I stumble into Wilderness Tours’ events room where they hosted the closing ceremonies of the World Championships only two hours earlier. Instead of Eric Jackson standing on stage accepting his fourth gold medal, he’s been replaced by Rush Sturges rocking the microphone while a drummer pounds out a wicked beat. The crowd is swaying as one—as one wild animal, pulsating to the rowdy rhythm.
This is the third time I’ve covered a World Championship. But this one on Canada’s Ottawa River is, without a doubt, the best venue, the best organization and the event filled with the most contrast. At 43, it’s the fourth time Jackson has reached the mountain. He’s the first to do it twice in a row. And he did it the way he knows how: By being the best competitor.
From an outsider’s perspective, it had to be the most fulfilling too. It was supposed to be the new guard’s turn. Buseater Wave has been the staging ground for the new school in the last five years, a generation of boaters that puts style and creativity above competition. But here was Eric Jackson, showing the world he can win on their turf. “Video sort of distorts your reality,” Jackson says. “Those videos you see of moves on this wave, the big ones don’t happen every ride. The editors and filmmakers are doing outstanding movies. I watch them all the time. But this was about competing and it was a great competition.”
The only local to win gold was Ruth Gordon. And she did it in classic style. She was in first all week and by far, had the best rides of the women’s field. But in the finals, she was marginal on her first three and had to come up big on her last try. It was kind of like coming up huge in the third period of the seventh game in the Stanley Cup finals. She threw two big air blunts each direction and had the home crowd fired up. “I’m so happy to win here,” she says. “I worked so hard for it and it finally happened. And at home, that’s the best part.”
Speaking of home, junior Evan Garcia took one home for California while Emily Jackson took another one home for the Jacksons in the junior womens. Dan Burke won in C-1 and the USA is still the top freestyle team in the world. And as I found out at Wilderness Tours, they usually win the party too.
Eleven Things I think I think
1. I think Eric Jackson should soak this one in. It was special.
2. I think the booing of Jackson at the closing ceremonies was pretty lame. It came mostly from the French contingent. Don’t worry fellas. The worlds are in Europe in 2009. You’ll have your turn. In reality though, you win on the field, not off it.
3. I think if we don’t always hold Worlds at a feature like this, we’re doing the sport an injustice. The venue was great for non-boaters because they could see the separation between the kayaker and the water (air). Hopefully Europe’s site is just as special.
4. I think the Young Guns posse should be proud. This world-renowned group of wave riders has changed how we boat. And how we judge boating. The bread and butter, a combo move where the kayaker throws a blunt immediately into a backstab, was integrated into competition as a 22-point trophy move. Now, all of them just need to harness their incredible talent and learn how to compete.
5. I think knowing how to compete is what separated everyone in this comp. Once you make the final five, the pressure is off the hook. Knowing how to deal with it is – as in any sport – the key. Canadian Nick Troutman had the best rides throughout the event and held first most of the way. But once he made the finals, everything changed. There’s a different attitude. You kind of have to have to be like a snarling dog.
6. Despite the criticism, I felt the judges were really solid. They were consistent and that’s all you can ask for. It’s an absolutely thankless job. There was some complaining because more than a few on the panel came from one boat manufacturer. But I spoke with them and all the international judges quit or only judged portions and two independent American judges who were supposed to travel to the event couldn’t make it. Nice work from the judging panel.
7. I think it was weird to see winning kayakers get escorted away to take urine tests by chaperones for the International Canoe Federation. Right after they competed, the top five were shuttled off to a cold room with plastic tarps hanging from the ceilings to conceal the urine donation going on behind. It’s a good thing though. Freestyle is part of a respected international committee (ICF) which actually gives it some legitimacy. Drug tests are part of the trade off.
8. The Ottawa River rules. I’d heard so much about it but was actually able to get to know it this year. Awesome play. I mean it’s everywhere. Plus there’s nothing like running big water in a playboat.
9. Wilderness Tours rules too. Classy company, incredible facilities, great food, better bar. Joe Kowalski and Matt McGuire, thanks for getting the water from Ontario Power Generation so we could see this. We’ll be talking about this Worlds for decades.
10. I know that there’s some serious shit going on in Quebec. Everyone was heading up from the rowdy crew out of British Columbia tagged the B.C. Boys to the Young Guns to Steve Fisher to Billy Harris. Most were going to surf Black Mass and creek their brains out. That place is turning into a destination and everyone is trying hard to keep it a secret.
11. I’m going to be hungover for a week.
1. Emily Jackson USA
2. Martina Wegman ND
3. Nouria Newman FRA
1. Evan Garcia USA
2. Thomas Fahrun CANADA
3. Dane Jackson USA
1. Stephan Pastch GRM
2. Paul Danks CAN
3. Jeremy Lauks USA
1. Dan Burke USA
2. Marc Girardin FRA
3. Guillaume La Rue CAN
1. Ruth Gordan CAN
2. Tanya Faux AUS
3. Fionna Garvie GBR
1. Eric Jackson USA
2. Peter Csonka SLV
3. Nick Troutman CAN
See below for how the results fared against Paddling Life’s Predictions:
In the name of side bets and bookies, the Paddling Life staff including Eugene Buchanan, Nick Hinds and Joe Carberry offer their fearless predictions.
Men: EJ. Are you kidding me? Even at the ripe age of 43, EJ (left) has more tricks up his water-logged drytop. He’s the three-time World Champion, trains harder than anybody, and has spent the last two months practicing big water moves on the Nile. No brainer.
Women: Going out on the limb here, but sticking with local girl Ruth Gordon (right). She’s from the area, knows the wave like the back of her pogie, and goes gargantuan. At 5’3 and 130 lbs., she’ll catch more airtime than Don Imus used to.
C-1: Two words. Paul Danks. Danks is climbing the ranks. He’s the reigning OC1 Champ, and a Canadian so he knows the wave as well as anyone. The only possible downside: Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa are still in the NHL playoffs, meaning this likely cuts into his training time to check out the games.
Men: Unfortunately, it was pointed out that my pick here, Stephen Wright is actually Team USA’s first alternate. Bummer because he’s light and throws huge air and I don’t think any boater has thrown bigger tricks besides Patrick Camblin or Africa’s Palo Babi. That said, I’ll take Canadian Billy Harris (left), Eh! He knows the wave as well as anyone in the field and has a great head for competition. Plus, it always seems like he’s having the most fun.
Women: Tanya Faux (right). She’s seriously ripped. She must work out and she looked so strong last time we saw her compete (at the Paddling Life Pro Invitational). An amazing overall boater, but keep an eye on Tanya Shuman too. T really can throw down on a wave, but can she beat out Faux or Gordon?
C – 1 – Groove Dog – Paul Danks (if he chooses to compete). The Groove Dog made the Ottawa look good before anyone else did from what I hear. I saw footage of him in ‘96 in a fiberglass Massive Groove, killing those features and he scored higher than most kayakers in recent competitions. Love to watch C-1 Rippers!
Men: Hard to pic against Jay Kincaid or EJ for the men’s title but I’m going with Australia’s Anthony Yapp (left) as a dark horse. The dude grew up surfing huge ocean swells so his big wave prowess is unlike anyone else and he definitely has the quickest hip-snap in the business. Perfect for huge airscrews.
Women: I like Ruth Gordon and Tanya Shuman but I’ve got to go with Tanya Faux to win it too. Aside from Nikki Kelly, I haven’t seen a more fierce competitor in the kayaking world. Every time she goes out she believes she can win.
C-1: Seth Chapelle. He’s a ripper, and at 18, has more youthful exuberance than a puppy. His lack of competitive experience may not help him but his considerable skill will definitely make up for it.