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What’s the best way to spend your 50th birthday? My recommendation is preparing for the World Championships in Argentina! I never could have imagined how going to kayak camp in Argentina in preparation for this year’s ICF Freestyle World Championships would be the best birthday present I could have! It’s also been really special for me because I am back on the team with Emily and EJ. As with all the Jacksons, they have been really supportive of my paddling and endeavors such as the Inner City Kids Kayaking Camp and Soft Power Health, giving lots of positive encouragement over many years and showing up to help make things like the camp happen or finish building the clinic– something that makes the biggest difference in really anything. I have been on the US Team 4 times, and each time Emily and I have been on it together. EJ and I have been on the team 3 times together which has been really exceptional because I always looked to EJ and thought, “Wow, he is 49 or 51 or whatever number and making the team – I want to do that too! “ Not that I am focusing on my age, but more on how I feel. For me, kayaking is one space and place where I feel totally ageless, where time stands still. So as long as I feel good and stay healthy, I want to keep learning and trying new things.

On my birthday, I got to do several things that I love. First, I woke up and did an early training session at the hole with EJ and Emily and Courtney – that was really awesome and fun, especially since the hole here is probably the best hole I have ever paddled in. You always learn a lot in preparation for a Worlds, but it’s rare that you can have so much extra time in the competition feature that you get to work on totally new moves. That has been my experience here and has definitely been one of the highlights! Nick, Emily, and EJ have really been awesome at coaching and giving me feedback. It has also been great to watch and learn from them and other paddlers – this is always a huge bonus – really like going to kayak camp.

San Juan, Argentina, the place where the Worlds are being held this year, is very interesting too! Its set right in the foothills of the Andes in very high desert so the landscape wherever you look is vast and spectacular. The place definitely has a feeling of being trapped in time circa 1979. This has been really nice as the pace of life is very relaxed and apart from a lot of very fast driving, nothing moves quickly here. As with all Worlds, one of the extra benefits is travelling to a new place. It’s always great to meet new people and learn about a new culture. The last time I was in Argentina was 12 years ago during the time I was working on the Futaluefu river in Chile, and I was in very different locations to this high desert and mountainous setting. It’s been really fun to practice my Spanish. People are very friendly and forgiving when I try to speak and French comes out! As time goes on, I remember more words and phrases and learn some of the colloquialisms of the Spanish spoken here.

The local paddlers that I have met are really talented, and very welcoming too! It has been really nice to feel that the Argentinians are happy to have all of us here and have really gone out their way to share what’s special about this place with all the paddlers. Getting to see international paddling friends who I only see at Worlds or on the Nile is another added bonus! Catching up with everyone and hearing what’s going on with them is the wonderful reconnection with the paddling tribe that I definitely need and miss when I don’t get it.

On my birthday, I was getting to have all these fun experiences and more! Courtney took me out for lunch to a really wonderful café in town that has the best Alphajorhes I have had yet. Alphajorhes are the uniquely Argentinian cookie which is 100% better than any energy bar you could eat and go great with coffee. I have been making it my mission to try as many different kinds as I can so that I can write the definitive guide to Alphajorhes before I leave. My 50th birthday bash consisted of an awesome home cooked meal at the Jackson’s cabin. There was a spectacular sunset over the lake and mountains and even more spectacular was the flaming birthday cake that EJ and Emily appeared with – totally amazing and made out of what else – Alphajorhes! Finally, the night was topped off with a super fun multigenerational dance party! Turning 50 was absolutely great and unforgettable! Thank you to all involved for making it so special!!