We went to the Reno Whitewater Festival last year and gave Jeffery his first taste of freestyle. Although his first love is ocean surf, he soon realized that freestyle was a challenge and a passion all it’s own. After several trips to Wenatchee this year and a week at Kelly’s Whitewater Park last year, we decided that we would give Nationals a shot. Last year at Reno, Jeffery was just learning to surf on standing waves and flat spin. This year he added a front loop and was just starting to learning to cartwheel.With a week to practice, we would soon see how well he would compete at a large venue.
We left late Sunday a week before the competition and drove over 8 hours to Cascade, Idaho. As we pulled into the parking lot, you could not miss the Jackson motorhome and it’s entourage of Stephen Wright, Emily and Nick and the Jackson Kayak Mini Cooper. Several other motorhomes and vans were scattered throughout the parking lot at Kelly’s. Sage Donnelly was there with her parents as well so Jeffery had a familiar face at the competition. As we unloaded and started walking down to the park, we noticed a large group of kids taking turns surfing the middle feature. One boy in particular was doing front loops and spins with ease. After settling in with the group, we learned that the large group was in fact a whole family. The Kellogg family is from Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They had been traveling the freestyle circuit this year and with 11 kids, it makes for a solid team of paddlers. Everyday, all day, these kids were out in the water perfecting their loops, spins and Space Godzillas. As we watched these kids surf, spin and loop, it was very apparent the Jeffery had his work cut out for him. The one thing Jeffery did have on his side was his fitness and his drive.
We spent the better part of the week applying sunscreen and trying to keep hydrated. The weather was hot. 90 degrees was the norm and by the time the weekend had arrived we had been fighting the sun all week. Arms were red and the kids were tired but ready. At 14, Jeffery decided to enter the cadet class. There were 8 other kids in that class and most were part of the classes at Kelly’s Kayak School. With a facility like this, it is expected that some of the best freestyle kayakers will come out of this area. After watching Alec Voorhees dominate the Junior men’s, it is easy to see how this is going to happen. The competitors that have travelled the world commented on how much of a world class facility Kelly’s Whitewater Park is. World records were set this weekend and the aerial moves were some of the biggest I have ever seen.
We arrived at 9:00 am sharp on Saturday. Jeffery was in the first heat at 10:00 and we wanted to get a few practice rides in. As we arrived, the rest of the cadets were starting to practice. It was very apparent that morning who the favorites were. Kenny Kellogg was amazing. He was able to stay in the trough and execute loops, Space Godzillas and cartwheels. This kid has been living at whitewater parks for the better part of this year and is from Colorado, the whitewater park heaven. Jeffery was going to have to bring his “A” game if he was going to beat him. After two heats, Kenny Kellogg was victorious and he, Jeffery, Dally Kellogg, Kady Kellogg and Thomas Gebhards rounded out the top 5.
Our good friend’s son and teammate of Jeffery’s, Troy Wilson took the men’s open title with Daniel Dixon in the second position with Kem Pinpimai running a close third and Titus Cornforth rounded out the top four. Troy is the son of Gary Wilson our World Kayak Ambassador for the Boise region. Troy and Jeffery competed on the US West team at Surf Worlds last October. Another local who I mentioned, Alec Voorhees easily beat out Tanner Griffith, Evan Schehrer, Grady Kellogg and Hayden Voorhees to take the junior men’s title. Sage Donnelly narrowly missed being the junior women’s champion, by Lauren Burress’ stellar ride. Emily Jackson took the tops honors in women’s and beat out Ruth Ebens with Devon Barker-Hicks, Erin Clancy and Hayley Mills rounding out the top five. The one heat to watch was the C1. E.J. pulled off some huge moves to take the title of C1 National Champion with Nick Troutman, Dane Jackson and Jake Ament keeping the standings close.
The real show was the men’s finals on Sunday. There were so many stories it was unbelievable. Jason Craig, who suffered a nearly career ending injury last year, pulled out all the stops with a ride of 1630. Not to be outdone, Stephen Wright cranked out a record setting ride of 1830. Everyone said that they were not gong to go easy on Jason and Stephen crushed him. As always, Stephen did it with his signature wave and fist pump. Jason could not stop smiling and was obviously having the time of his life.
At the podium it was obvious that we made the right decision to come out to Kelly’s. Jeffery was smiling and all his hard work paid off. Although he did not get the top spot, he made us proud with his hard work and drive. You could tell that most were exhausted and were all talking about hitting to road to get home. Fortunately we only had a couple states to drive through to get home, but most had almost the whole country to cross. With most of these events we always meet new people and make lifelong friends and this was no exception.