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Jason Craig



Jason’s adventures in Europe!

Part 1

I just got back from the best time of my life! The past three weeks I have spent traveling around France and Spain with my best friends competing in the World Cups of Freestyle Kayaking. It was an incredible trip of paddling, adventuring, meeting new people, seeing new places, eating good food, drinking fine wine and above all living life to the fullest!


I think this story begins for me long before I boarded a flight to Europe. Last year I was back on top of my game going for the win at the 2013 World Championships in Nantahala, North Carolina. Even before my back injury I had never been paddling so well. I was focused on throwing down in the competition and progressing the sport of freestyle kayaking. Months of training went by where I lived in a little trailer parked next to the river with Dane, Nick, Emily, and EJ close by. We paddled everyday as hard as possible. It was an incredible time. My paddling progressed by leaps and bounds, but even more importantly it was a pleasure to spend so much time paddling with my best friends.


The hole slowly began to get more crowded as the competition neared with people arriving from every corner of the globe. Finally it was show time and structured team training slots began. By this time it was all about fine tuning my ride and mentally preparing for competing against the best in the world.


On the opening day of the World Championships the unthinkable happened. I severely dislocated my shoulder while warming up. I came down hard on a high brace and when I rolled up my arm wouldn’t move and my shoulder felt like it was somewhere down around my ribs. It was heinous!


It felt like I was in a living nightmare in a way. After I broke my back I worked as hard as possible through hell to be world champion again. That was my dream and motivation to push through a really hard recovery. I had a really hard choice to make. Should I sit out the competition I had been dreaming about for over two years or should I paddle and risk further injuring my shoulder?


I decided to paddle. I don’t know if that was the right decision, but I don’t regret it. I paddled all the way through the rounds doing tricks basically pulling with one arm while locking the other arm down. It hurt like hell and I was subluxing during my rides. Finally in the night semifinal round I placed 6th and missed competing in finals by 2 points (on a 1086 point ride). The next day I could barely move my arm. Obviously it was really hurt.

For me the competition one of adversity and disappointment, but oddly enough it was an incredibly rewarding experience at the same time. Watching finals on the sidelines I felt content because I  had given it everything I had, and while I did not win it felt good knowing that I didn’t give up on my dreams. The real victory was that I got to paddle again after everything I had been through and that I found my amazing love for paddling once again. All of these thoughts were going through my mind as I cheered on my best friend and training partner whom I have been paddling with now for over a decade, Dane, as he won his first senior world title. That was awesome and it felt great to see him succeed!


After the World Championships I returned home where I began PT and started the road to recovery. I was hoping that with lots of hard work I could strengthen my shoulder with therapy and avoid a surgery with a long period of inactivity. A few weeks later I got connected with an awesome shoulder doctor and an MRI revealed that I had torn the labrum in my shoulder and required a surgery for full recovery. Mid November I was wheeled into the operating room and had an arthroscopic surgery to reattach the torn labrum.


Months passed and my shoulder slowly began getting stronger. Around four months of rehab I was cleared to do strengthening exercises and I was beyond stoked! I figured if I could do a push up I could paddle the class two run behind my house, and it felt amazing! After I could run, paddle and climb again the recovery was relatively easy and I was through the worst. This whole time I had been going to school full time and I was ready to switch gears again to playing more!


Six months after my surgery to the day was the Reno River Festival and that was the day I got the green light from my doctor to do freestyle tricks again. My shoulder was definitely not feeling 100% normal, but I felt like I would just go out paddle for fun and most importantly be safe with my shoulder. It was amazing being with my friends, throwing tricks and kayaking again. It felt like the past six months of injury were washed away with a few good rides. Winning the event was just an extra bonus of feeling such joy!


All winter long I had been debating whether I wanted to go to the World Cup in Europe that summer. I wasn’t sure if I would physically be ready to paddle, but after having such a good time competing again I decided to pull the trigger and commit to three weeks in Europe traveling.


Two weeks later I caught a ride up to Idaho. After a long and awesome week of paddling at the Payette River Games the real adventure began. Monday morning I packed my bags and loaded up with my best friends to head to the airport. Turns out it would be the best trip of my life!


Next post coming soon 🙂


Huge thank you to my sponsors Jackson Kayaks, RivrStyx, Kokatat Watersports Ware, Snapdragon Design, Asana and also a huge thank you to my friend Scott Sady for letting me use his photos in this post!