Hunter Katich upsets Dane Jackson in GoPro Mountain Games freestyle kayak | ParkRecord.com

Hunter Katich upsets Dane Jackson in GoPro Mountain Games freestyle kayak

John LaConte
Vail Daily

Emily Jackson competes in the womens semifinals of freestyle kayak on Saturday, June 9, at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail. Jackson won the women's competition.

VAIL, Colo. — The water level was low, but the air was high.

With big amplitude, technical tricks and difficult combos, Georgia paddler Hunter Katich was able to sneak ahead of regular winner Dane Jackson in the men's freestyle kayak finals on Saturday.

Katich, the fourth of five competitors to drop into the International Bridge venue, earned the high score of the day in his first run, only to have it bested by Jackson, who was fifth to drop.

Katich then had to top Jackson's first-run performance in his second run, which he said was his true achievement.

"Normally when I get beat like that, I get a little flustered," Katich said. "But this time I was able to keep my composure."

In that way, the competition may have been a turning point of sorts for the 21-year-old Katich, who has earned a number of second and third place finishes at the GoPro Mountain Games freestyle kayaking event, but never a win.

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"I've been chasing him for a while now," he said of Jackson.

While many watching the event — including the announcers — attributed the win to Katich's high-energy performance, Katich said it was quite the opposite.

"I actually had to kind of slow myself down because I get so hyped up," he said.

No. 1 Mom

Earlier on Saturday, Dane Jackson's sister Emily Jackson enjoyed her 11th Mountain Games victory in the freestyle kayaking competition.

She ascended the podium with her 1-year-old daughter, Parker, signaling to all that it is possible to be both a mother and a top competitor.

Jackson said 2018 was a little different than what she's grown accustomed to in Vail.

"This year we fought with lower water levels … it really changed the whole venue," she said. "But the competition itself didn't change; kayakers are used to changes in flows."

Freestyle kayaking relies on a water feature known as a "hole," where the water momentarily changes direction allowing the boat to say in one spot and the paddler to perform tricks like flips, spins and rolls.

The tricks can be compared to skateboarding in the way the boat rotates, and some of those tricks even derive their name from skateboarding. Like in skateboarding, it's common to see a competitor landing or taking off "switch," or backwards, and in kayaking a mid-air roll is also called a kickflip.

The tricks are judged and tallied, with the high score winning the competition.

Keeping track of all those tricks and assigning points to them can get confusing, and in recent years, a new level of technology has been brought to the judging booth.

Farewell to the pen

Freestyle kayaking traces its roots back to the '80s and '90s, when a pen and pad was as necessary as knowledge of the tricks.

As the digital age advanced, kayaker Matt Anger had a thought.

"We can build a better way," he said.

He linked up with fellow judge David Hajoglov and they came up a solution using digital tablets, allowing judges to keep their eyes on the competition without having to write anything down and worry about adding up scores properly.

A scribe tracks the tricks by pressing a button indicating which trick was landed, and the judge then confirms it.

"With the side by side comparison, we can see if everything looks the way it should look, we can spot errors a lot faster, and it allows the judges more time to talk about the ride itself," Hajoglov said.

Ager said while the technology hasn't yet been applied to other sports, it could be easily applied to other judged events like halfpipe and slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, and he expects that some day soon it will.

"We're all looking at runs and scoring tricks," he said.