Age: 18 | Rock Island, Tennessee
Known For: Perennial super-grom
This Year: Coming off a breakout spring season (Whitewater Grand Prix champion; three junior titles at the ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships) he swept U.S. nationals, and stepped up his creeking game
What’s Next: Defending his Whitewater Grand Prix title in Chile.
Dane Jackson is all grown up. Witness the then 17-year-old’s all-around title at last spring’s inaugural Whitewater Grand Prix, a multifaceted big-water showdown against a stacked field of grown men. He later dominated the junior events at the Freestyle World Championships, winning gold in three different disciplines—kayak, squirt and C-1—and repeated the sweep at U.S. nationals. This young paddler’s bag of tricks is already legendary, but it’s not limited to freestyle. He’s been working on his creekboating, and is a competitive force in extreme racing, slalom, even standup paddleboarding.
More on Dane: Story + Video
Age: 27 | Lives in his Honda Accord, with 290k miles + counting
Known For: One-day descent of the Stikine, hucking waterfalls, taking photos of all of it
This Year: Circumnavigated Canada’s Ellesmere Island with Jon Turk, crossed the Sea of Cortez, charged plenty of whitewater
What’s Next: Paddling with good friends and family, and sharing the adventure on his NRS blog
Erik Boomer had been in a sea kayak just once before he and Jon Turk set out to circumnavigate Ellesmere Island, a feat many have called the last great Arctic adventure. Turk, 66, and Boomer, 27 were strangers before they began pulling and paddling their sea kayaks 1,500 miles around the high arctic island. The journey took 104 days, including 17 tense days caught in an ice-choked bottleneck. The two adventurers chased off curious polar bears, beat away charging walruses, and puzzled their way through the shifting ice floes. Boomer documented all of it in stunning photographs. He later joined Tyler Bradt and Sarah McNair-Landry on a warmer ocean adventure—crossing the Sea of Cortez using sailing sea kayaks—before returning to his river roots with renewed passion this spring.
Age: 22 | Atlanta, Georgia
Known For: Bringing his slalom skills to creek races
This Year: 2011 Green Race champion, North America’s top finisher in the inaugural AWP Whitewater World Series (No. 2 overall), Noccalula huck
What’s Next: Run at the AWP crown, defending his title on the Green
Levinson, a Green Race podium fixture for the last few years, is making his run at a world title with a win at the 2012 AWP series’ first stage, the Little White Race, with race partner Evan Garcia. At April’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he finished ninth in the hyper-competitive K-1 class, also earning him a spot on the Under-23 national slalom team. As part of the three-man team to first run Alabama’s Noccalula Falls at the end of 2011, Levinson will have a stacked schedule of race events around continuing to explore new whitewater runs.
Age: 25 | Tauranga, New Zealand
Known For: Slalom and creek racing
This Year: Qualified to compete for New Zealand in Whitewater Slalom at the 2012 London Olympics, set up the first Class V slalom race on the Kaituna, and won a whole lot of races
What’s Next: The Olympics, two more slalom world cups, Sickline, Green Race, Whitewater Grand Prix in Chile
Mike Dawson is hard man to beat on any type of whitewater. The Olympian and seven-time New Zealand slalom champion also happens to be one of the most dominant extreme-race kayakers on the planet. His laurels this year include the Teva Mountain Games Homestake Creek Race (his third Homestake win) and earning a spot in the 2012 London Olympics. He also organized a high-water slalom race on New Zealand’s Class V Kaituna. After the big show, he’s headed straight to two more slalom world cups, then to Norway for an expedition, then to Sickline, the Green Race, Mexico, and the Whitewater Grand Prix in Chile.
More on Mike: Interview + Video
Age: 49 | Durban, South Africa
Known For: 12-time Molokai World Surfski champion
This Year: Won his 12th Molokai World Championships title
What’s Next: More surprises
Chalupsky won his first Molokai World Championship in 1981, and his 11th in 2005. In the intervening seven years, competitors in pre-race interviews have expressed their deference with some version of “if the channel is bumpy, don’t count Oscar out.” No one shared that sentiment more loudly than Chalupsky himself, a famously crafty waterman with a turn of speed that belies his expanding girth and advancing age. This year, Chalupsky trained relentlessly for the 32-mile ocean race from Molokai to Oahu, and the Channel was indeed bumpy. Chalupsky used the conditions masterfully, surfing from swell to swell, biding his time and then securing his historic 12th title with a powerful finishing surge. Have we seen the last of Chalupsky? Don’t count him out.
More on Oscar: Story
Age: 26 | Missoula, Montana
Known For: First descent of 189-foot Palouse Falls in 2009
This Year: Recovered from broken back, ran the world’s biggest whitewater, crossed the Sea of Cortez, runner-up at North Fork Championship.
What’s Next: Sailing around the world with a boat full of surfboards, kayaks and friends.
In March 2011, Bradt broke his back running 100-foot Abiqua Falls in Oregon. Doctors reconstructed his spine with screws and a metal rod, and sentenced him to three months out of his kayak. In a remarkably short time, Bradt refocused his mind and rehabbed his body. By September, he had paddled back to health, and joined Steve Fisher, Rush Sturges and Ben Marr on the first descent of the Congo River’s Inga Rapids, at 1.6 million cfs the world’s biggest whitewater. Later he completed a sea-kayak crossing of the Sea of Cortez with Erik Boomer and Sarah McNair-Landry, and bought a 44-foot sailboat he plans to sail around the world. He’ll have kayaks aboard, of course.
More on Tyler: Story + Video
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