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Great Dane | Q & A with Paddling World Champ Dane Jackson

Dane Jackson has had one epic year. The 22-year-old pro-kayaker from Tennessee won more events in 2015 than most do in a lifetime, interspersing the races and freestyle comps between a first descent in Mexico and other expedition adventures.

Jackson also continues a legacy set forth by his father, world-renowned freestyle champion and kayak company founder Eric Jackson. Alongside him on the family tree is his sister Emily, also a longtime dominant force in women’s rodeo.

As he was driving home to Rock Island, Tenn., from a family vacation, Jackson took the time to explain what factors made his 2015 season the strongest one yet and his plans to make 2016 even better.

Summarize how this season went for you.

Best season ever. Normally, I’d win just a few events, but this year I had only three results out of the 15 or 20 this season that I didn’t come out on top. Obviously, winning the ICF Freestyle Canoe World Championship on the Ottawa this season was the cherry on top. Besides that, at the GoPro Mountain Games, I won both the Men’s Freestyle and the downriver Steep Creek Championship. No one has done that before.

How much do you devote to training?

Not any, really. Kayaking is fun. As soon as you’re stressing, you’re never going to do as well. When it comes to Worlds, I definitely get a little stressed because I want to do as well as I can. But I don’t let that stress take away from that week of fun and paddling. My mentality for upcoming events is I have to relearn stuff, and that helps with my results.

How has that approach helped you in competing?

I feel strongest and am most known for freestyle, but the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to make a name in racing. That year was the Whitewater Grand Prix in Chile, and I didn’t think I had a chance to win because there wasn’t freestyle, so I didn’t have an edge. I also realized that my forward stroke was not as powerful as the others. Mostly it was less sprinting, and more like I needed to learn the forward stroke. So I worked on it, and that helped me in all the races since.

What’s it like coming from a family of champion paddlers?

My dad is the reason I’m a kayaker. He won his first World Championship title in 1993 and was a full-time kayaker when I arrived. From the beginning, he made it very clear he wanted it to be fun, a mentality he was really good at living by. I wanted to be like him. Instead of this being his sport that he does, he made a point to teach us and make it a family event. So we all paddled together and grew together. That’s the way he raised us, and my mom, too, because she was always there and supported him. I don’t know where we’d be if it weren’t for all they did.

What are your relationships with the rest of your family?

My sister and I pretty much just had each other growing up. Emily and I have a great relationship. Growing up, we paddled together, watched movies, played games. We’d play a dice game or Settlers of Katan; we used to play Life a lot, too, when we were kids. I guess I was more of an annoying little brother to her husband Nick, who’s been traveling with the family since he was 15.

Where do you see yourself going?

The next season, I plan to win even more races and head back to Veracruz and Chiapas. There’s possibly something in Hawaii, too.

boxers or briefs?

It depends on what I’m feeling. Boxers probably? It’s hard for me to go for tight stuff. My dad thinks Speedos are making a comeback and has Speedo Thursday where he’s in a Speedo.

Are they?

No, no, they’re not making a comeback. My dad doesn’t care what people think, and that’s probably how he got where he is. But that also means he wears Speedos.

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