When your passion is kayaking, traveling comes with the territory. Dane Jackson spends a lot of time on the road, seeking out the best river conditions to challenge and advance his skills. With the 2015 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships taking place on the Ottawa River this year, he wanted to get some time in on a similar wave to hone his freestyle chops, and he knew immediately where to go.
There’s a perfect spot on the Nile in Uganda where he'd been five times before, so he headed there in February for a month-long training session with his dad, sister and brother-in-law. Once back in the States, Jackson answered a few questions about the adventure and sent along some shots from his GoPro and teammate Nick Troutman. Check it all out below.
RedBull.com: For those who think of kayaking only in a linear way (i.e., paddling down a river), briefly explain the format of the Freestyle World Championships and events like it.
Dane Jackson: There are certain ways that we can rotate a kayak on a feature, and in a competition, you have 45 seconds to do as many different tricks as possible. Each trick has a definition, specifying how it has to be performed, whether you land facing forward or backward or sideways, how vertical the kayak is, how aerial the kayak has to be for a certain amount of the trick, things like that. And you can only do each move once.
There are three judges; they decide whether or not to give a trick points based on whether or not they think you executed the move you were going for perfectly. Once your time is up, the moves that counted get added up for your final score.
Why go all the way to Uganda to train for an event that will take place in Canada?
It’s fairly easy to find small features to train on, but this year the World Championships is on a big wave in Canada. Waves are harder to find because big waves require a lot of water, and a lot of water generally comes from snow melt — or just a big river — so getting good, big waves can be a challenge.
The Nile has everything you could want for training, all in one spot. There is an island called the Hairy Lemon on the Nile River, directly below a rapid that has a couple of epic waves in it. You’re able to stay on the island and paddle 10 minutes to world-class waves. There’s no driving, no shuttling, no stress — just kayaking. So it's the perfect way to learn new tricks, practice tricks you have troubles with, and just be able to kayak every day. Oh, and it’s also hot weather and super warm water, so it's paradise.
What was a typical day like there?
I’d wake up around 5:30 in the morning, watch the sunrise, and hang out by the water. Then I’d head over to the eating area to enjoy some coffee and hang out with whoever was there, whether it was the Russians, Frenchies, Canadians, Ugandans, Britons — there was always someone from somewhere far away to hang out with.
After breakfast I’d head out for the first session of the day, usually about two hours. Then come back and hang out around the island, which usually meant a couple rounds of disc golf (we hit trees and watering cans, not baskets), ultimate Frisbee, soccer, cards, whatever you wanted to do you just did it. Lunch came out around 1 p.m., then I would usually go back out for about four to six hours. The waves are just so much fun and the local kids are fun to talk to, so it’s just hard to leave while there is still daylight.
How do you pick the locations you travel to?
Decide where in the world seems like the best training for the feature that the World Championships is going to be on, then go there. This year it was the Nile.
You were back in Mexico in January; tell us a little bit about that trip.
The last few years I’ve been going to Mexico in January because [similar to] Africa, there is a location in Veracruz that attracts people from all over the world to paddle amazing whitewater. Unlike the Nile though, which is big, high-volume whitewater, Mexican rivers are steeper and lower volume, known for perfect waterfalls and incredible sections of whitewater.
In January, there is an annual race that happens on one of the coolest sections Veracruz has to offer. It's a 15-minute race down consistent, steep drops. I won last year and tied with my dad the year before. This year, unfortunately, I was super sick. I spent a week in Mexico on bedrest in my hotel room not eating or drinking — it wasn't fun. The race day was one of the roughest days, but I decided to race anyway. I made it down fine but ended up getting fourth. I was still glad I did it, and I’ll hopefully be back to try to take the win next year. Even though I was sick on that trip I got some of the best sections there are to do there, and still had an amazing trip.
Watch some of Jackson's past adventures in Mexico in the First Descent: Michoacán video series.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
It's impossible for me to really pick one spot to stay in, just because every place is different. You go certain places for certain types of whitewater. I travel in an RV for six months out of the year, going all over the States and Canada to get to as many different events and types of rivers as possible.
What else have you been up to when you’re not in a kayak?
I’ve been disc golfing for years now and I love it. I stand up paddleboard, I surf, I golf — whatever sounds fun at the time I try to do.
What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
Kayak as much as possible, have a good competition season, check out new places, and have another great year on the water.
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