VAIL — Now it can be said, Dane Jackson was officially up a creek without a paddle.
In his third run during the kayak freestyle finals of the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Jackson flew out of Gore Creek in a front loop and chucked his paddle upstream.
“If I ever get a chance to do a victory lap, I definitely try to do something different and kind of relax a little,” Jackson said. “One thing I like to do is the loop with a paddle toss. People like it and don’t expect it. (The paddle) goes upstream and hopefully you catch it on the way down.”
In this case, he missed the paddle after his flip, but when you have 1,470 points in your pocket from your first run, 290 ahead of Buena Vista’s Dustin Urban, it’s a victory lap and you can try whatever you want.
And while the Jacksons are royalty in the world of kayaking — his father, Eric, and his sister, Emily, have won here regularly — Saturday’s win was special for Dane, 20. After 10 years of competing in the Mountain Games — yes, he started when he was 10 — this was his first win in Vail.
“This is my first time winning an event in the Mountain Games, so I’m stoked,” he said. “I’ve had so many second places here, so this is great.”
The latest of those second-place finishes came at the Steep Creek Championship on Thursday up at Homestake Creek behind Isaac Levinson. But Jackson found the winner’s circle with a wing-over entry move into the hole followed by a McNasty to start his first run. After failing to land a loop, he got back into the hole and reeled off that loop along with a space Godzilla to the left and to the right, another McNasty, a backflip and aerial, effectively ending the competition.
“Basically, my first run I just managed to pull off a lot of moves, and a lot in both directions,” Jackson said. “The first run, it just came together and I was stoked to get it done.”
And since the 20-year-old is the defending world champion in kayaking, well, this was not unexpected.
“Dane has really emerged as the dominant force in kayaking. We’re getting used to him winning, but we’re doing our best to knock him off the top off the podium,” Urban said. “It’s great to see. He’s a talented paddler. You see some paddlers who can throw big rides, but they’re working hard and it doesn’t look like that good. Dane makes it look easy. I look at him and say, ‘I should be able to do it like that.’”
Paddlers had to contend with much higher waters on the Gore as the snow continues to melt. Urban, who is a Mountain Games veteran and previous winner in this event, said the water was consistent.
“This event has always required a lot of adaptability because the level always does change throughout the day with the heat bringing up the level in the afternoon,” Urban said. “This year, it was just more so. It was constantly changing flows. With the adjustable bladder system here, the head judge Clay Wright was tweaking those levels. It’s great. It makes the competition better because the hole is more consistent.”
Hunter Katich, of Alabama, took third with 1,170 points.
O’Hara captures women’s crown
Before the women’s kayak freestyle finals, Claire O’Hara was walking up and down the south bank of Gore Creek, leaning on benches, doing assorted stretching exercises, while casually talking to anybody who was sitting around taking in the day at the GoPro Mountain Games.
“It’s really tricky because I’ve got to think differently and do shorter bursts of energy just to try to get into the tempo at the actual speed we’re going to do,” O’Hara said. “We don’t get a practice ride. We have to be ready and set.”
She was and she put down a 500-point run to capture Saturday’s women’s kayaking rodeo finals, ahead of Marlene DeVille (400), of France, and Sage Donnelly (360), of Carson City, Nevada.
And so O’Hara took home a nice check and the prize for any Mountain Games winner, a large Gerber ax. (And, yes, that would be Gerber Gear, not the baby food.)
“I’ve only just picked it up,” O’Hara said. “I have no idea how I’ll get it through airport security. I may have to leave it here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get it home.”
Nailing down the loop early in her run was key for O’Hara. She did it and knocked off some McNasties, setting the bar for the women’s field.
O’Hara is not done. She will be in today’s 8-ball competition as an actual racer.
“If you’re a known name, you’re going to get smashed in the pack wherever you are,” she joked. “I’m going to be preparing for the smashing and try to get through.”
And, in that case, the ax may come in handy.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.