Gunnison Valley paddler qualifies for US Freestyle team

Jonny Meyers headed to Worlds in Switzerland

Western State College student and Gunnison Valley resident Jonny Meyers took third place at the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking Team Trials in Glenwood Springs on May 30-31. The finish earned Meyers a spot on the U.S. National Team headed to the World Freestyle Championship to be held in Thun, Switzerland August 31-September 6.

Meyers grew up in Bigfork, Montana, kayaking whenever and wherever possible, including attending the World Class Kayak Academy his final semester of high school on partial scholarship, earning the rest of his tuition through fundraisers.
The school took him to paddle in Chile and the West Coast but once he graduated it was time to move on to new rivers and a college education.
“I pretty much checked off all the rivers there [in Montana] and was looking for something new,” says Meyers. “My parents were supportive of me going to school but they couldn’t pay my way.”
Meyers spent time in Salida kayaking and working, and once he qualified for in-state tuition, moved over Monarch Pass to attend Western State College in January 2006.
Every two years the U.S. Team holds trials for its kayak team, including the freestyle team, to compete in the world championships.
“It’s basically the Olympics of freestyle kayaking,” says Meyers.
Meyers has tried out for the junior team twice and the men’s team twice but never made it. Despite falling short, Meyers kept plugging away.
“I never really got discouraged—the team is really hard to make,” says Meyers. “I did it because I really enjoy competing and it’s always been a dream of mine to make the team.”
The fifth time around, Meyers had a slightly different approach. While in past attempts, the trials were the focus of his existence, this time was a bit different. Instead of obsessing about the upcoming event, Meyers was distracted by final exams and a family trip to Hawaii.
He returned from Hawaii the day before the event and headed over to Glenwood Springs for another shot at the team.
“I felt like I might have had a slight disadvantage but I just looked at it as another kayaking competition,” says Meyers. “I was prepared mentally more than I was physically.”
Kayakers were given 60 seconds to perform as many tricks as possible on a wave, a wave Meyers describes as “touchy and flushy. It was super challenging.”
The list of tricks includes names like a Helix, McNasty, Pan Am and Front Loop.
Meyers made sure he hit the moves he was confident with at first and then pushed the limit toward the end of his ride to attempt more of the high-scoring moves.
Competing against 44 other freestyle kayakers from around the country, including some who are paid professionals, Meyers made it through the semi-finals as one of the top five finishers, advancing to the finals.
The top five finishers were guaranteed a spot on the team, so the finals were the time to go for some prize money.
“The pressure was off a little bit but I was motivated to win some money,” says Meyers.
Meyers was the only competitor to land a Front Loop the whole weekend and finished the day in third place overall. Unfortunately, the pay-off for third was only $75, and since the entry fee was $60, Meyers took home only $15 in prize money.
“I didn’t even get a tank of gas out of it,” says Meyers.
Nevertheless, Meyers made the team and was psyched with his performance that day.
“I was definitely super-ecstatic with the way I paddled, I stuck the moves I needed to hit,” says Meyers. “I felt like I got a lot of respect from the crowd and I fed off of that.”
Now comes the hard part. While Meyers is on the team, the team cannot cover any of his expenses to compete in Switzerland. Meyers works as a roofer for Jim Thomas Construction and is planning fundraisers this summer.
His first fundraiser will be a kayaking clinic on Friday, June 26 at 3 p.m. at the Whitewater Park in Gunnison. Meyers will accept donations for his instruction on kayaking from advanced freestyle moves to the basics. He hopes to help people out as well as get kayakers signed up for the Gunnison River Festival freestyle competition on Saturday, June 27.
He plans on holding similar clinics in Denver and Buena Vista/Salida later this summer.
“It doesn’t have to be freestyle-specific,” says Meyers. “I’m there to help people advance and further their kayaking skills.”

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