“This was a whole different beast of a challenge for me, and I loved the obsessiveness over the years.”
Paddling powerhouse Dane Jackson made history earlier this month—running the Green River Narrows Racecourse in under four minutes. The pro paddler—one of the top whitewater kayakers in the world with multiple freestyle contest titles to his credit—crossed the finish line of the largest extreme kayak race in the world with a time of 3:58.68.
The accomplishment has been a long time coming for Jackson, who marked his fifth straight win at the river race in western North Carolina. In 2020 he broke his own record with a time of 04:02.3 seconds and last year he notched a time of 04:12.0. Many thought that 2021 would be his year to finally break the 4-minute barrier, but an unexpected flip was the main culprit of adding 12 seconds to his run.
After the past few years of watching Jackson get closer to his goal, BRO caught up with the paddler after this year’s race to see how he was able to break the 4-minute mark.
BRO: How did race day feel? Did you have a feeling you would beat your record?
Jackson: You can feel 110 percent in training, the morning of, and it’s still so hard to know what kind of run you are gonna put down. It’s one of the most challenging race courses, with 12-foot boats, and one run a year to try and put it all together. There is no race like it when it comes to the challenge. On race day I was feeling as stoked as always, and in the end, I knew that we were at a great water level, and this was the time to really focus on putting a good run down.
BRO: A huge part of your career has been about pushing the boundaries of whitewater boating. How would you say this accomplishment adds to that?
Jackson: This is one of the few things that I have had on my mind for years now, always in the back of my mind. Many things that I get my mind on, I can try to make happen sometime in the near future, whether it’s a trip or a waterfall I want to run. So to finally complete this challenge I have obsessed over for years, and put in so many hours of time working out how to make it happen, it was amazing. I think this is one I am super fired up on, because not only did I have to put in the work over the years to dial the course in, but I was finally able to piece it all together on race day, which is such a hard challenge.
BRO: What drives you to push the boundaries of whitewater kayaking?
Jackson: In the end any boundary that I end up pushing comes from trying to push myself, and continuing to challenge myself, constantly trying to improve. As I learn new skills and techniques and continue to try and elevate my paddling, new ideas and goals can appear in my mind. So I am just constantly trying to find new ways for myself to improve or new challenges as they naturally come to me, and when that also can mean pushing the sport in any capacity that is always an amazing feeling.
BRO: In your opinion, what made the difference in shaving off those two seconds under four minutes?
Jackson: In the end, it mainly came down to finally piecing together a full run top to bottom, with no major mistakes, at a great water level. This was also the first year I was able to really pace myself properly, as it is so easy to, by accident, go too hard on the top half of the course, making it hard to have the energy to not get lazy on the hardest rapids at the end. So the combination of a good water level, a better pace, and finally hitting all the major rapids on race day finally put me under.
BRO: Did you train differently this year than you have in the past?
Jackson: It has been a number of years I feel since we have had a good amount of training leading up to the race at the proper water levels. For a while, it has either been too high or too low leading up to the race, and then you never know what you will have for water levels on the day of, which can make it tough. Though this year I didn’t get my first training lap ‘til the Wednesday before the race, luckily the organizers were able to coordinate with the dam to release the same water levels for the few days leading up to and on race day. So it was so nice getting those few days of training. (Even with) minimal training, you had the comfort of knowing you were training on the levels you would have for race day. So I just focused on the moves that I have been messing up in the race the last few years, making sure I knew exactly what I was trying to do on the day of, regardless of how tired I felt by that point.
BRO: Will you attempt to beat this record in the future?
Jackson: Now I can finally take a breath and relax knowing I was finally able to get the sub-4. That being said, there is definitely a bit of time still to be saved. The thing is I know where you can save time on just about every few feet of that course, so I know exactly where I lost a bit of time this year. I have always known it would take a near-perfect run to get the sub 4, so this year after my run I thought the few little mistakes I made would make my time be something like a 4-min. flat or a 4:01. So of course every year I will continue to try to beat that time, but now I will be able to go into the race day even more stoked knowing I have done the sub 4, and now I am just trying to beat my time.
BRO: What have been some of the highs and lows of training for and racing the Green through the years?
Jackson: The highs were definitely every time I spent however many hours lapping stuff on the course, finally finding some new way to hit a line I hadn’t done before. That feeling of realization like “ohh yes, that’s how it’s done!” Because the course is challenging enough on its own, but with the 12-foot boats there is still a bit of unpredictability on what can happen; it’s not enough to just put yourself in the best spot on the rapid. You can run each rapid 10 times, put yourself in the same spot trying the same motions, and it will go differently every time. Plus maybe only one of those 10 laps was the line you know you will need on race day to get the sub 4.
So it’s been so fun being so obsessive dialing in every little piece of the course over the years, no matter how small the move. Though the tough part about that was it was so much more frustrating when I would make those little or big mistakes on race day, because those few seconds to put you over sub-4 happen quickly. In the end, this was a whole different beast of a challenge for me, and I loved the obsessiveness over the years. Now knowing the work paid off, it feels so good.
BRO: What is next for you?
Jackson: Just trying to go faster, while waiting in anticipation to see who can get under that sub-4 next!
Cover photo: Dane Jackson competes in the Green River Narrows Race, Gorilla Rapid, Green River Gamelands, North Carolina, USA November 5, 2022. Copyright. Photo by Marc Hunt / Red Bull Content Pool