By Dave Costello
Ask anyone who has threaded the gates of a whitewater slalom course: It's no coincidence that the guy who brought competitive playboating to the limelight got started in slalom. Eric Jackson (EJ), president of Jackson Kayak, will even tell you himself, training to learn good basic slalom skills will transfer into learning solid basics in the other paddling disciplines. And most people would say that this skills transfer is a one-way street. Paddle slalom…get better at other stuff. Not the other way around. But now EJ's son Dane, one of the best creekboaters and playboaters on the planet, and his daughter Emily, also a world-class whitewater paddler, are competing with him in Charlotte, N.C., this weekend at the Olympic Slalom Trials, vying for a spot on Team USA.
Is that a coincidence? Or does creeking and playboating actually prepare you for slalom racing too?
"People often comment that 'training slalom is important to do well at freestyle/creek racing/river running,'" Eric says. "They are correct. However, the misconception is that you need to train slalom to learn good basics in strokes, boat, body, river reading, etc…Looking at the opposite scenario, where Emily and Dane trained in freestyle and are applying their strokes, boat, and body control to slalom—it also transfers."
We'll see what happens at the trials, but Emily and Dane both agree that training for slalom with their dad has helped them in their other paddling endeavors.
"Extreme races and slalom races balance each other really well," Emily says. "Slalom reminds you to really pay attention to the water and be super aggressive. This transfers over into my freestyle by getting me back in the hole faster, keeping myself from flushing, and just being more aggressive overall. For my creeking and extreme racing it helps teach me to make a plan and execute it without as severe consequences, so when there are consequences, I have practice executing the plan."
Dane says the biggest thing he's learned from slalom racing is controlling his strokes. "What I found was that the slalom paddlers do not look like they are paddling hard, but they end up being the faster racers. I would paddle as hard as I can and hit the lines, but still not place very well. So slalom really taught me to not go all out on strokes and focus on slow, powerful, controlled strokes, and that has helped me for all the disciplines."
EJ is the first to admit that the Jackson clan will have some stout competition in Charlotte this weekend—EJ, coming off the "slalom couch" after 16 years, and his prodigy having a decidedly whitewater-dominant background. "We are the underdogs," he admits. "Perhaps it's not a great bet saying one of us will make the team, but at the same time, I wouldn't recommended to bet against it!"
One thing's for sure, he says. "After watching the top USA slalom racers train here for the past few weeks, we will see a strong showing in London for Team USA. They're all really good!"
Watch EJ’s interview footage with the top K-1 men below, along with his POV footage from one of his training runs at the racecourse in Charlotte. Click HERE to read C&K correspondent Jamie McEwan’s rundown of this year’s Olympic Slalom Trials competition, and stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com for more updates from the event.