River rider

Jay Kincaid

Photo By David Robert

Freestyle kayaker Jay Kincaid takes on the Truckee again this weekend for the third annual Reno River Festival kayak competition. It’s held May 12-14 at the Truckee River Whitewater Park, which he helped develop. Kincaid, 29, won the world championship in 2003, earned first place in the Reno Pro Freestyle Invite in 2004 and placed second in it last year.

So you’re from Eugene, Ore. When did you move to Reno and why?

I came here four years ago. It was kind of an accumulation of things. The whitewater park was one of those things. The whole geography of Reno in general was probably the biggest reason—somewhere you could easily kayak and ski and do all of those things in one day.

When did you start kayaking?

I grew up right on the [Willamette] river just outside Eugene in Pleasant Hill. I started kayaking when I was 12 or 13, not because I was super excited to go kayaking … but I was on the river every day anyway, and one day I came across a kayak and thought, ‘Wow. I need one of these.’

What role did you have developing the whitewater park here?

It was to help with marketing and creating the event we have here every year, the Reno River Festival. I helped as a consultant. One of my roles with the city was to help make sure …. they understood what a kayaking event was all about. Now they’ve got the ball and are running with it, and they don’t need as much of my help.

You’ve traveled all over the world kayaking. Do you have a favorite spot?

I really like kayaking in Africa and places in South American and Norway. But to tell you the truth, I still think California, with the geology it has, has as good of kayaking as anywhere in the world. It’s pretty ideal to be living here so close to the Sierras.

Have you had any near brushes with death?

I’ve been banged up and stuff from kayaking. But I don’t want to talk too much about that. In general, kayaking is a really safe sport. I’ve spent well over half the days of my life in a kayak. To only get banged up a couple times is testament to how safe kayaking is.

Over half your life? How often are you in the water?

I kayak over 300 days a year, pretty much since I got my first kayak.

What does it take to be a world champion kayaker?

To be a world champion anything, you have to be willing to be fully dedicated to your sport. Everybody shows up at an event wanting to win, but very few are committed to putting in the time and practice and strategy. It’s more than just wanting to win; it’s being fully committed to making it happen. I think you have to have that competitive nature that really hates to lose. … I won the world championship in 2003—they’re held every other year—and in 2005, I was third. I was kayaking well enough to win, I just performed one ride badly at the wrong time and ended up third. That was kind of devastating. … I got physically ill from losing, I was that upset.

What are you doing to gear up for this event?

Just kayak a lot. Normally a week or two before an event, I’d be coming up with basic ideas of what I want my ride or routine to be like—the most efficient, highest scoring ride I can come up with. This year is a little different because the water is high, so it’s hard to know where the competition’s going to be and what I’ll be able to do that day. … So I just kayak and practice every move I can at each spot and see what happens when we get closer to the competition.