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World Champion kayaker Dane Jackson has been participating in the sport since his father, a former Olympic kayaker, taught him how at age 2. Now a 22-year-old Red Bull and GoPro–sponsored athlete, Jackson competes in 10–15 kayaking events a year. These include freestyle kayaking contests, where you perform tricks such as flips and spins on turbulent areas of a river, or downstream races against other paddlers.
“Endurance is important because if you want to do longer and more commanding rivers, you have to keep your energy up,” Jackson says. “You can’t just be floating downriver.”
Aside from boat work, Jackson prepares to compete by staying active: surfing, snowboarding, even golfing, albeit with a twist—he sprints between each hole. The kayaking phenom prevents injury with two rituals.
“I try to stretch every day to keep muscles loose, whether it’s a quick stretch or stretching for an hour,” Jackson says. “I do 100 pushups a day to keep my shoulders strong.”
Jackson says descending a 130-foot-tall waterfall in Mexico was his most extreme kayaking moment. The goal is to land as vertical as possible, or else.
“If the front of the kayak were to come up and you were to land flat, the full impact would be on your spine,” Jackson says. “That’s how people break their backs on waterfalls.”
On top of his game, Jackson enjoys each ride as it comes.
“I want to keep coming up with new tricks, running big rivers and waterfalls, and pushing the sport.”
“I’d be freestyle kayaking every day even if there were no competitive events for it.”
The 2015 International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championships begin on Aug. 30 on the Ottawa River in Canada.