There were plenty of victory celebrations going on in Cascade, Idaho this weekend at the USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships, the most important of which had to be organizers praising dam operators for the water.
On Saturday, a miscue in Cascade Dam operations dropped water releases from approximately 2,000 cfs down to a paltry 900, just as preliminary rounds were underway. The snafu nearly made the whitewater park un-boatable. "Thankfully, Cascade Mayor (Dick) Carter stepped in and made some calls to get the water back on," says Mike Hicks, co-director of Kelly's Whitewater Park. "It was a close call, to say the least."
While Stephen Wright and Emily Jackson captured national championship crowns, Reno, Nevada's Jason Craig celebrated a successful comeback, finishing second in the pro division. In March of 2011, the former World Champion broke his back on a waterfall near Auburn, Calif. Doctors were worried he'd have trouble walking again, let alone competing. “It was really good to get back on the podium, especially because the level of paddling was so high,” Craig says. “I was able to lay down some sweet rides and I was hitting bottom so my body felt really good.” Nick Troutman ended third on the men’s side (top).
The athletes were pumped on the KWP feature, which gave up the two highest scores ever recorded in freestyle competition when Dane Jackson dropped a 1570 and Wright topped that with an 1830.
"Everyone out there got the biggest loops of their life," Wright says. "That spot is like a trampoline for kayaks. I don't know if I've paddled anywhere where you can do every kind of trick in one feature." For proof, check the pic, below.
Troy Wilson, a 17-year-old from Boise, was one of the top placing Idahoans, winning the open men's class, along with Alec Vorhees who took the junior men's division. McCall's Devon Barker-Hicks—the other co-director of KWP, and Hicks' better half—took third in the women's pro event. Ruth Ebens finished second.
KWP officials are hoping the National Championships is a springboard to hosting an international event next year (KWP barely lost out to North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center on bidding to host the 2013 World Championships). "We had a great response from athletes and spectators and the place was packed," Hicks says. "Next year we'd like to bring more competitors in from around the world." —Joe Carberry
Christopher Peterson (above), taking advantage of a break in the action during the USA Freestyle National Championships. Photos courtesy Mike Leeds, Gary Ertter and Devon Barker. For full results, click here.