By Tim Mutrie
On Monday afternoon, kayaker and filmmaker Rush Sturges was hanging out in Sea-Tac’s international terminal waiting to board a flight through to Munich, Germany. He’d already checked two kayaks—one creek boat, one play boat (“Not cheap,” he sighed)—and he was unclear exactly when he’d return. Could be a month, maybe two, he said.
Sturges’ first planned stop is Austria’s Ötztal Valley and the 2011 Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship, slated for Friday and Saturday, on the legendary Wellerbrücke rapids. Since this would be Sturges’ first paddling experience in the Alps, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The 4th annual Sickline event is a downriver sprint race, and it attracts the world’s finest, Olympic-caliber slalom racers and paddlers of Sturges’ ilk—steep creek expedition-type backgrounds.
"It’s super prestigious, probably the most competitive race for extreme kayaking in the world,” he said. “From what I've heard, it's pretty solid Class V.”
The Jackson clan, including Dane Jackson and Nick Troutman, are expected to be in the field, along with a deep field of Euros with Olympic and World Championship medals to their credit. Sturges said he’d done some Internet research by reviewing some videos of previous Sickline events, but still wasn’t clear on how the race format worked.
"The format is actually pretty weird. It's not just one run, it's over the course of a couple of days, and they've got a way of cutting the field down again and again. But I’ve heard it’s higher water this year, so pretty good, and I know the whole whole Jackson crew will there. There’s a possibility the folks from our posse, like Evan Garcia and Tyler Bradt, will be there too. We’re actually all on our way over to Africa, so they may be showing up. We’ll see here in the next couple of days.”
The race course, he said, “Looks like a cool section for sure. I'll be curious to see how it compares to some of the events we have here in the States. From what I've heard, when the water's higher it can be pretty full on, and it's a tough field, with people who train for racing, so I'll be stoked to be top 10 or 20.”
It’s becoming more commonplace to see paddlers from racing backgrounds in downriver creek races, he said—”With guys like Mike Dawson, who just got on the New Zealand Olympic team. I think in the past, there's been a stigma that slalom paddlers can't creek, but that's definitely not true anymore. There's a lot more cross over.”
“We’ll all be in standard racing creekboats…. And for us creekers going into this, we may not have the power or the strength as the guys who train for it, but what we don't have in strength we can make up for with clean lines. Obviously, the right combination is both—strength and the ability to find the lines. But I think some of the smoother creekers will be able to work their way into the top 10 for sure.”
As for the next mission, somewhere in Africa, Sturges said it was too early to discuss that mission publicly. “Right now, the success is hinging on a few things, so it’s on the down-low,” he said.