When Generations Collide

Father and Son square off in the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships

Getting the big-air moves for the highest score. Photo: James McBeath

Getting the big-air moves for the highest score. Photo: James McBeath

By James McBeath

The most anticipated rivalry at the ICF World Freestyle Championships isn’t a continental battle like England versus France, or the U.S. against Canada. It’s the father-son battle for supremacy within the Jackson clan. Yesterday’s men's K1 Preliminary rounds marked the first time Eric “EJ” Jackson competed in the senior class with his son Dane Jackson.

EJ, a four-time world champion, is a 49-year-old phenomenon whose has been on top of the freestyle game almost since the advent of playboating. He won his first world title in 1993, and has been on the U.S. team for 25 consecutive years. The elder Jackson is responsible for a good portion of the sport's evolving boat designs and moves, and co-founded one of the world’s biggest kayak manufacturers, Jackson Kayak.

Dane, 20, is merely the best playboater on the planet. All he has to do this week is prove it to his old man–and the world. Though 2013 marks his first worlds in the senior men’s class, he’s no rookie. He’s been paddling at the elite level since he was 11 years old, and claimed four World Championship gold medals at the 2011 World Championships in junior men's K-1, OC-1, C-1 and Squirt. He’s also notched back-to-back victories in the Whitewater Grand Prix.

Fourteen heats of five paddlers vied for only 20 spots in today’s Quarterfinals. Paddling in the second heat, Dane put down his marker: 2,704 points. His ride was non-stop, comprised almost entirely of combination moves and showcasing some of the biggest airs we've seen all week. In the rounds that followed only one man, France's Mathieu Dumoulin, came within 500 points of Dane’s total. EJ laid down two solid rides for a combined score of 1,784, good enough for 11th place on the day and, more importantly, a spot in today’s quarterfinals. When the dust finally settled, Slovakia's Peter Csonka, American Jason Craig and Canada's Nick Troutman rounded out the top 5.

"It's real love when you let your offspring with the earlier rounds," says the grinning Eric Jackson, now a grandfather. "Reminds me when I let Nick (Nick Troutman of Canada, EJ’s son-in-law) win the rounds in '07 until the finals. But seriously, Dane paddled amazing today, but don't count out the dad.”

"I pulled out the rides I wanted," Dane responded, with a wink at his dad. "I think I can get more and think my dad can get a lot more." Dane, as with any modern freestyle competitor, can never count the elder Jackson out of the competition.

EJ and Dane square off again today in the Men’s K-1 quarterfinals from 5 to 7 p.m. eastern standard time. Heats in Men’s C-1 and Women’s K-1 are underway now.

Getting ready to compete. Photo: James McBeath

Getting ready to compete. Photo: James McBeath