While things looked a little different due to COVID restrictions at this year’s marquee 2020 Green Race — an extreme kayaking race on Asheville, NC’s notorious Green River, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year on Saturday, Nov. 7 — one thing remained the same: uber-stud Dane Jackson’s reign of wins, now at four, cementing him as the best extreme racer in the world. And, like runner’s closing in on the 4-minute mile, this year he came ever-so-close to reaching that mark (at normal flows), with a winning time of 4:02, more than 14 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Geoff Calhoun.
“He’s a total force, no question,” says the race’s safety organizer Tommy Hilleke, a multiple-time past winner himself. “There’s just no one even close these days.”
Indeed, out of the record 144 racers competing, Jackson was head and shoulders above the rest of the field, while keep his head pointing downstream and well-honed shoulders churning toward the finish.
On a couple of earlier practice runs, Jackson says he was able to finish the course in 4 minutes flat. But not on race day, and never a split second faster at normal flows (though he did once finish the course in 3:50 at a higher-water flow of 200 percent released from the dam upstream) “I’m stoked to be able to not only race but lay down a good run,” he says. “It’s by far one of the most challenging races but also one of the most epic. I’m getting closer and closer to that sub-4 run; one of these days I’ll lay it down!”
Watch video of his winning run here:
While Jackson’s dominance was the same, this year was markedly different in terms of logistics and spectators. Where usually hundreds of people hike in to take their perch at the climax Gorilla rapid, this year spectators weren’t allowed — and only competitors were allowed to camp at the parking area.
Instead, organizers hiked in and unfurled more than 3,000 feet of fiber-optic cable in order to broadcast and live-stream the event for the first time ever.
Hosted by HammerFactor, the event was covered top to bottom with multiple live drones and cameras to capture every second of the “Greatest Show In All Sports,” with announcing by former Green Race winner Al Gregory and Freestyle World Champion Brian Miller. The cost was (is) $30 for access to the video through Jan. 30, with $5 of every purchase going toward the Green Race Conservation Project supporting non-profit partners American Whitewater and Green River Keeper.
A Q&A with the Champ
PL: What was the vibe like this year with COVID and how was it different from previous years?
Dane: “It was definitely a different experience coming through the final parts of the race and not having the thousands of spectators we usually do. Normally it’s one of the biggest crowds we get in kayaking. So it was weird having it be more silent but in the end it was the right way to do it. Hopefully next year the crowd will be huge, and have the live stream on top of that to keep making the event bigger.
PL: How does it feel to win?
Dane: “It took me a long time to finally take the win at the Green Race in 2018 with a few 2nd places, tying for 1st a few times. Winning for that first time was special, but to be able to win the last two years as well has been amazing. I have crashed during the race a few times as it’s one of the hardest races to lay down a smooth run. So to finally be laying down the runs I need and coming out on top is awesome. Win or lose it’s just one of my favorite races.
PL: What were the conditions like?
Dane: Despite the fact I had been around the Green for nearly a month before the race, due to lots of rain and a new company running the dam, we had maybe two days of the race levels during that period. But luckily the organizers were able to organize the few days before the race to have low water to train on. So for a moment there I thought we wouldn’t have any training. But luckily we were able to make the most of those few days leading up. The day of the race ended up being lower than the few training days so a few moves didn’t go as smooth for me as in practice. So, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get that sub-4 this year. But in the end it was a perfect level for the race, and I was just fired up that it was even happening.
PL: What makes green race so social?
Dane: The community and vibe around the green race is just so amazing, and one of the most enjoyable weekends of the year. Although everyone wants to do as well as possible, everyone is just having an amazing time racing, cheering friends on, and having another awesome day on the water.
PL: How about the quest for sub-4 in 2021?
Dane: “I was feeling confident in sub-4 for this year as I was training well, and getting a few 4-minute flat training times. So I felt the most confident I could make it happen, but in the end it’s a lot of things to put together in one run. Lots of places to lose tons of time, but also so many little places to lose just small bits of time that add up.
Last year I managed to roll in with a 4:04, but that was with a few mistakes. But the biggest issue is probably that I was paddling too hard up top so I got lazy towards the bottom. So this year I wanted to focus on pacing myself better and have the energy to hit the big moves at the bottom. I did manage to make an improvement with a 4:02, with still a few mistakes.
This was the first year I was able to get close to sub 4 in training with a 4:01, as well as 2 runs at 4 minutes flat. So I definitely know it’s possible, and I was feeling really good about it. But in the end the Green Race is so tough to put an entire run together with minimal mistakes. There are just so many moves that sometimes go smooth, and then will have something go different on your next run even if you felt like you did the exact same thing. Sometimes you nail the big rapids, but then have a few of the smaller moves up top go a tad slower, which adds up.
So it’s no doubt that sub 4 is gonna take a hell of a run, but there is no doubt it is possible. This would have been a great year to make it happen, but I am still stoked to set the new course record and keep getting closer to that barrier. Every year I feel more confident not only that it is in fact possible but also that I can be the one to do it. So to be getting closer and closer is exciting, and I can’t wait to get back to training next year for Green race 2021. There’s always next year to make it happen.
2020 Green Race Results in a Nutshell:
Men’s Longboat K1
- Dane Jackson: 4:02
- Geoff Calhoun 4:16
- Pat Keller 4:18
- Holt McWhirt 4: 19.3
- Isaac Levinson 4:19.8
Women’s Longboat K1
- Adrienne Levknecht 4:45
- Sage Donnelly 4: 53
- Emily Shanblatt 5: 25
View full results here: https://greenrace.us/?p=1132
Read past stories here: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Green Race