Hat tricks aren’t just for hockey. Just ask kayakers Dane Jackson and Nouria Newman, who each notched their third win in the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships at the GoPro Mountain Games on Homestake Creek near Vail, Colo. And Jackson (and his sister Emily) won the freestyle event to boot.
After last year’s historic high water conditions (a whopping 550 cfs), this year’s flows on the Class V Colorado badge of courage were a but more manageable at 200-300 cfs, but they also exposed rocks that threw more than one competitor off line. Dane negotiated the gauntlet the best, finishing with a time of 1:44.
“I was pretty stoked with my whole run,” he says. “I only hit a few little rocks that I avoided on earlier runs, but I had one of my better bottom sections. I paddled as hard as I could just trying not to crash. But it was so tight because these other boys had sick runs too.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until the event’s final paddler, Gerd Serrasolses, crossed the line that the pecking order was established. In the end, Serrasolses took second, two seconds off Jackson’s time of 1:44, followed by Nick Troutman in third at 1:47. And the water level had every racer singing the course’s praises. “I actually really enjoyed this water level,” says Jackson, who finished fifth in last year’s high-water race. “Last year was a lot of fun because it was high, but you could miss a lot more rocks. That’s what’s great about racing Homestake Creek at these flows: There are a lot of rocks to avoid that can totally ruin your run.”
Safety officials were also glad not to re-visit last year’s carnage. In 2016, of the original 44 men and five women registered, only 28 went the distance to complete the entire race, which was won by big-water specialist Alec Voorhees of Meridian, Idaho, with a course record time of 1:29. Race safety chief Mike Mather says this year was “was the first in the ‘modern’ era without any swims.”
“Last year there was a lot more carnage,” adds Jackson. “I expected a lot more this year because of the lower water, but everyone paddled really well.“
Included in that mix was his dad, Eric “EJ” Jackson, who recently made the U.S. Freestyle time for a record-setting 25th time. EJ, the event’s oldest competitor at 53, made the finals on the Homestake race to finish 13th overall. More importantly, he got the chance to see Jackson Kayak’s newest creek race kayak, the Nirvana, shine. In production for just three days, it finished first and third with Dane and Nick paddling it tot he podium. “To have that boat take first place and third place is very cool,” says EJ. “It’s one of the reasons I really wanted to race. I was fired up to paddle my new boat.”
For Dane, he says it all comes down to how well you do on race day. “I’ve won it before, I’ve swum it before, I’ve come in top 10 before,” he says. “I’m pretty fired up to take the win again.”
For the women, France’s Nouria Newman, earned a hat trick with her third win in a row, over Adrienne Levknecht and Sage Donnelly. “I’ve come three times and won three times, so I’m pretty stoked,” she says, more than happy to pocket the $2,000 prize.
It was a but better than her first run last year, in which she did seven rolls on the course. “Last year I did my first run upside down and it was terrible,” she says. “I had a really hard time getting back in the river. It definitely kept me humble about the course for this year. It’s not that it’s really hard, but it’s super consequential. There are a lot of hidden rocks that can push you off line and as soon as you flip, you’re going to get hurt most likely. But I felt way better coming into this event compared to last year or the year before.
“I’m always scared of hard, consequential rivers, but I’m glad because it’s keeping me humble and on my game,” adds Newman, who will attempt to qualify for the infamous North Fork race in Idaho next week by finishing in the men’s top 10.
Creek Race Results: Men
1. Dane JACKSON 1:44:362
2. Gerd SERRASOLSES 1:45:03
3. Nick TROUTMAN 1:46:23
1 Nouri NEWMAN 1:50:10
2 Adriene LEVKNECHT 1:52:50
Sage DONNELLY 1:58:31
Gore Creek turned into victory lane for defending Coors Light Freestyle Kayak champions Dane and Emily Jackson on Saturday. The brother and sister teammates from Walling, TN, each enjoyed a victory lap on their final hole ride as a rowdy crowd of freestyle fans cheered them on from shore.
For 27-year-old Emily, the winning score of 400 points from her first of three rides required a 236-point boost from her second ride in order to break a tie with Adriene Levknecht from South Carolina after the Team Dagger paddler nailed a series of big scoring moves with big air bonuses to tie the score in the final round. The tie-breaker pushed reigning World Champion Emily Jackson to the top of the Mountain Games podium for a record 10th time, losing the contest only twice (while she was pregnant). Junior World Champion Sage Donnelly, 16, finished a close third with 391.67 points.
Dane’s victory was equally hard-fought as temperatures rising to 80 degrees brought water levels in Gore Creek up with it. As the contest hole grew larger throughout the afternoon, so did the aerial tricks and Dane pulled off the day’s only 1,000+ point ride on his second attempt. Matthieu Dumoulin of France upped the amplitude to put up a fierce fight on his final hole ride, moving into second place with a score of 896.67 to Jackson’s 1,210. Likewise, 2013 Junior World Champion Hunter Katich threw down a flurry of high-scoring Phonics Monkeys, McNasty’s and Space Godzillas to finish third with 861.67.
Ultimately the reigning “Senior” World Champion’s combination of technical prowess, fluid combinations and monster aerials proved too good to beat as Jackson, 23, became the most dedicated whitewater competitor at the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games. In addition to winning the Coors Light Kayak Freestyle, Dane won the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships on Thursday and finished fourth in the Coors light Down River Sprint and seventh in the Yeti SUP Sprint earlier on Saturday.
Gerd Serrasolses of Sort, Spain, must have caught the one extra pulse of current on Gore Creek to push his kayak across the finish line 1.34 seconds ahead of Matias Lopez of San Rafael, CO, in respective times of 16:55.98 and 16:57.32. Downriver racing veteran Mike Freeburn, 53, from Durango, CO, was third in 17:01.63.
Kiwi Martina Wegman, 27, took the women’s crown in 17:20.21, followed by fellow Durangotang Jana Freeburn, 47, in 17:33.04. Adriene Levknecht of Greenville, SC, was third (17:35.06), just ahead of Giddens in 17:41.41.