He may still be one year shy of drinking age, but Jordan Poffenberger has been paddling on the wild side since before he could vote. The 20-year-old boater from Fairfax, Va., has already run some of America’s toughest whitewater and claimed titles in the world’s premiere competitions.
His boating resume includes hitting Oregon’s 80-foot Metlako Falls (101 feet total from pool to pool), racing the Class V Great Falls of the Potomac, slalom racing Washington’s Little White Salmon, and winning gold at the Freestyle World Championships at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina last year. He returned last month from Europe with silver in the overall Freestyle World Cup.
Though all these achievements deserve kudos alone, what makes them especially impressive is that Poffenberger accomplishes them with a single paddle blade. Poffenberger doesn’t see paddling a C-1, canoe style in a kayak, as a disadvantage and neither do the top dogs of whitewater.
“Through the years, it has been great watching him progress in the sport as a C-1er and push the limits,” says Adriene Levknecht, five-time Green Race champion and bronze medalist at the World Freestyle Championships. She’s known Poffenberger the last six years and competed both in the Green Race and in the last two world freestyle competitions alongside him. “He keeps up with all the double bladers out there and normally with more style!”
Poffenberger talked to BRO about paddling with the single blade amid a boating community dominated by kayaking.
When and why did you choose paddling C-1 instead of kayaking?
I first picked up a C-1 paddle when I was around 10 years old. Honestly, initially I just chose C-1 because of the local paddlers Joe Stumpfel and Seth Chapelle. They were so good they would beat all the K-1ers at the local freestyle competitions. But now I continue doing it because I feel I have a lot more boat control and feel for the water as a C-1er. I also feel that the possibilities in a C-1 are limitless. I think that there is more potential in a C-1 than in a K-1 as far as running harder rapids and doing bigger tricks and combos as well as new tricks. Though it may be much more difficult to realize that potential.
What have been some of your favorite accomplishments?
That’s a tough one. I was very excited to have set the C-1 world record in waterfall height on Oregon’s Sahalie Falls. I then broke the record again going over Metlako, but Sahalie was much more exciting for me just because it is such a challenge. Running Tomata 1 in Mexico was also a very exciting thing for me. This past year winning the Freestyle World Championships was huge. That’s been something I’ve been working toward and dreaming of ever since I started paddling freestyle.
Talk us through preparing and finally running Metlako Falls.
Metlako is a very simple drop, especially compared to Sahalie Falls, which I had run a few days before. Metlako is a bit more stressful just because it is complete flatwater up to the lip of an 80-something-foot waterfall. Other than that, it is like any other rapid. You picture your line and then clear your head and fire it up. I will say that I did stay away from the lip, mostly just because mentally, it is really difficult to force yourself to paddle off of a waterfall like that. I definitely prefer drops with entrance rapids, as the rapids give you something to focus on.
What motivated you to run it?
Well for all the money of course (joking)! There are a lot of reasons, the biggest ones being just the urge to push myself. Progression is always a big thought in my head, not only in myself but also for the sport. Metlako was kind of a stepping-stone to hopefully bigger things. Just like anything, in order to get better, you have to practice.
What else do you enjoy when you’re not paddling?
Boat design and whitewater course design are some of my main interests. I have been lucky enough to be able to work on the new Liquidlogic prototype playboat with Shane [Benedict] quite a lot the past few years. Also a couple years ago I had an internship with the McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, which is an engineering firm where I was able to help out on a few different whitewater parks. As far as other interests, I’m going to George Mason University for civil engineering. Obviously getting an engineering degree is working toward whitewater course design.
You just turned 20. What do you want to have accomplished by the time you can celebrate your first drink (legally)?
I honestly don’t really have any goals for before I turn 21. Most of the things I want to accomplish are very dependent on both the places I travel and the water levels at those places. I really just hope to continue to progress my paddling as a whole, including creeking and creek racing, waterfall running and freestyle in both waves and holes. I’d like to compete more in C-1 and C-2 slalom. I really want to take up squirt boating as well.