Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the best kayaker of them all?
We’ll never really know, but the New England Whitewater Triple Crown Championships were an original and entertaining attempt to compare paddlers across the disciplines. Separate wildwater, slalom and freestyle events were held in the Tariffville Gorge of the Farmington River in mid-state Connecticut, April 25-26, and placings were combined to choose an overall champion.
But how can you possibly persuade freestyle specialists to climb into a tippy wildwater boat over 14 feet long, or slalom racers to make fools of themselves trying to throw loops? You offer two $1,000 prizes, that’s how–one for the top man, one for the top woman. That’ll bring them out of the backwaters.
Only 29 racers attended, but the quality was high. In the finals on Sunday, slalom athlete Jure Poberaj, son of Olympic coach Silvan Poberaj, won the wildwater and slalom races to put himself into a solid lead. But in the freestyle, Jure’s one nicely landed front loop was only good enough for seventh place in a contest in which spectators struggled to differentiate McNasties from Phonix Monkeys.
And guess who was lying in wait in third place, ready to win the freestyle, and with it the overall title? Eric Jackson, the 1992 Slalom Olympian and multiple World Freestyle Champion, was the no-surprise winner–though only by one point. Young slalom athlete Isaac Levinson rounded out the top three.
Meanwhile, the women’s competition turned into a one-on-one duel between two Canadians, both slalom specialists: up-and-comer Katrina Van Wijk, just 18 years old, and the seasoned Sarah Boudens, Canada’s 2008 slalom Olympian. Katrina won the wildwater–Sarah won the slalom–and so they were tied coming into the last event. Both slalom athletes fell back several places in the freestyle, but Sarah fell back just a little further, leaving Katrina Van Wijk the overall champion. Jesse Stone, winner of the freestyle, placed third.
“It was a great event,” says Jackson. “A freestyle paddler won for the men, and a slalom paddler won for the women. Who knows what it will be next year.”
An unseasonable pair of 90-degree days brought out hundreds of spectators, and the event was declared a huge success for the sponsoring village of Tariffville and town of Simsbury. Organizers Jamie McEwan and Andy Kuhlberg promise that the New England Whitewater Triple Crown will be back next year, with more prize money, more participants, and an increase in cross-discipline trash-talking. (Competitors this year, McEwan noted, were distressingly polite.) What’s more, there’s a movement to establish Whitewater Triple Crowns in other regions.
Let the comparisons begin.