Reno River Festival Kicks Off Freestyle Season; Wright, Emily Jackson Nab Top Spots

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Call it a Blackjack or Lucky 7. Whatever moniker you give it, Stephen Wright and Emily Jackson came up winners in spades at the Reno Whitewater Festival, kicking off what’s sure to be a raging kayak freestyle season…

In the Women’s class, Jackson led the pack in every round to take another national title, combining her technical paddling prowess with aerial tricks every ride. In front of hometown fans, Reno local Jessica Yurtinus took second place with trademark huge air. Erin Clancey from Idaho took third, narrowly besting Canadian/Reno paddler Ruth Ebens (formerly Gordon)..

“The event went great,” says Jackson, who’s now eyeing Vail’s GoPro Games. “We were worried it’d be a small crowd due to the weather forecast of rain, but the banks were lined with people and Sunday the sun stayed on us all day. And the level of competition was super high. The women who didn’t make the first cut had almost 600 points and all three podiums were at least 1,500-point rides.”

For the men, the competition was just as heated, with the retentive hole allowing a showcase of “combo” moves and huge air. “Reno’s “#3” competition hole is retentive and allows athletes to do any trick both directions,” says men’s winner Stephen Wright.

Wowing his hometown crowd, Reno’s Jason Craig, who has won the event before, paddled through a sore shoulder to score 1143 points in finals and take third, while Canadian Nick Troutman flew into second place with a massive score of 1460 points. Wright pulled out the highest scoring ride of the event in the finals with a 1616. “I was stoked to hit my tricks solidly and with air to pull out a ridiculously fun ride,” he says. “Four combo moves, a trophy move, and a few other stand-alone tricks put this one away for me.”

The takeaway from this event, adds Wright, “is that Reno is back. It likely draws the biggest crowds in whitewater kayaking competition, which makes the energy here unlike anywhere else.” It also marked his fifth time securing the national champion crowd. “I also spent a number of years living here in Reno, so it was great to see and paddle with so many of my friends from around here,” he says.