible rides and everyone was wondering what the score for Emily would be. The score came up: 59! Emily was winning with a great ride after her first run. On the second runs, Nikki didn’t get it going like in her first run and she didn’t beat Emily’s score, so the only person left to beat it was Devon. Devon entered the hole and started off strong nailing both her loops and space godzillas. She had 30 seconds left and crashed on her lefty cartwheel attempts and flushed low in the eddy and didn’t make it back in time. However, her score came close at a 46, her highest of the weekend.

Women’s Results:
Emily Jackson, 1st- Jackson Kayak Star
Nikki Kelley, 2nd, Dagger Kingpin
Devon Barker, 3rd, Jackson Kayak All-Star
Ruth Gordon, 4th, Jackson Kayak Star

I got in my boat and paddled down to try something I hadn’t tried yet, an entry move. The hole was getting better and by the time the women finished it was actually a really good hole! It was still not super retentive, so I wanted to see if I could stick an entry move. I did one quickly and stuck it, so I paddled below the bridge and got out (there was no way to get out of your boat at the hole with the crowd there.) and walked back up and put in by the restaurant. I watched Jay’s first ride on the jumbo-tron (big screen) from about 200 yards away. He had a great first ride throwing huge air, but had a hard time getting his McNasty going. Jay’s score came in at a 107. Stephen was next and went off, nailing a phonix monkey, and McNasty, and HUGE air. The crowd went nuts as his score came in at a 121. I dropped down into a micro-eddy under the bridge to set up for my entry move and had to wait for the judges to be ready. Once I got the thumbs up I dropped in and nailed my entry move. I was supposed to do a Lunar Orbit next but the air loop was perfectly set up and I went for it. The Boom Cam was just overhead or just beside me, and it felt like double surfing since it was so close, but I never hit it. I finally went for my Lunar Orbit and hit it but was struggling to stay in the hole and bailed for the eddy, realizing that I could have stuck it, but goofed up (six points get deducted for not sticking it) The rest of my ride went well and I stayed in the hole the rest of the time. My score came up at 129, now in first place, sweet! The crowd was impressed with everyone’s rides, and the energy down in that little stadium was super high.

I went down to the takeout and walked back up to the restaurant to put in and watch Jay and Stephen’s second ride, but decided to watch from the bridge where I could cheer them on. Jay started off strong and was clearly going bigger on his second ride but flushed low on a McNasty attempt and that would put him out of any chance of beating either Stephen or my score. Jay had to settle with 3rd place, something he isn’t in to, but he still was super impressive each time he went into the hole. Now, I would watch Stephen with the only possible chance of beating me. I wanted to get in my boat so I would be ready for my turn, so I watched the jumbo-tron from upstream, with another hundred or so spectators watching up there with me. Stephen went off! He nailed big air, after big air, and then threw in his righty PHonix Monkey to ad a bit of good measure before the buzzer. This ride was clearly better than his first and would be close to my 1st ride for sure. After the initial adding, the judges told Stephen that they thought he was 2 points lower than me. Stephen relayed that message to me while I sat in the micro-eddy ready to go. I started to let my energy down, and was coming off guard when the announcers said that, “after double checking Stephen’s score, Stephen comes in with a 132, three points over EJ, Stephen is now the new leader! “ Whoa! I picked my paddle back up (I was planning on doing a no paddle victory lap) realizing that I would now have to get the best score of the competition right now if I was going to win. This is what I live for, this type of “do or die” situation where everyone is watching, and winning or losing is in the balance. It is just so pure of a moment, and I am more at home here than in prelims where it has no real outcome. The cameras, judges, and crowd turned to me as Stephen was beaming with a huge smile, knowing that he just put on an incredible show of skill and showmanship.

I peeled out and set up the entry move, nailing it a second time, and this time went right for my Lunar Orbit, nailing that as well. I suddenly felt like I couldn’t miss a move and went into full EJ mode, which is to call out my moves to the judges, and make eye contact with the spectators, cameras, and judges. I was in my element and it felt awesome. I went for my big air moves, and then went for McNastys both ways and got them both (first time in the comp). I hadn’t flushed yet (a first for me so far) and ran out of moves to do, so I started throwing cartwheel moves and when they started counting down from 5 seconds, I pulled out of the hole and went for the bridge splatwheel to maximize my style score at the buzzer. The crowd went off, and I was as happy with my paddling as I could be. Stephen and I looked at each other wondering what the outcome was. The announcers tortured us by calling everyone to the awards stage for the medal ceremony where the winner would be announced.

First they gave the medals to the ladies, then

EJ- 1st, (142 points), Jackson Kayak All-Star
Stephen, 2nd (132 points), Jackson Kayak All-Star
Jay Kincaid 3rd (107 points), Jackson Kayak Super Star

Also- in semi-finals- Dane Jackson- 7th place in his Fun 1! Dane beat out quite a few top ranked pro men in this event!

Well, I am on my way to France and literally on my way to the airport right now. Big wave competition this coming weekend!

🙂 EJ


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Emily Loop

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Eric Homestake

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Girls Win

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Men Win

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Stephen Homestake

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Vail crowd

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Winners Circle