Call it the Dane Games? That's how it started off for Jackson Kayak paddler Dane Jackson, who kayaked his way to first place in Thursday's Coors Light Steep Creek Championship on Homestake Creek at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colo., for his second win in the prestigious event.
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 bit more manageable at 300 cfs, but they also exposed rocks that threw more than one competitor off line. Jackson 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 minute, 44 seconds, 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 Adriene 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 bit 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 Championship‘s Elite Division next week in Idaho by finishing in the top 10 of the men's Expert Division.
1. Dane JACKSON 1:44:362
2. Gerd SERRASOLSES 1:45:03
3. Nick TROUTMAN 1:46:23
1. Nouria NEWMAN 1:50:10
2. Adriene LEVKNECHT 1:52:50
3. Sage DONNELLY 1:58:31