Paddlecross pits ‘the younger kids versus the older kids’
DOWD JUNCTION ” In paddlecross, close finishes don’t get much closer than taking paddles to the gut. Rush Sturges’ and Eric Jackson’s guts each took a good beating in the Teva Games men’s kayak paddlecross finals Wednesday.
Rush Sturges is 20 years old. Hailing from California, he has boated all over the world and, according to his Team Teva Web site, says Uganda’s White Nile is his favorite place to paddle. As Rush is his, uh, first name, Sturges found Wednesday’s piece of whitewater on Dowd Chute to be “fairly chill.”
Eric Jackson, from Tennessee, has been kayaking since 1970. He competed on the U.S. Olympic Slalom Team in 1992, has his own brand of kayak, and knows how to play his line, even from the position of dead last in a cross race.
After what organizers deemed a race that pitted “the younger kids against the older kids,” Sturges took the win Wednesday. He was the first to launch from the start and didn’t see any sign of finalists Tommy Hilleke, Jay Kincaid or Jackson until Jackson summarily passed everyone and caught up to Sturges at the fifth gate after a stalled start.
“I was in first pretty much all the way. I was really surprised because Tommy and Jay are incredibly powerful paddlers,” Sturges said. “When we got into the flatter, quicker waters, (Jackson) kind of flew right up on me. He was about to pass me, then I just rammed into his boat to keep him away. Just as we were getting to the rock at the very finish, I just managed to get my paddle in there a micro-second faster. I thought for sure he was going to get me in the end.”
Jackson said the surprise start succeeded in catching him off-guard, and, after the gun, he was sandwiched between two boats. This however, added to his fun.
“What made it fun was that I was last and I had to chase everybody down,” he said, attributing his speed to his custom-built Jackson Kayak rig.
“I passed the first person on the first gate, the second person on the second gate and on the fourth gate, I followed Rush and caught up to him on the fifth gate after his turn. In order to pass him, I had to take a wider line. The finish was on the left, but I was on his right. When I cut in, he got a good chest reach and was able to pull me back and we just battled it out. It was like jousting.”
In paddlecross, competitors say that as long as they keep their hands on their paddles, “just about everything is fair game.”
“Going out in front in the beginning normally helps, but in this course, it didn’t guarantee you anything,” said Nikki Kelly, 29, who won the women’s race Wednesday during her fourth visit to Vail’s Teva Games. “The course they set is the most challenging it’s been in years. The water is higher, which makes everything more exciting, and they put the gates in particular places and made you have to touch them, so it always meant someone had a chance to pass. If you didn’t get it right, someone else could and would pass you. That happened all the time in this race.”
During her first run, Kelly thought she’d gun out right away, but short course as it was, she discovered how it was possible to get going too fast.
“I was way out in front, and my boat got out of control and I tipped upside down,” she said. “I got the wrong line. On my final run, I was very cautious to not let that happen again. On the second gate, I kind of knocked all the girls off and caught it low. It wasn’t really strategic, but it ended up being good for me strategically.”
Racers competing in Wednesday’s paddlecross will try their strokes in today’s Extreme Creek Race on Homestake, which begins at 9:30 a.m. in Red Cliff.
Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.
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