Pros Visit Idaho for USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships 

Kayakers brave competition on Idaho waters

Stephen Wright, winner of the men's pro category, does a front loop during competition at the USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships in Cascade.

Gary Ertter

Stephen Wright, winner of the men's pro category, does a front loop during competition at the USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships in Cascade.

There were plenty of victory celebrations going on in Cascade July 7-8 at the USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships, the most important of which had to be organizers praising dam operators for the water.

On July 7, Cascade Dam operations dropped water releases from approximately 2,000 cubic feet per second to a paltry 900 cfs, just as preliminary rounds were under way. The snafu nearly made the park unboatable.

"Thankfully, Cascade Mayor [Dick] Carter stepped in and made some calls to get the water back on," said Mike Hicks, co-director of Kelly's Whitewater Park. "It was a close call, to say the least."

While Tennessee residents Stephen Wright and Emily Jackson captured championship crowns, Reno, Nevada's Jason Craig celebrated a successful comeback, finishing second in the pro division. In March 2011, the former World Champion broke his back on a waterfall near Auburn, Calif. Doctors were worried he'd have trouble walking again, let alone competing.

"Jason has worked his butt off," Wright said. "He's had a lot of good support and good expert medical attention. That and a sheer force of will."

The athletes were pumped on the KWP feature, which gave up the two highest scores ever recorded in freestyle competition when Dane Jackson dropped a 1570 and Wright topped that with an 1830.

"Everyone out there got the biggest loops of their life," Wright said. "That spot is like a trampoline for kayaks. I don't know if I've paddled anywhere where you can do every kind of trick in one feature."

Troy Wilson, a 17-year-old from Boise, was one of the top-placing Idahoans, winning the open men's class, along with Alec Vorhees, who took the junior men's division. McCall's Devon Barker-Hicks--the co-director of KWP--took third in the women's pro event.

KWP officials are hoping the National Championships are a springboard to hosting an international event next year. KWP barely lost out to North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center on bidding to host the 2013 World Championships.

"We had a great response from athletes and spectators and the place was packed," Hicks said. "Next year, we'd like to bring more competitors in from around the world."

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