Since the day he first plopped a kayak in the Swan River near his childhood home in Bigfork, Jon Meyers has progressively built a name for himself in the freestyle kayaking world: three-time winner of Missoula’s “Best in the West” competition, graduate of the World Class Kayak Academy and the 2007 national collegiate champion.
But one honor, a spot on the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking Team, remained elusive through the years. As of May 31, the wait is over. Meyers, a Bigfork native, placed third at the U.S Freestyle Kayaking Team trials in Glenwood Springs, Colo., at the end of May. His reward is an invitation to the International Canoe Federation’s Freestyle World Championships in Thun, Switzerland on Aug. 31 to Sept. 6.
Considering that the U.S. team has dominated the championships over the past several years, Meyers knows he’s in good company.
“It’s pretty safe to say it’s the hardest freestyling team in the world to make,” Meyers said last week. “I was pretty psyched.”
Meyers is one of five men to qualify for the pro division and one of 18 athletes altogether on the team, including the women’s, junior and canoe paddler divisions. The 23-year-old Meyers, who lives in Gunnison, Colo., had tried to make the team four previous times, coming up just short each time. By placing third, Meyers not only earned his place on the national team but he also beat the defending world champion.
Freestyle kayaking takes place on one large rapid – or feature – on a river. Those features are usually either standing waves, holes that create backflows or eddy lines. In competition, kayakers do a series of moves – flips, pirouettes, carves, spins and more – for a minute, facing upstream and trying not to get flushed out of the wave. Points are given for consistency and difficulty of moves.
While Meyers is focused on freestyling right now, he is also accomplished in creek boating, which is the form of kayaking where boaters hit rapids while riding down the river. Over the years, extreme creek boaters have gained fame for dropping off waterfalls and cliffs on rivers across the world.
Meyers has kayaked since he was 12. He grew up on the Swan River, home to the famous kayaking stretch of river called the “Wild Mile.” He began kayaking with his friend Nate Wilcoxen and immediately found it exhilarating. It seemed inevitable that Meyers’s younger brother, Dave, would also pick up the sport.
So the two brothers, along with Wilcoxen, set out to conquer every turn of the Wild Mile. As teenagers, they would wake up before dawn, hit the Wild Mile by 5:45 a.m. and then go to school.
“It’s a totally different way to wake up,” Meyers said. “We were super devoted.”
The younger Meyers is following in his brother’s footsteps. This spring, he graduated from the same prestigious World Class Kayak Academy his brother did. The academy lasted a semester and took Dave to China, where he not only honed his kayaking skills but also participated in a number of community service projects. The program also focuses on academics and cultural immersion. Dave graduated from Bigfork High School this spring.
The older Meyers is trying to raise money for his trip to Switzerland. Along with his job as a roofer, Meyers plans on holding freestyle kayak clinics as fundraisers in Gunnison and Denver. While the team coordinates discounted lodging services in Switzerland, Meyers still has to fly himself there and cover other expenses.
Meyers will arrive in Thun a week before the competition in August to practice on the wave, which is dam-regulated and unavailable for practice any earlier. Until then, Meyers will try to spend as much time as possible in his kayak.
“(Kayaking) is just addicting, like a buzz really,” Meyers said. “It’s such an adrenaline rush.”
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