This is a glimpse into the minds of professional athletes minutes prior to competing. For this article I was a fly on the wall next to father-son Jackson as they openly exchanged dialogue of their competition's strengths, intermixed strategy, competition insights, and EJ humor as the event unfolds. Follow along as my eyes watch and ears record the conversation of freestyle kayaking’s most successful athletes.
Freestyle Kayak Stadium Scene
Walking into the Teva Mountain Games freestyle semi-finals there’s no place to view the event. The wave-hole is between two bridges sitting just above and below the feature. The bridges and banks are packed stadium style where hundreds of people cheer kayakers. Commentators Dan Gavere and Ken Hoeve work the mic keeping it exciting as the athletes do the rest. It’s a proud moment for freestyle kayaking.
As a photojournalist you’d want the best angle, a challenge within this packed space.
Overlooking on a 3rd floor hotel balcony Dane and Eric Jackson watch next to an adjacent balcony full of photographers and pro kayakers. It’s the perfect vantage point directly above the hole and crowd. I realize what I have to do. I yell up to EJ and he tells me what room he’s in… within moments I’m standing next to overhearing the pair as they prep to compete.
Dane and EJ Discussing the Competition and Strategy
EJ scored competitors rides aloud, “It wasn’t 45 degrees.” EJ looks at me and explains, “I’m trying to get an ideal of what they’re (judges) counting. It’s ICF rules. You only have to be within 20 degrees so it’s not that hard to get the moves.” Studying the judges and scribes to see if they write after a competitor goes for a move. If the scribe writes then that means the competitor scored.
What info is EJ assessing?
The athlete wants to know if the judges are easy or tough on giving points. He can gather a different set of info from competitor rides. If the judges are scoring moves easy then EJ will speed his ride and go for more moves equaling a higher score. But if the judges are tough then he’ll slow down and focus on hitting the ride exact planning to have more moves count. He's calculating whether he needs quality or quantity to win based on the character of the judges. As the 5-time world champ he’s the master of scoring freestyle and knows the game better than anyone. It’s a subtle piece of information that has helped him to dozens if not hundreds of championship titles.
EJ’s voice is now directed to Dane, “Nobody in the first heat is going to advance.” Dane asks, “How were Nick (Troutman) and Dustin (Urban) Dad?” They’ll go in the second heat.” EJ ticks his head to the side with a smirk of a smile as he looks up with thinking eyes, “I’ll watch the first rides of the second heat. Then walk down to the river. Take my time. Watch a couple of rides and get ready.” The 5-time World Champ is mentally relaxing himself as he keeps his mind occupied.
“Do a couple of hundred strokes. Moving around. Just get warm. YEAHHH! YEAH! Rush!” Rush Sturges hits a McNasty and goes for a Tricky Woo, two of the highest scoring and hardest tricks. “I’d give him the entry, big loop, Fonics Monkey, definitely got his McNasty.” Dane asks, “What’s Pat (Camblin) doing here?” EJ answers, “I heard him say he’s going to see who’s going to ante up for the Whitewater Grand Prix. A lot of people are doing that now.”
A Pyrahna rider raises a Brown Claw. The Brown Claw is a simple hand held high in the air in the shape of an umbrella claw. The Brown Claw has become a kayaking phenom that as far as skill goes would be the equivalent to waving at a friend with a different shape of the hand minus the motion.
“I like it when the Pyrahna boys Brown Claw… It keeps them out of the finals.” EJ raises his Brown Claw high in the air to encourage the move to the athlete. He smiles and asserts, “Nobody in the first heat is going to make it.”
EJ and Dane go on to win silver and bronze as team member Dustin Urban earns another gold medal.
"Does Judging Ever Get Controversial?"
Below is a heated thread from World Championship contender James "Pringle" Bebbington's Facebook post just after the Teva Mountain Games freestyle event:
Well got scored 590 something and came 8th, watched the video back and def got 750 in worst case.....Would have put me 3rd and in the finals...can't change it but it has lit a fire under me for Worlds! Will put video up later... i think Clay was not so Wright this time :-) Nevermind...
It’s no surprise that EJ recommends the Jackson Kayak Fun series. The 2 Fun is JK’s easy to roll, fun to surf, and comfortable river running perfect hybrid with freestyle. If you’re looking to step your game up from beginner to intermediate/advanced boating then try a Fun.
Click here to view Teva Mountain Games Freestyle Results.
CKS Content Media Specialist
Owner- Pucon Kayak Hostel, your economical Chile destination with beds, kayak rentals, and beginner to advanced rivers. "Keep Kayaking."
Director- Huge Experiences' New River Academy, "And that has made all the difference."