It’s exciting to see local juniors athletically excelling, and even more so when they are doing it in a non-traditional, non-ball sport.
And, it’s a surprise to see the son of Brian Ecker, an accomplished endurance cyclist, excelling at something other than cycling.
Jonas got into paddling via his mom, who rowed in college and discovered surfski paddling (aka “open water kayaking”) when she was looking for paddling options she could do by herself. In 2013, when word got out around Bellingham about a new paddling team–Bellingham Canoe Kayak Sprint Team (BCKST)–she enrolled Jonas in a summer camp. After the week-long camp Jonas was so excited about it that he joined the team and has trained with them ever since. The team started with about seven athletes and is now up to about 30 members.
Olympic paddling medalist, former Bellinghamster, and current cycling buddy Greg Barton said he was surprised it took so long for a club to form in Bellingham:
It surprised me that it took Bellingham so long to start a junior program. They have a very large contingent of surfski racers in Bellingham. In fact, I’m sure they have the highest per-capita surfskis of any city in the US, by far. Most of them are masters age, and many have kids of the appropriate age for a jr. program. They started small with a few young (mostly 10 – 13 years old) paddlers. Now the program has grown, the kids are getting older, and doing very well.
Jonas answered a few questions about his paddling progression:
What is your yearly training and competition schedule?
Year-to-year we usually maintain official weekly practices from March thru November. In the earlier and later months we train with three or four on-water sessions a week (Monday/Wednesday/Thursday/Saturday). Then leading into May the athletes who will be compete at the regional, national, and international scale train four to five times per week (Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday/Saturday). Once we reach the peak of our training, we maintain an average of nine on-water sessions (Monday/Tuesday AM/ Tuesday PM/ Wednesday/Thursday AM/Thursday PM/Saturday/Sunday). Each athlete will usually take up other independent ways to cross train, such as cardio or strength (gym) sessions. Then after the peak of our season, we drop our on-water sessions to three or four times a week.
On top of the team practices each week, myself and other athletes will train on open water in surfski when the weather is beneficial.
The majority of sprint competitions are held during the summer and early fall. Our largest regional competition takes place in Seattle in early June (Ted Houk Memorial Regatta), after which we peak our training schedule. Then in early August, we compete at the National Championships, which rotates locations annually (this year taking place in Oklahoma City). For the few athletes that qualify, high-tier racing continues into September, when members of the US team travel to Europe to compete in the Olympic Hopes Regatta (this year in Poznan, Poland).
Surfski races occur year-round, attempting to always be in the summer months, switching between hemispheres. In North America, surfski races build up to the Canadian Downwind Champs in Squamish BC as well as the Gorge Downwind Champs in Hood River, OR (July), the largest surfski event in the world.
Jonas’ father Brian, a successful athlete and coach, talked about his relationship with Jonas:
“As a parent and a coach, there are some challenges and lessons learned. As with most kids, “…my parents don’t know anything…” It’s gotten better now that he is older but I think it is likely a universal truth. I think it is a really bad idea for a parent to be their child’s primary coach. It takes away from the enjoyment of the child-parent relationship. As parents we already tell our kids plenty of what to and not to do. The last thing they want is that to now include their single most enjoyable thing in the day. As a parent and skilled coach, I keep my eye on the pulse and try observe from a respectable distance with the intent of offering up suggestions (when asked). It is mostly helpful when discussing recovery time, effort load, etc. The biggest reward is to see him pull it together and execute–i.e. have a plan, manage it, and bring it to fruition.”
Paddling is an unusual sport for most kids. What do your classmates think of your athletic accomplishments in a non-ball sport?
Many of my classmates think of what I do as a recreational sport, not recognizing the athletics that both variations entail. But, looking towards my accomplishments, those who understand more details of my sport have been incredibly supportive, versus those who don’t are intrigued, but still confused.
What are your favorite events?
Out of the many disciplines for sprint (1000m/500m/200m), my favorite is either the 200m or the 1000m. I find that at both ends of the spectrum, these two distances challenge me in many ways. The 200m forces me to sprint at an all-out pace, pushing to see which athlete can sustain absolute physical pain, and triumph to finish first. At my current speed 200m takes me 41.733 (PR), the current world champion finished with a time of 33.380. In the 1000m, athletes must maintain their endurance and strength until the final kick at the last 100m. At my current speed, 1000m takes me 4:07.819 (PR), the current world champion finished with a time of 3:27.666. In both the 200m and 1000m at nationals I finished fourth in my age division (Juvenile) and third in my birth year (2002).
Outside of sprint I greatly enjoy distance. At nationals I raced the 5000m, taking first in both my division (juvenile) and birth year (2002), taking eighth overall. But on top of distance in sprint kayak, I race distance in surfski, events usually longer than 15km. At the 2018 Canadian Downwind Champs I placed 29th overall and third U23. The purpose of surfski is to link waves, riding them to conserve energy and increase speed. Overall I enjoy the adrenaline of the sprint and the speed of the waves, it’s hard to definitively choose a favorite, given the positives of both.
What are your long-term goals?
My goal in sprint is to eventually participate with Team USA in the 2024 and/or 2028 Olympics. But, before the Olympics my goals are to participate for Team USA at U18/U23 Junior Worlds. In addition, but equally important to my sprint goals, are my goals in surfski. In surfski I see my goals to place in the top spot within my division (U18/U23) within the USA, then participate in the international pro-circuit, as well as achieving support from sponsors whose products I use.
Readers can follow Jonas at the Olympic Hopes Regatta September 14-16 on the official ICF webpage and the specific Olympic Hopes Regatta webpage. Jonas says that last year there was a livestream of the events, complete with infographics of timing and lane assignments, but currently there is not one advertised. Also look for updates on the ACA Sprint Team’s Facebook page, and BCKST on Facebook and Instagram.
What are your recommendations for other juniors interested in getting into paddle sports?
I would recommend locating your local team, club, or paddlesport center and find a time to come to a session and observe or visit during the next open house session. Try it out and experiment with the sport before commiting to a team.
And some suggestions about getting started from Greg Barton, owner of Epic Kayaks:
Although the lack of access is an impediment to growing the sport, the Puget Sound area has some options. In addition to the Bellingham club, Gig Harbor has won the team national championships several times. Seattle has a club on Green Lake, and Cascade Canoe & Kayak is on the Sammamish River.
Jonas also recommends keeping an eye on several of his teammates:
For the Olympic Hopes Regatta I am one of three athletes from my team who qualified for the US Team. The other two are Elena Wolgamot (16) and Emma McCoy (17). As well as the three of us competing in Poland, Ana Swetish (16) will be traveling to Australia to compete in the Doctor, the second largest surfski event in the world. Both Elena and Emma competed for the US Team last year at the Olympic Hopes Regatta and Ana also qualified but chose to focus on surfski.
Some of Jonas’ results: