Jacksons top freestyle competition at GoPro Mountain Games

Emily Jackson, daughter of legendary kayaker Eric Jackson, flips into 1st place at the Women’s Freestyle Kayak Finals on Saturday. The world’s top kayakers flock to Vail’s GoPro Games each year to show off their aerial and technical skills in the water.
Tom Cohen | Special to the Daily |

VAIL — If the athlete who has the most fun is the true winner in freestyle kayaking, it was no surprise to see the Jacksons on top on Saturday.

Smiling throughout their runs, the brother-sister duo of Dane and Emily Jackson retained their familiar first-place position Saturday at the GoPro Mountain Games Freestyle Kayaking competition.

For Emily, it was a return to the competition after taking two years off following the birth of her son Tucker on July 14, 2013. For that year and the next, the UK’s Claire O’Hara topped the podium in Vail. On Saturday, Emily Jackson put down an impressive performance, allowing for a “victory lap” in her third and final run as she had already secured the top points position heading into the run. Her brother was not in the same position, and attempted to best his second-round score in the third round. He was not able to, leaving him nervously watching as Stephen Wright and Nick Troutman — the top qualifiers from semifinals — attempted to best Jackson’s run. Either one of their scores from semifinals would have bested Jackson in finals. But the water wasn’t running the same on Saturday night as it was on Friday afternoon.

“I was having a little bit of a tough time staying in the feature,” Troutman said after finals. “I think some of my tricks just weren’t clean enough.”

“The 360-rotation of spectators above you is always a blast. I found the flush a lot, but I still had fun.”Dane JacksonMen’s freestyle champion

Support Local Journalism

Jackson said Troutman and Wright are two of the best freestyle kayakers in the sport today, so to have them after him was not an ideal place to be.

“My tricks weren’t the cleanest either,” Jackson said after the competition. “But the way this feature is running, this was the hardest day we’ve had yet. So that’s why the scores were lower today.”

It’s been a long week for Jackson, who also competed in the Steep Creek Challenge and Freestyle Qualifiers on Thursday, the freestyle semifinals on Friday, and the SUP down river sprint, the downriver kayak sprint, and the downriver rafting spring along with Troutman on Saturday.

“The hardest part for me was trying to save energy for the freestyle,” Troutman said on Saturday. “The back-to-back-to-back sprint definitely takes a lot of energy out of you.”

Jackson said the crowds at the freestyle finals are always what keeps a smile on his face while he’s competing here, even when he is getting washed out of the feature.

“The 360-rotation of spectators above you is always a blast,” he said. “I found the flush a lot, but I still had fun.”

Following his victory, in a final fan salute on Saturday, Jackson jumped off the International Bridge in his kayak.

“I like doing that kind of stuff,” Jackson said.

On Sunday, Jackson and Troutman will compete in the SUP cross event and the 8-ball kayaking competition to wrap up a long weekend of competition.

“I’ve just had a blast all weekend,” Jackson said.

The 8-ball kayak finals are scheduled for 4 p.m. at the International Bridge in Vail.

Support Local Journalism