Dane Jackson taking kayaking to the next ledge
Mountain Games freestyle champion has a new eye for old spots
VAIL — Dane Jackson and Hunter Katich took turns in the top spots at the GoPro Mountain Games freestyle kayaking competition on Saturday evening in Vail Vallage.
Hundreds gathered to watch the showdown. Jackson is frequently cited as the world’s best kayaker, but was bested by Katich in 2018 at the Mountain Games.
In the end, Jackson took home top honors on the day, out scoring Katich in the very last run of the evening, a down-to-the-wire finish which added a level of excitement to an already exciting sport. Dane Jackson’s sister, Emily Jackson, easily won the women’s competition, announcer Dan Gavere estimated it to be her 14th freestyle kayaking win at GoPro Mountain Games.
A new look at old zones
Freestyle kayaking events like that of the GoPro Mountain Games usually take place in sections of river where a small drop flows back on itself in a standing wave or “hole,” as its known in kayaking.
But in recent years, Dane Jackson has taken freestyle elements to new sections of river, going inverted over waterfalls and deliberately hitting rocks to bounce into new positions. He calls his rock maneuvers “edge catching” and says it has given him a new outlook on his old zones.
“When you start to drop your edge and hit the rock and do a flip, you start to realize how many places there are actually to do that type of thing, and you start to look at a lot of rapids differently,” he told the Vail Daily. “I’m starting to notice that there’s a little bit more of a level of control than I originally thought … You can look at a lot of classic rapids you’ve been doing for years and notice there’s actually a nice little ledge that you can catch your edge on and do a flip.”
Catching edges, attention
In recent months, along with his edges, Jackson has been catching the attention of publications outside of the kayaking world. Popular surf publication theinertia.com, in March, published a video with the headline “You Have to See This Aerial Barrel Roll From Kayaker Dane Jackson on a California River.”
Jackson said that particular clip is the result of an earlier iteration of edge catching, where you enter the river from a section of non-river.
“Even off the dry rocks, there’s a lot of fun places to do it,” he said.
While he’s being cited as a pioneer in this latest evolution of freestyle, Jackson says he’s not necessarily performing new tricks. Dane was 13 when his father Eric Jackson last held the title of world champion freestyle kayaker in 2007; four years later Dane would become champion himself.
“A lot of people have done a lot of the things I do; back in the day there’d be similar things, for sure,” Dane said. “But over the last year or two I’ve noticed there’s a lot of places that if I drop my edge I can actually do something new for that spot.”
Some zones require high water, but Jackson says a move called the Tomahawk flip — where a kayaker descends a waterfall perpendicular to the flow and uses a feature like a rock within the waterfall to initiate a flip — has come together easier than expected in low water.
“With the Tomahawk, there’s actually a lot of places for it,” he said. “I started to do it on dry land off of the ledge into flatwater, and then I realize I could probably do it in whitewater, and I started to do it a lot more, and I think the more places I’ve started to do it, the more people realize that they have a place that they can do it.”
Jackson said it has been exciting to see more people attempting freestyle maneuvers in zones they may not have tried in years past.
“You can land some weird ways, and there’s definitely potential to get hurt,” he said as a word of caution. “But over the last year, I’ve definitely seen more and more people I’ve seen try, where initially I was like the only one trying in a few places, which is really cool to see.”