Watching my son paddle a 100-foot waterfall

Eric Jackson on setting safety for son Dane's recent second descent of Tennessee's daunting Ozone Falls

What exactly does it feel like to witness your son plunge over a potentially terminal 100-foot vertical waterfall? That’s a subject that world renowned paddler Eric "E.J." Jackson now knows something about. Earlier this week the owner of Jackson Kayak set safety as 22-year-old Dane Jackson, who is arguably the best all-around whitewater kayaker in the world, steered his creekboat over the lip of 100-foot Ozone Falls — completing the second descent of the scenic Tennessee waterfall first run by Pat Keller in January of 2013.

"I am more comfortable watching Dane run it than anyone else," Eric Jackson states of his son’s feat, and his confidence in his abilities.

The 100-foot drop demands respect, beyond its size alone. Fall Creek is a relatively low-flow stream, even with substantial rainfall. The shallow lip abruptly plummets to the pool below without providing a sloping transition at the top that allows for a paddler to easily set an optimum boat angle. Combine this with the hard landing at the bottom also due to the stream’s lower volume and you have potential for serious injury.

"A waterfall like that can have all kinds of bad endings if not done properly," says Eric Jackson, who decided to take a pass on running it himself, and to instead take position in his boat at the bottom for Dane’s attempt (shown above from his perspective).

As a parent, Jackson acknowledges the situation can make you a bit nervous anyway you look at it, but he was confident Dane would have a good run, and knows the world-class athlete possesses strong judgement when assessing a waterfall’s risk versus reward.

"If I didn’t think he should do something I would tell him. But if it’s something he wants to do, then he is going to do it, and it’s better to be supportive of him. I am glad to be able to be there for him.”

Dane Jackson preparing for his run of Ozone Falls. Photo Eric Jackson
Dane Jackson preparing for his run of Ozone Falls. Photo Eric Jackson

During the majority of Dane’s descent he held a 90-degree angle to plug the drop. Only in the final moments did his boat pitch over vertical, causing him to land slightly head-first. As Dane rolled up in the pool, he held only half his paddle and a was a bit out of breath following the impact, but that is par for the course when running waterfalls of this magnitude. The outcome: success.

Eric Jackson says Dane, who was also recently crowned the 2015 freestyle kayak world champion among other accolades, is at a good point in his paddling, clicking in many different aspects of the sport. Paddling experiences with his son, such as Ozone, are ones the Jackson Patriarch is happy to be a part of no matter what the role.

"I am very fired up to be there with him, even as a spectator."

Dad's view of Dane ...
Dad’s view of Dane …
... and Dane's view of Dad (red boat at top right).
… and Dane’s view of Dad (red boat at top left).

Here’s a little less advanced primer on How to Paddle Whitewater with Kids

MORE FROM C&K:

— Dane Jackson ties for Green Race title

— Pat Keller’s lost footage of Ozone Falls

— The forbidden fruit of waterfalls